Employer Nightmares About Hiring Blind Employees

JOB Employer's Bulletin / 1995

This bulletin is for employers who have hidden worries about hiring a blind person. If your worries raise questions you fear make you sound stupid or uncouth'you are reluctant to ask them. On the other hand, because no one ever gave straight answers to your questions, you may not consider hiring blind applicants as a viable option. Okay, JOB offers the following:

THE EMPLOYER SAYS: HOW MUCH EXTRA IS THIS GOING TO COST ME?

I hear blind people need SPECIAL equipment and the ADA will force employers to buy lots of expensive stuff. Wouldn't I save money and trouble if I just hire sighted applicants?

JOB REPLIES: The odds say you'll save money by hiring blind persons. How much does it cost your company to advertise a job opening, weed through all applicants and chose the new hiree, train the new employee, and cover for the missing employee who left while you were trying to fit in the new employee? Every study shows that, generally, qualified blind persons stay longer and work harder. If the most competent person applying for your open position is a legally blind person, the odds say that person will stick with you and you will save money.

JOB ADDS: Look at actual financial data. The Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) mandates that employers provide "reasonable accommodation" to job applicants and employees with handicaps unless such accommodation would create an "undue hardship" on the company. If you missed it the first time around, please order our free publication titled WHAT CONSTITUTES "REASONABLE ACCOMMODATION"? / JOB's Employer's Bulletin 1992 / Second in a Series on the ADA. You'll read a tale of two workers, both blind, both actual persons who were then, and are still, at work full-time. Every piece of their equipment is listed, priced, and explained. It was written to be a realistic, quick overview of what employers can expect from high end to low end.
NEGOTIATION PRINCIPLES FOR REASONABLE ACCOMMODATION / JOB Employer's Bulletin 1993 / Third in a Series on the ADA is available, too.

THE EMPLOYER SAYS: If I hire a blind person, will my insurance rates go up? Is it safe? Will he come to harm? After all, last year Joseph had that accident and HE'S sighted! Oh no! If this blind woman uses the stairs, will she fall, and will she sue? Will there be blood!

JOB REPLIES: Actuarial studies show that blind persons do not have a higher risk for accidents than the general population of sighted workers. In fact, insurance statistics show blind workers have a better safety record than sighted workers. Perhaps, if your plant or office has had accidents involving sighted employees, you better stop hiring those sighted folks!

Insurance rates do not go up when you hire a blind employee. More worries? You needn't worry, but sure, you aren't alone. JOB offers a free brochure called Insurance Coverage for Blind Workers: Some Facts You Should Know. Some insurance agents have misquoted their rates and been corrected by this brochure. Let us know if you would like one for your file.

THE EMPLOYER OFFERS REBUTTAL, saying: BUT I KNOW A BLIND MAN WHO.... He really was clumsy!

JOB REPLIES: Most blind adults use more than one method, choosing what will work best in a given situation. In a new place or a very noisy place, some prefer to travel on the arm of a sighted escort (until they have had a chance to learn the area). Some use their remaining vision for travel, some of the time. Generally, adults (blind or sighted) know what they can handle and try not to put themselves in harm's way. And yes, most blind persons are sensible; some are not.

When it comes to using the two most common alternative travel techniques of blindness (using a cane or using a guide dog), how much and what kind of training the blind applicant received and when he or she received it makes more of a difference than that person's level of intelligence, how far back that person became blind, or whether he retains any sight.

HOW A CANE WORKS: The touch of the cane tip on an obstacle in his path tells a trained traveler how far ahead an obstacle lies, whether a ramp or a step, whether it is up or down, and, something about the material touched. Hollow or solid, steel, carpet, rubber, or wood—all sound and feel quite different from each other. With training and experience, a good traveler uses this data to correct his or her course as needed.

Because there are variations in ability and need for information, we suggest you observe how much skill the blind individual demonstrates and also ask the adult what will best help him or her to become oriented to your work place.

THE EMPLOYER SAYS: IF I HAVE TO FIRE A BLIND PERSON, I COULDN'T LIVE WITH MYSELF. They have a hard enough time in the world as it is. I couldn't add to their burden that way! What would people think of me!

JOB REPLIES: One blunt fact for employees is you must produce a profit for the firm that hires you, or you are told to go find another job more suited to your talents. Blind Americans are part of our society. They believe this is fair, too.

