Blind World Magazine

Being legally blind is too much for too many employers.

January 29, 2006.
Columbus Ledger-Enquirer - Columbus,GA,USA.

Jimmie Burkes has two master's degrees and a six-year certificate in counseling but still hasn't landed a job in her profession after at least 10 interviews.

The reason why is clear to her:

Being legally blind -- no sight in her right eye and 20/400 vision in her left eye -- is too much for too many employers to overlook.

"They think the visually impaired aren't capable," said Burkes, a 53-year-old Columbus woman who survives on federal assistance, despite her extensive education.

Saturday, more than two dozen folks gathered in the Columbus Public Library to hear ways the visually impaired are capable -- and can be more capable.

The Greater Columbus Chapter of the Georgia Council of the Blind sponsored this fourth annual forum, called "The Art of Living Independently with Visual Loss." During the six-hour meeting, they heard advice about housing, transportation, credit, eye care, emergencies, braille, aging and education.

Two people were motivated to join the chapter right then, increasing the membership to 16.

"Not enough people know how to get help," said Burkes, who coordinated the event. "The newly blind and newly visually impaired especially have a hard time, because they've been used to relying on their eyes."

An estimated 2 percent of the population is visually impaired, including about 5 percent over age 55, said Crawford Pike, the chapter's president. The state's 13 chapters total about 300 members and are among about 12,000 nationally, he said.

Burkes has congenital aniridia, which means she was born without irises. Nine transplant surgeries weren't successful, but her positive attitude has persevered.

"You can't give up," she said.

That's the message she wants to give the estimated 70 percent of visually impaired people who are unemployed. Maybe one day, she said, Columbus will have a center to provide the training they need to overcome not only their disability but the bias against them.

Meanwhile, advocates like Pike note the progress, such as the city's Dial-A-Ride program, which provides door-to-door transportation for $2.50.

He came to Columbus from Jacksonville, Ala., in 1975 to run the library's service for the visually impaired. Now retired after 19 years, he hopes the library will offer the service on the weekends, when people who can't afford Dial-A-Ride have trouble getting a ride from family or friends who work.

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