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Employers’ wariness thwarts many blind jobseekers

November 3, 2013 • Business


Marie Hennessy, president of the Perkins School for the Blind alumni association leaves a job fair for the visually impaired with her guide dog “Azalea” and a volunteer guide, left, on the Radcliffe Yard campus in Cambridge, Mass., Thursday, Oct. 24, 2013. Despite technological advances that dramatically boost their capabilities, blind people remain largely unwanted in U.S. workplaces where about 24 percent of working-age Americans with visual disabilities hold full-time jobs. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (AP) — Back in the late 1980s, when Maura Mazzocca was a human resources administrator with a Boston-area firm, a blind man showed up to apply for a job. Today, she remembers the encounter ruefully.

“What I kept thinking about was, ‘How can this man work in a manufacturing company?’” Mazzocca recalled, saying she looked past his abilities and saw only his disability.

“I wish now I’d given him a chance.”

That reflectiveness is heartfelt. Mazzocca lost her own eyesight in 1994 through complications related to diabetes. Now as a jobseeker herself, she knows firsthand the many hurdles the blind must overcome in pursuit of full-time work.

At a job fair last month for blind and low-vision people, there she was going table to table, with a sighted volunteer by her side. Some of the other 80 jobseekers carried white canes, a few had guide dogs.

Like the rest, Mazzocca was greeted with firm handshakes and encouraging words — but none of the employers she spoke with had job openings matching her interests and qualifications.

The venue was the former Radcliffe College gymnasium where Helen Keller exercised en route to becoming the first deaf/blind person to earn a bachelor of arts degree in 1904. Over the ensuing decades, Keller helped increase public awareness of blindness and empathy for those affected by it.

Yet blind people remain largely unwanted in the U.S. workplace, despite technological advances that dramatically boost their capabilities. Only about 24 percent of working-age Americans with visual disabilities had full-time jobs as of 2011, according to Cornell University’s Employment and Disability Institute.

“There’s a lot of stigma, a lot of obstacles,” said Login to read more

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