Remote working has finally given me, as a person blind to the law, the impression that I can thrive in my work. I’m sad it took so long.
- Rachel Christian is a personal finance journalist and writer based in Central Florida.
- As a legally blind person, Christian says remote working has been a game-changer for his career.
- At home, she can control her work environment and not worry about transportation or feel embarrassed in front of her colleagues.
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As a member of the blind and partially sighted community, the expansion of remote working has changed the economy.
Normally, visually impaired people face major barriers in the job market, ranging from fighting discrimination and hiring to securing reliable transportation – less than half of American adults visually impaired people were in the labor force in 2019.
Transportation is often a major obstacle to stable employment for the blind and visually impaired
An investigation of the American Federation of the Blind found that 38% of people with blindness or low vision had turned down a job because of transportation problems.
I experienced this firsthand as a 21 year old student. I was a year and a half away from graduation and a prestigious internship in a newspaper was at hand.
I had been a freelance writer for the newspaper for a semester and had established a relationship with the editor. I submitted my resume and clips, and went through the interview.
Completing an online application was the last step. It was just a formality, the editor told me.
I walked through it until I asked myself a seemingly trivial question: do you have a valid driver’s license?
My heart sank. My vision has deteriorated since I was 15 due to a rare retinal disease called cone dystrophy. There is no cure. But I adapted. I learned to adjust contrast, brightness, and zoom on my computer and smartphone so that I could do well in college.
Despite these challenges, I still did not have a driver’s license. I still don’t. I’ve never even driven a car.
I told the truth about the app. A few days later, the editor informed me that the internship was not scheduled. The driving license requirement was company policy. The interns often went on missions – you had to have a car. His hands were tied, he said.
I then landed another internship, but this missed position still haunted me. I had come so close to my goal and was disqualified simply because I couldn’t drive.
Transportation has been a chronic pain point throughout my career. Without a car, some opportunities have been eliminated. If a job wasn’t near a bus or train stop, it didn’t matter how qualified I was. It was not an option.
About six months after he started working at the marketing company, the pandemic struck. My business has become completely remote, like so many others across the country.
The transition to remote working has changed my life – for the first time I was able to completely control my working environment
I no longer had trouble seeing my computer screen in the sun-drenched office filled with windows. I could keep my apartment as dark as a cave without disturbing anyone, and if I needed to lean forward and squint at my screen, I didn’t feel embarrassed or worried about what. my colleagues might think.
My writing speed has increased. I made fewer mistakes. I picked up some extra homework and added two hours to my previously lost day for commuting.
Switching to remote work can make disabilities much less visible. My homes are already on my computer, so my coworkers don’t even realize the assistive technology is in place.
In the past, companies only hired people who lived within commuting distance of the office.
This limited the candidate pool to a small geographic area, limiting the employment options and earning potential of workers – especially those with low vision.
Due to the pandemic, this is no longer the case. Now, having a neat online portfolio and web presence is way beyond happy hour handshakes.
I experienced this about a month ago when a recruiter messaged me on LinkedIn about a senior writer position on a personal finance website. The office was an hour and a half away, but to attract qualified candidates, the company had made the position entirely remote.
I applied and got the job because of my experience, my skills and my personality – as it is meant to be.
I didn’t tell my new employer about my visual impairment because for the first time it doesn’t matter
My home office is personalized and adapted to my needs. I am proficient in the technology that helps me do my job. I still have occasional hiccups with Zoom, but hey, aren’t we all?
There is no need to hide my disability – but neither is it necessary to reveal it at this time. A lack of transportation will not hamper my ability to write or get to work on time.
Of course, the pandemic hasn’t leveled the playing field for all blind workers – only those who are tech savvy and work in an office. Yet more jobs than ever are remote, from customer service to writing to data entry.
To extend inclusion to more blind and visually impaired people, businesses must do their part. Employers should check their own accessibility capabilities and put in place inclusive initiatives for employees with remote disabilities.
It is also the employee’s responsibility to educate themselves and their employers about accessible technology. If you have low vision, work with state agencies and nonprofits like Lighthouse to get the training, education, and equipment you need to be successful. Don’t be afraid to ask what visually impaired devices or what other devices your business can provide.
Working with a disability is never easy. But today’s job market allows people affected by vision loss to excel in a remote working world. For the millions of American adults with visual impairments, inclusion and new economic opportunities may be the greatest benefit of a remote working world.
Rachel Christian is a central Florida personal finance reporter and writer.