Blind World Magazine

Many employers would rather not hire someone with a disability.

Edmonton Sun, Canada.
Sunday, September 10, 2006.

When you've been in journalism for a few years, you know some stories are virtually guaranteed to generate just one reaction.

For instance, if a newspaper reporter does a story about a kid having his bicycle stolen just before Christmas, the newsroom will be inundated with calls from people wanting to a) buy him a new one or b) donate money to him.

If a story runs about a dog being abused by an owner and taken away, the newsroom will be flooded with calls from kind people wanting to adopt the pooch.

If a story appears about a family losing all of their belongings in a fire, the phones will ring off the hook from people willing to donate cash, clothes and furniture.

That's why I was shocked by the reaction to a column I did four months ago about a visually-impaired woman in Edmonton who needed a job.

I told how 33-year-old, legally blind Christine Workman was in dire straits after being let go in January by her employer of four and a half years.

Workman was trying in vain to get a full-time job fearing that if she didn't, she risked losing her house.

But she was running into road-blocks. No matter how many places she applied, it seemed employers didn't want to hire someone with her disability even though she's educated, well-spoken and has years of work experience.

I fully expected to be deluged with e-mails and calls from employers who wanted to hire Workman. But it didn't happen.

I don't remember receiving a single call from anyone offering to hire the eager-to-work woman, who has a limited amount of vision left.

It really surprised me, especially in a market where employees are crying for people.

But it also hammered home a point that Workman and others with disabilities know very well.

Many employers would rather not hire someone with a disability.

"There are all the jobs out there yet I don't know how to get across to people that I carry a white stick and my eyes are no good but my brain is just fine," said Workman, who had been working full time since her last year of high school.

The woman is afflicted with a rare degenerative eye disease that was diagnosed about four years ago and has slowly robbed her of her vision.

Workman has managed to get a part-time job with a plumbing contractor given she has a background in designing residential boiler systems - but the pay doesn't go too far toward meeting her expenses.

"I came home the other day and looked at my spouse and started to cry," she said. "Five years ago dealing with what I have to deal with on a daily basis was the farthest thing from my mind. I had big dreams then."

During our talk Workman is very firm on one desire - she doesn't want to be portrayed as someone to be pitied.

She's not looking for any handouts or charity, just a decent, interesting, full-time job that will pay her bills.

At the same time, the spunky woman hasn't lost her mainly optimistic outlook or her idealism when she's asked what her ideal job would look like.

"I want to use my voice and my experience for good. I want to be able to use my mind to help change the world.

"I want to be happy and enjoy what I do."

Workman isn't particularly angry or bitter that she's had trouble getting full-time work - just frustrated and saddened.

In fact, she understands how some employers might be uncomfortable if they've never dealt with someone with her type of disability.

"For employers, it must be pretty scary. They might not know what to expect with someone like me."

Workman knows she has some limitations on the type of employment she can do. She obviously can't drive, for one.

Sadly, she has a lot of company from people with the same dilemma she faces.

"I was just reading that half of all adults with vision loss - many of them highly educated - live on $20,000 or less a year and only a quarter of those people have jobs.

"And 85% of visually impaired adults of working age are unemployed."

Those are truly shocking facts in our North American society that prides itself on being progressive.

Despite occasional tears of frustration, Workman is not about to throw in the towel in her hunt for fulfilling, full-time work.

She very well knows what she's up against and just hopes employers will change their opinions about people like her.

It's an ongoing battle to change people's views, but it's one she is sticking with.

"My goal in life right now is to change the world one person at a time."


End of article.

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