Future Reflections Spring/Summer 1994, Vol. 13 No. 2


By Doris M. Willoughby

Editor's Note: When my blind son began talking with his father and me about getting a summer job, it occurred to me that this would be a great topic for the Future Reflections Spring/Summer issue. As I began reviewing past issues of the magazine to see what we had last printed on the subject, I came upon the following article. When I reread the article I was impressed -as I was when I first read it twelve years ago -by the author's good sense and good advice. Yes, twelve years ago. This article was published in the April, 1982, Volume I, Number 3, issue of our magazine -except at that time the publication was called the National Federation of the Blind Newsletter for Parents of Blind Children. In any event, because the information is as relevant today as it was then, and because most of our readers would never have had the opportunity to read the article, it seemed sensible to recycle it. I did, however, add one item to it. Following the article are some descriptions (compliments of Job Opportunities for the Blind) of current jobs held by blind persons today.

Did you, as a child or teenager, gain valuable experience through a summer or part-time job? Your blind son or daughter can do the same.

I see four stages or levels through which a youngster passes in moving toward adult responsibility on the job. Although all youngsters move through this progression in one way or another, it may be helpful to analyze this more carefully with a blind youngster. The second step, especially, is often given very little thought; but careful attention to experiences at this level can aid greatly in proceeding to the third and fourth levels of responsibility.
l. The child helps with chores in his own home, gradually taking on more responsibility. He picks up his toys, cleans his room, washes dishes, takes out the trash, helps care for younger siblings, etc.
2. The youngster works at a job outside his home while an adult is present at all times for guidance as needed. Examples include: working as a mother's helper to entertain children while the parent is present but busy; assisting with simple jobs at a business; doing house-cleaning or other chores for a neighbor, under close direction; learning work skills under close supervision by a teacher.
3. The youngster works independently at a job with some responsibility. He may shovel snow; deliver newspapers; wash dishes in a restaurant; baby-sit with one or two children, with an adult on call in case of serious problems; assist in an office, etc.
4. The teenager or young adult holds a job with mature responsibilities in the field of his or her choice -factory work, teaching, engineering, secretarial work, or any other occupation.

As the boy or girl takes on more and more responsibility, in general he/she also earns more and more money. By the third and fourth stages, it is important to insist that the blind youngster receive the same pay that anyone else would receive. Even at the first level, it is very helpful if the child receives some payment for certain jobs; he can begin to learn that successful work brings the agreed-upon wages, while failure or omission results in no wages. I am not suggesting that youngsters be paid for all home chores; they also need to learn to carry their own weight of work as family members. But it is very instructive to pay the child a small wage for certain selected tasks -perhaps those that are optional and/or the most difficult.

How can a job outside the home be found is these days when many adults remain unemployed? Here are some suggestions.

School counselors, teachers of the blind, and the state agency for the blind should help. There may even be school-sponsored situations such as a school radio station, an office job, or a work experience program (these are not only for the college-bound). A word of caution, however: a sheltered workshop, even if it is labeled as a workshop for the blind, should not be necessary unless the person has some additional problem (such as mental retardation) which would make this placement advisable even without the matter of blindness.


(The NFB coordinates, in conjunction with the United States Department of Labor, a very successful project called Job Opportunities for the Blind (JOB). This is a nationwide effort to help blind people get the information and locate the resources needed in order to become employable and to find jobs. Contact JOB at 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230, for information on job-seeking, and for the name of a blind person near you.)

While recognizing the importance of earning money, it is valuable to note the benefits that often come from volunteer work. For example, my two sisters gained valuable experience during some of their school years by working as candy stripers in a hospital. After a time this volunteer job made them eligible for a nurse's aide course which led to part-time paying jobs at the same hospital. However, even without the matter of leading directly into actual employment, the work as candy stripers was very valuable. Marian became a physical therapist, and found the experience to be of direct benefit in her education. Margery became a biologist; she benefited from the general background of work experience. She also worked at a volunteer job in the field of biology and found that this, too, led to a summer job with pay. Moreover, both of my sisters are also homemakers and find the hospital background helpful in regard to home nursing techniques. Although my sisters are sighted, that is not important here because blind young people can and do have the same kinds of experiences -even to the details of doing the very same jobs described here.

My husband, who is a blind electrical engineer, found that work at the campus radio station helped prepare him for his career. Other common examples of volunteer work include: selling Girl Scout cookies, teaching Sunday School or other religious classes, supporting a political party through campaigning or office work, giving telephone Crisis Line assistance, and other community service projects.

In most respects, all of this is the same effort that should be made with a young sighted person. We must do the same kinds of things with blind young people. We must consider in addition, however, the greatest problem of blindness: public attitudes. Even when your son or daughter is well qualified for a given job, the employer's misconceptions may cause resistance toward hiring him or her. Overcoming this is the most difficult problem of all, and many materials have been published on this general subject by the NFB and JOB. Here are some suggestions from the experience of blind adults: 
-The young person must be well prepared to handle the job. Teachers and counselors of the blind should help with techniques in personal skills and personal grooming, as well as specific job skills such as child care. In my book, A Resource Guide for Parents and Educators of Blind Children, available from the National Federation of the Blind, I have set down a number of suggestions, including a detailed discussion of baby-sitting methods. 

-The young person should present a poised appearance and be ready to explain confidently how various tasks will be accomplished. If the employer does not bring up the subject of blindness, he/she probably is nevertheless thinking about it; it is wise for the applicant to bring it up and explain the methods that will be used. At the same time, however, keep blindness in perspective as a relatively minor factor; general qualifications for the position are far more important. 

