American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults
Future Reflections
       Special Issue: The World of Work      PERSPECTIVES

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"The Easy Way Out": The Impacts of Siloing Blind Individuals in Their Career Choices

by Juhi Narula

Juhi NarulaFrom the Editor: Juhi Narula serves as the Youth Transitions Program Manager at Blind Industries and Services of Maryland (BISM). In this article she reflects on an issue that troubles many blind job-seekers. She examines the choice she made and discusses the options she tries to make available to others.

"Blind people should serve blind people. We know our lives and experiences best."

"You should empower and motivate others like you."

"Blind people need more successful, independent role models to look up to."

While these statements hold true, they can be unintentionally harmful when they encourage blind individuals toward career paths that do not align with their personal occupational goals.

When I began the job search process during my last semester of college, I considered several career options, all of them related to various bits of my passion. When I interviewed for my current position, I referred to it as "my golden nugget" opportunity, as it merged all of my passions and past experiences into one career. I had one concern with accepting the position, however. Would I fulfill the stereotype by becoming another blind person working in the blind community? Whether or not this concern is rational, it is something that many independent blind people consider when contemplating their career aspirations.

People account for and prioritize several factors when searching for employment: convenience, financial stability, location, urgency, motivation and passion, company culture, and work-life balance. These are all weighed before attitudes toward blindness and others' desires become factors. After analyzing how my priorities aligned with the position, I worried that I was choosing the "easy way out" by working in a community that understood my capabilities and knew how to accommodate my needs. After all, isn't that too simple?

The notion that blindness-related workplaces do not hold their employees to high professional standards as compared to those outside the blind community is massively misconceived. The concept that blind people often work to represent or serve their community is relatively new, as they are typically not hired for positions where they would influence the lives of other blind individuals. O&M instructors, TVI's/TBS's, VR counselors: all of these professionals are in careers that have major influence in the blind community, yet these positions are filled primarily by sighted individuals. This observation does not diminish or devalue the work that sighted individuals have done to help our community; it is merely a fact. We believe that blind characters should be played by blind actors. We believe ideas for devices and tools designed for blind people should be created by blind engineers and developers. So why is it that when it came to my personal future and occupational choices, I questioned my golden nugget position?

Blind individuals often are siloed into work in the blind community. When this assertion is made by those with knowledge and belief in the capabilities of blind people, the reasoning is because we are the experts in blindness. It is our responsibility to teach and empower those around us to build a positive blindness philosophy internally and a positive representation of blindness to the outside world.

When this same assertion is made by those unexposed to the blind community, however, it is often due to low expectations and a serious doubt that we can compete with our sighted peers in the "real" world. These thoughts and claims are hazardous to blind youth, no matter how well-intentioned they might be.

When I was younger, I was taught that I could do and achieve anything. As I got older, however, I became aware of the low expectations assumed of me, and I started to believe them. These insecurities drive many blind people to enter positions that do not utilize their full potential. They believe it is all they can do. The fear to venture out due to low expectations of ourselves and others can lead to working in the blindness field for misguided reasons. Confidence and self-awareness lead to optimal vocational decisions. We need to understand whether we are considering an occupation that serves the blind community because of our comfort level and the assumption that we are not good enough to pursue other careers, or because it truly is our passion.

In the end, I chose to follow my passion and accepted the golden nugget position. We deserve a future that challenges us to grow in our professional skills and abilities, and we should expect nothing less. My job revolves around designing workshops and programs to equip blind youth with the skills and confidence they will need to transition successfully to postsecondary education or employment. I am currently planning a program that exposes students to industries and occupations they believe they cannot do due to their blindness. Through meeting blind professionals in those industries and gaining practical experience within these fields, students will be shown that they are not only capable of pursuing certain positions, but that they can succeed and thrive in them. "While we may face obstacles or difficulties within our fields of interest, everyone encounters them in their own career, and they can be worked around. I strive to ensure that students select their future goals based on their own choices and priorities, not those of others around them.

When we give career advice, I believe we must have an increased awareness of word choices, biases, and reasoning. The alternative can limit the options blind individuals consider for themselves. We must listen carefully and allow young people to explore their true occupational interests. The ability to consider their own professional priorities, as opposed to being swayed by others, affords them the opportunity to pursue an interest with confidence and optimism. A realistic perspective that recognizes their capabilities while acknowledging the barriers they may encounter will help them select occupations they truly desire and in which they will succeed.

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