When it comes to employment, the nation’s blind population encounters several issues such as, reasonable accommodations on the job, being denied well-deserved promotions, and dealing with people who are uncomfortable with service animals. For some, however, the harsh realities of employment begin even prior to getting hired or interviewed. Choosing exactly when to disclose blindness serves as another hurdle in the employment process. There are some who would rather inform a potential employer prior to a face to face meeting, and others who just show up much to everyone’s surprise.
Throughout his working career in customer service and public relations, Florida resident Jose Santana never mentions his blindness before meeting in person. He explained that “If you are black or white you don’t say anything about that and I don’t see the difference between the two. The bottom line is if I am the best candidate for the job I should get it.” As he approaches his 40th birthday next month, Mr. Santana says he is not about to change. Although he admits that some interviewers were initially uncomfortable, he manages to calm their fears during the interview. He said, “I feel like even the jobs I did not get had nothing to do with discrimination, they just had better candidates.”
Having applicants who have better qualifications is one thing, but being offered a position that would eventually be denied presents a different set of circumstances. Indiana resident Rebekah Blackburn, who holds a degree in social work, is very familiar with employers changing their mind once blindness is disclosed. As a requirement for completing her college education, Ms. Blackburn needed to amass a number of hours in a professional setting. After securing a position over the telephone, she arrived at work, much to the astonishment of the staff. She said they told her, “you are not quite what we thought,” and begrudgingly conducted a second interview.
In the days and weeks that followed, Ms. Blackburn waited for a call to inform her of her start date, but the phone never rang. Then she said, “I began calling and emailing and they totally ignored me. So eventually I left a message threatening legal action and then they called me back.” After a few additional meetings, Ms. Blackburn did begin working and it resulted in a wonderful partnership. “Once the internship ended a position became available and they said they would love to have me on a permanent basis,” she said.
In contrast to the methods of Mr. Santana and Ms. Blackburn, some blind people prefer dealing with potential employer’s preconceived notions about blindness prior to meeting face to face. Take Mindy Jacobsen, for example. She’s a New York resident who has been among the professional ranks for the past 3 decades running a recording studio and serving as a cantor. Ms. Jacobsen fears the distinct possibility of things being too awkward if her blindness had been oblivious to a potential employer prior to an in-person interview. She said, “I get mixed reactions over the phone, but when they are negative I say lets meet anyway and we can talk about it. Several times they still would not budge and so I had to ask for their supervisor.” Ms. Jacobsen added that speaking with a superior always got her the interview, even though it did not always result in a subsequent hiring.
Regardless of how a person chooses to handle disclosure, the results will not be consistent either way. They all say it just depends on personal preference. One person with lots of experience on the different opinions is Jane Thompson, who is a job placement specialist at a New York-based rehabilitation agency for the blind. Ms. Thompson said, “Over the years, this has become a very hot topic. It has gotten to the point now where we even have group sessions and people share their experiences with the way they handle it.” Ms. Thompson added that it is great for first time job seekers, and also for those who may want to try a different approach.
Although Mr. Santana, Ms. Blackburn, and Ms. Jacobsen never plan on changing, they certainly can respect differing opinions. They all have examples of negative and positive experiences, but feel like their style works for them. Ms. Thompson added that some people are flexible and choose when to disclose blindness based on the vibe they get. She said, “When you choose to disclose before hand you may avoid the interviewer doing a bad job because they are too hung up on blindness, but if you tell them before hand you may never hear from them again. So when some of my clients feel like a person is the nervous type over the phone, they will just make a decision about disclosure at that moment.” Mr. Santana does not want to hear anything about adjusting because according to him, “I don’t adjust to you, I will make you adjust to me.”
Matilda Ziegler Magazine for the Blind