Seventy percent of those Americans who are of working age and want to work are either unemployed or very underemployed. This is the worst percentage for any part of the American work force'including the jobless figures for inner city youths and Native Americans. Yet the 30 percent that work at their level of education and experience are doing such a wide variety of jobs that the 70% figure is obviously not because blind guys can't cut it in real jobs.

The real burden of blindness is created by folks standing in the doorway (the gatekeepers) preventing blind persons who are out in the normal everyday world from having a normal, everyday life. That includes having a full-time job with all the usual need to produce at or above your standards.

Any employer who interviews a blind job candidate and then hires that candidate because the individual meets the job's criteria better than other applicants, gets our praise. Should you have to fire that employee or (not uncommon these days) have to downsize (last hired, first fired), we support your firing or downsizing according to standard business practice.

Treating an adult who is blind and working for you as you would all other employees is true respect. It is only children, or ADULTS WE DO NOT RESPECT AS EQUALS, that we shield from coming up against the blunt facts of life.

THE EMPLOYER SAYS: We treat everyone here equally but, no, we couldn't promote "Mary." (She's blind, you know.) After all, she is working out so beautifully where she is, and it would be so difficult for a blind person to do any other job. Well, we don't know how she could do any other job. It would be too hard for her to transfer.

JOB REPLIES: Try saying that again. This time, substitute "an African-American" or "a woman" or "an Hispanic" for "Mary" or "blind person."

THE EMPLOYER SAYS: WELL, I'M SURE A BLIND PERSON CAN DO ANYTHING, BUT I KNOW WE HAVE NO JOBS BLIND GUYS CAN DO HERE.

JOB REPLIES: Okay. Here are some facts JOB knows:

* Mrs. Williamson of Alabama teaches elementary school students.

* Ms. Cruze of Virginia is a social worker for the Red Cross.

* Mrs. Tunell of Arizona is a paralegal.

* Mr. Munz of New York works at a Price Club fast food counter.

* Mr. B. Johnson of Illinois does radio voice-overs in the Chicago market.

* Mr. R. Wayne is an attorney in a City of New York agency.

* Mr. Wunder is a systems programmer in a hospital in Missouri.

* Mrs. Rolison of Michigan is an executive secretary.

* Mr. J. W. Smith of Missouri runs a hydroponics greenhouse.

* Mr. Russ of Louisiana is the chief accountant for a factory.

* Miss Jobes of Pennsylvania is a full-time telephone operator.

* Mr. Crawford of Iowa is a stockbroker with a major brokerage firm.

* Mr. Schumacher of South Dakota is an employed carpenter.

* Mrs. Cook of Oregon owns and operates a retail flower shop.

* Mr. Rasmussen of Maryland is an electrical engineer.

* Mr. Mertesdorf of Minnesota is a production engineer.

* Mrs. Halverson of Missouri is a medical transcriptionist.

* Mr. B. Smith of Texas is an assistant vice president of personnel in a bank.

* Dr. Zaborowski of Maryland is a clinical psychologist.

All of these Americans are working full-time, are competent, and are legally blind. We can give you specifics on how each of them handles their work should you request more data. What skills are needed in jobs you are trying to fill right now?

THE EMPLOYER SAYS: How much of a headache will it be? I don't want to have to worry about that blind guy!

JOB REPLIES: Let's answer this one with another question...How come there are so few women lawyers in our mothers' generation and how come there are lots of women lawyers now? How come people STILL remark with surprise that attorney Marcia Clark holds her own with big-name male attorney, F. Lee Bailey, during the O. J. Simpson trial?

How come there was one Negro cavalry in the American West during the Civil War; a few units with colored soldiers during WWII; tons of black soldiers during the Vietnam War; and during Desert Storm, General Colin Powell, an African-American, was in one of the top jobs with no one doubting his ability to get the job done?

Worrying about any group of people in the abstract and assigning each individual member a list of negative traits that all members are presumed to share is called ignorance or prejudice, or both. They often go together. The best way to cure yourself is to realize lack of information is the real problem. Go meet one or two. Better yet, meet lots of actual people in the category, and you'll find out all over again that INDIVIDUALS are, well, individual.

Some blind guys are ministers; some are in jail. Most are competent; some are not. If you have learned how to divide the sighted into those who are competent and those who are incompetent, then you can weed through the applicants who are blind.