-Although it is well to have an open discussion of blindness in a face-to-face interview, it is usually best not to mention blindness when calling or writing to ask for an interview. Too often the employer's misconceptions will result in no interview at all, and no real chance to explain about effective alternative methods. It is no more necessary to mention blindness before the interview than it is necessary to mention race, height, or other personal characteristics. 

-As a parent, consider carefully the advantages and disadvantages of your accompanying your son or daughter to a job interview. On the one hand, some youngsters really need help in talking with someone about a job. On the other hand, your presence implies that the young person is not able to handle things alone -after all, if he cannot even go to the interview alone, how could he take responsibility for the job itself? In general, with an older boy or girl we strongly discourage the parent's participation in a job interview. A possible alternative, if help is really needed, is to have a counselor or teacher participate rather than the parent. Also note that if you are needed for transportation only, you can and should stay away from the actual interview -even remaining outside the building. Furthermore, consider very carefully whether some other transportation is possible so that the young person can show complete independence. 

-In regard to formal employment applications by the teenager or young adult, become well-informed on civil rights laws and regulations. Discrimination solely on the basis of blindness is prohibited in many situations, and the National Federation of the Blind is working to get such protection strengthened and broadened. It is sometimes wise to mention judiciously to an employer that you know he does not wish to discriminate.

Recently I was talking with some blind high school students about part-time jobs and future plans. One young woman was describing how she is interested in becoming a veterinarian and already has a part-time job in a vet's office.
“Last week I helped with an autopsy on a horse,” she said. “I had to hold the heart.”

“Ugh! Was it still beating?” asked someone.

“Of course not,” she answered; “I said it was an autopsy.” 

“Gross!” exclaimed the others. “How revolting!”

 Accompanying their expressions of dismay, however, was well-understood humor showing admiration for the young blind woman who has a responsible and difficult job while still in high school. She will do well.

JOB OPPORTUNITIES FOR THE BLIND cosponsored by the National Federation of the Blind and the U. S. Department of Labor

J.O.B. EMPLOYER'S BULLETIN 1994<R>A Positive Philosophy for Hiring Blind Employees

Here are some of the jobs blind employees are doing right now around the United States:

Yard-hand in a large lumberyard. He cuts wood, loads and unloads trucks, and performs other jobs as needed. This is his first job since becoming blind in his middle years. He used to drive a truck and knew he did not want any kind of office job. He obtained training in good alternative techniques of blindness, learned how to talk about his abilities, and is very satisfied with his new job. His boss is so satisfied with his new employee that he called the job placement person (a JOB volunteer) to thank him for helping to make the match.

Accountant for a state agency in Louisiana. While still a high school student, she obtained advanced training in blindness skills through attending a work-study summer program for blind teens. After her recent graduation from a state college, she worked at job hunting. In a few months and with no outside assistance, she was hired for her first job as an adult.

General kitchen worker at a Wendy's. He makes hamburgers and french fries and cleans tables. He has a high school education, but until he attended a training center to increase his skills of blindness he was unable to get a job.

Fast food counter worker at a Price Club, New York State. He prepares frozen pizza dough for fillings, heats frozen large pretzels, and boils and serves hot dogs to customers. In between he refills condiment containers and keeps the area clean. He said he convinced the boss to hire him by telling him about the meal for forty people that he planned, bought goods for, cooked, and served. The meal was a graduation exercise at an innovative training program he attended after years of frustration with state-sponsored training centers for orientation to blindness. This job pays the most money that he has ever earned, and he treats his job as a precious gift.

Teacher of second, third, and fourth grades. Totally blind, she has a wonderfully active method by which she teaches handwriting to her students. They love her teaching style because it gets them involved in learning. Their parents love to see their children enjoy being students.

Legislative page in the South Carolina legislature. For several years Senator Warren K. Giese observed Mr. D. coming to the state house and effectively educating members of the General Assembly on issues important to a well-known state-wide consumer group. Then he observed Mr. D. participating as a fellow speaker on a panel concerning a new Braille literacy law. At that time, Senator Giese extended the invitation and honor of becoming a legislative page. After fulfilling his duties as a page, Mr. D. intends to work toward a law degree.

Salesman of electronic goods for a Sears store in Missouri. He had formerly worked for another retailer in their electronic department but prefers the rules under which Sears compensates their top salesmen. His customers appreciate his thorough knowledge of electronic devices and his ability to speak in terms that laymen understand.

Head of a new department in a free-lance company that provides medical transcription (MT) to a large number of clients. She is in her forties, has been blind all her life, is married and the mother of one pre-teen boy. She is so very competent in office skills that the company recruited her away from her former job as a teacher of independent living skills for that state's agency for the blind. They know her abilities because she took the state job after having worked two years for them as a medical transcriptionist. In her new job she will recruit other blind medical transcriptionists, train them in company procedures, when necessary upgrade their skills in medical vocabulary, and move them on to the company's general MT corps once their work is up to company standards. For the first part of her job, she is ordering adaptive computer equipment that she knows will work well.

In lives such as these, we see demonstrated the truth in these words from America's foremost philosopher on blindness:
The real problem of blindness is not the loss of eyesight. The real problem is the misunderstanding and lack of information which exist. If a blind person has proper training and opportunity, blindness can be reduced to the level of a physical nuisance.  - Dr. Kenneth Jernigan