Barriers to Employment for Visually Impaired Youth
Undoubtedly, Haben Girma’s article ‘Fighting Fate’ is a suitable title to describe the barriers that visually impaired people face, while navigating employment. Girma reports that 70% of blind Americans are unemployed, and thus, clearly shows the employment struggles that visually impaired people face in the USA. Similarly, the UK’s ‘RNIB Report’ reveals a modest 27% employment rate amongst those who are visually impaired and of working age.
These statistics are not surprising given the barriers to entry that visually impaired people face. While the Equality Act has served as an important legislation to protect the interests of visually impaired people navigating employment, it is clear that a lot of work still needs to be done.
Support at School
For example, a significant barrier that visually impaired people face is that schools often do not have the right support in place to help visually impaired people. This results in students with visual impairments not reaching their full potential academically. Furthermore, the research suggests that lack of support can lead to diminished confidence amongst visually impaired people. This places a significant barrier when visually impaired people attempt to access higher education or apprenticeships.
It is important that schools provide the right support for students with visual impairments. This can be achieved through teachers consistently providing learning resources in accessible formats for students who require such adjustments. It is also necessary for students with visual impairments to get ‘extra time’ so they have an equal chance of succeeding in their examinations, as their sighted peers. I also suggest that having a specialist careers advisor in schools, who are able to advise visually impaired students on career options, is central to their development. It is important that this infrastructure is in place to improve the employment outcomes of visually impaired youth.
Remove bias and barriers from the interview process
Visually impaired people continue to face barriers when interviewing for jobs. Some employers continue to hold stigma against those who are visually impaired. Despite often meeting the requirements for the jobs we are applying to, our suitability for the jobs are called into question. This largely stems from stigma surrounding those who are visually impaired. While larger corporations are increasingly more aware of this, more work needs to be done to reduce bias during interviews.
It is important that interviewers are trained to overcome unconscious bias. This could be established through a range of methods. However, one method could be through arranging workshops where interviewers are able to learn about the strengths of visually impaired people. This not only allows companies to recruit the best talent, regardless of disability, but also gives visually impaired people a fairer chance of excelling at the interview stage. Also, recruitment methods need to be accessible for those with visually impairments. For example, online application forms must be available in larger font sizes. Psychometric tests again must be accessible and recruitment teams need to be proactive in making these adjustments. Without these conversations and changes, visually impaired people will continue to face barriers when seeking employment.
Self-stigma and visually impaired people
Visually impaired people also face barriers into employment, due to the impact of ‘self -stigma’. ‘Self –stigma’ is often used in a mental health context, however, I feel it’s also useful to describe some of the struggles that visually impaired people face. Self-stigma stems from the idea that those who are at the receiving end of stigma become increasingly aware of public perception. This results in them internalising these stereotypes causing confidence issues and low self-esteem. I strongly believe that this is one element which directly impacts employment outcomes of visually impaired people.
Often, visually impaired people are told by society that they are unable to achieve the same things as sighted people. We are repeatedly told that we are not good enough, and this is not helped by the stigma we encounter throughout our lives. This impacts our self-esteem and can directly deter visually impaired people from applying to certain companies and careers. I believe it is important that there is adequate representation in large scale corporations. It is imperative that those who are visually impaired and excelling in their chosen fields highlight their achievements and act as mentors. I believe this is crucial in visually impaired students feeling that they are able to excel in their chosen fields.
Personal experiences of applying for jobs
As a visually impaired student hoping to pursue a career in commercial law, I have luckily benefited from mentoring schemes. I have been mentored by a lawyer with a visual impairment, and this has significantly improved my confidence. I understand now that there is space in the legal sector for people like me. Thus, I am a strong advocate for representation and mentoring schemes. While my experiences have generally been positive, I have had mixed experiences at assessment centres. For example, I have been to assessment centres where case study exercises or psychometric tests are not accessible. Yet at another assessment centre I recently attended, the recruitment team made every effort to ensure that every document was accessible. This also extended to email font size. This shows how important it is that employers continue to support candidates with visual impairments, through necessary adjustments. These adjustments are essential in making the legal career more accessible to people like me with visual impairments.
Let’s drive change
It is imperative that recruiters within their organisation drive change. This includes ensuring that adjustments are carried out and bespoke to different candidates; some candidates may require a scribe, while other candidates need extra time. Ensuring these adjustments are carried out will play a crucial role in allowing visually impaired people to succeed in corporate spaces. I would also appeal to those in various industries who are visually impaired to speak about their experiences. Representation is critical in improving the confidence of those in the visually impaired community. I know first-hand that running workshops and mentoring schemes improve self-esteem. This will empower visually impaired students and help them reach their potential.
– Roshan Sathiakeerthy, Future Voice Ambassador