Future Reflections                                                                         Spring/Summer 2003

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Of Jobs and Jobs

by Patti Gregory-Chang

Reprinted from The Braille Examiner, Spring, 2000, the newsletter of the NFB of Illinois.

Editor’s Note: Patti Gregory-Chang is a high-energy, talented individual who deftly combines a career, motherhood, and active service to her community. She has a husband, two kids, is the Secretary of the NFB of Illinois, is active in the Chinese community, and has worked her way up the career ladder for twelve years as an attorney with the city of Chicago. She knows what it takes to succeed in the work world. Blind since the age of thirteen from a congenital syndrome that includes glaucoma and cataracts, she uses Braille, magnifiers, and an array of technology devices. Perhaps her best asset, however, is a tough-minded capacity to examine issues critically. Here is her assessment of the job situation of the blind:

Recently, a blind friend and I were discussing the underemployment of blind people. I took the unpopular stance that our underemployment is only partially the result of discrimination. My friend suggested that I throw my ideas out into the public arena for debate.

We often hear that seventy percent of the blind are unemployed or underemployed. The implication is that discrimination bars us from employment and advancement. My experience leads me to only partially accept the premise. Part of our unemployment and underemployment results from discrimination, but other factors play a role too.

We as blind people fail to create opportunities for ourselves and sometimes wait for things to happen to, or for, us. We become conditioned to wait for someone to arrange things. Blind children are taught to “wait” for someone to “help,” and they often carry that attitude into adulthood. But this is just not how the real world works.

Remember that Dr. tenBroek [the blind founder of the NFB and renowned Constitutional law expert] took his first position without pay to prove to the employer that he could perform the work. Volunteerism is a great way to “get your foot in the door.” Internships and fellowships serve the same purpose. Starting a business avoids the need to be hired altogether, but I see few blind people who are willing to start their own business.

When I hire new employees, I look at all factors—all factors—employment history, extra-curricular activities, and academics. I hire those who sought out opportunities, not those who have performed at minimal levels and waited for things to drop into their laps.

Recently a woman applied with my office who had wonderful academics and obviously expected to be hired. I asked her where she worked in college. She responded by telling me that her financial aid office did not find her any work-study. She did not receive an offer because we do not want employees who need to be “led by the hand.” Her posture of expecting financial aid to find her a job, made it clear that she would need to be directed towards any work which needed to be done and would not take initiative.

Once one has a “foot in the door” the work can’t stop. If one wants advancement, again it must be actively sought out. The area where blind people must learn to excel is in seeking out responsibilities and opportunities. Employers remember those who volunteer to do additional work. I have in the past volunteered to take over collections in my law office and to manage all appeals. This was daunting, but my chief later told me that my willingness to take on those projects contributed substantially to my promotion.

A new employee of mine developed a training manual on his own. He asked me if that would be alright. Of course, I said ‘yes.’ Other employees have asked to arrange the Christmas party, or help with organization charts. There is always work to be done, and these opportunities are limitless.

A related issue arises when one is passed up for promotion. Some see this as an indication that they were, of course, discriminated against. They get discouraged and do not apply again for a higher position. Remember that most people are rejected on their first try at a job or promotion. I have seen lawyers who keep a bulletin-board of bounce letters, but they keep applying. We need to be determined, and not resort to “discrimination claims” for each rejection.

Determination and initiative result in hiring and advancement. We cannot simply expect employment to be given to us as an entitlement. We must actively seek it out.

Passivity leads to dead-ends and chronic unemployment.

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