The Unemployment Rate of the Blind from a Technological Perspective
By Bob Branco
When I joined the National Federation of the Blind in 1981, I found out that the unemployment rate of the blind was seventy percent. To me, the reason was obvious. There was a lot of discrimination against the blind population, compounded by the fact that many employers had no knowledge of what a blind person can do. As technology advanced, I was hopeful that this would help blind people become employed. After all, the more we can do with technology, the more skills we would have. Well, as of today, the unemployment rate of the blind remains at 70 percent, and if you ask some experts, they’ll tell you that it’s gone up to eighty percent.
As far as I am concerned, technology for the blind is advancing too rapidly. I don’t mean that we shouldn’t have access to further advancements, but it seems as though we spend more time learning new upgrades than applying what we have already learned. I no sooner got Windows 8, and I was suddenly getting ads on my screen encouraging me to upgrade to Windows 10 before I was finished learning Windows 8. If I’m working at a company where I am comfortable with one program, and suddenly I have to learn a new one, I would likely have to leave my job in order to take a computer course at a rehabilitation center. A sighted employee wouldn’t necessarily have to do that. If blind people have to continue to either readapt or leave their jobs every time there’s a new upgrade, employers may be forced to make a very unpopular decision, which is to replace a blind person with a sighted person. It’s not that the employers don’t think the blind can handle the job, but the idea is for a worker, blind or sighted, to stay on the job and be productive for a lengthy period of time doing what he learned how to do, rather than be influenced by the pressures of upgrading their technology quite frequently. Employers want you to stay with them and work.
Before I conclude, I must tell all of you a true story that happened to me in 1988. Granted, we’re talking about a period of time before the internet was created, but the point can still be made. I was working at an office supply company in customer service. I spent my entire day on the computer looking up customer orders. One day, my boss found out about the Carroll Center for the Blind in Newton, Massachusetts. He heard that they offer computer classes for blind people. Well, in my boss’s defense, he knew nothing about specific computer programs being taught. All he knew was that this could be a golden opportunity for me to further my skills on the job. Therefore, he insisted that I take the two-week course at the Carroll Center. During those two weeks, I learned a word processing program known as QWERTY. It was easy to learn, and I left the Carroll Center feeling very positive about my learning experience. Well, here’s the problem. Although QWERTY was a popular course being taught to blind computer users, I didn’t know anyone who used QWERTY as a word processing program at their work places, including the one I worked at. The end result was that I spent two weeks learning QWERTY for nothing, because my boss didn’t use it in his office. Have you ever heard of a company that used QWERTY as a word processing program?
The point to this story was to offer yet another example of how a blind person has to leave his job, no matter if it’s to learn a fast upgrade or a simple word processing program. If a boss wants to send a blind person away in order to take a course, that’s one thing, but, as I implied earlier, employers run businesses, and the idea of making their businesses successful is for you to be as productive as you can without having to worry about frequent upgrades which will interrupt your own productivity. Am I saying that upgrades aren’t necessary. No. They are normal, but if you are a blind person reading this article, don’t you sometimes feel that you spend a lot more time learning new things than actually applying older ones? Maybe not, but it certainly seems that way.