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Attitude: a Partnership At Work and At Play

Editor's Note: Shelley Ann Morris works as a facilitator with a Job Finding Club in Ottawa. She is Secretary of the NFB:AE Ottawa-Gatineau Chapter.

I have had a vision impairment all my life; therefore, I have plenty of experience with the "attitude" that sometimes goes along with it, both good and bad.

Having a positive attitude is a must for everyone. As blind people, we often experience "attitude", ours and those of others. All of us, blind and sighted alike, must share the responsibility of developing a positive, proactive attitude, at work and at play.

Unfortunately, some people over-generalize when they interact with those who are blind or vision-impaired. If they have had a positive encounter, they are likely to believe that all blind people are great! If, however, their experience was negative, many would be inclined to avoid another similar interaction.

Have you ever heard someone say, "I tried to offer assistance and he/she bit my head off! I won't do THAT again!"?

Those who do not have disabilities must remember that disability should not automatically be equated with attitude, and that each of us is as different as those with full vision. There are all kinds of people who not only have a chip on their shoulders, they've got the whole bag!

On one side of the equation are our attitudes, while on the other there are the attitudes of those who interact with us in grocery stores, at work and in the gym, when travelling, volunteering and with friends and family. Collaboration between blind and sighted people must take place, as we would all benefit if we stood in the shoes of those around us for a while.

Every one of us has been in situations where we have had to face the unknown and are uncomfortable and unsure how to behave.

Have you ever travelled to a foreign country and tried to go shopping with unfamiliar currency? Have you ever started a new job? Remember your first day at a new school? Ever met someone who was from a country whose speech, customs, way of dress and behaviour was different from your own? Have you ever met someone whose disability was different from yours?

If you think of how uncomfortable you felt in these situations, you will understand how some people feel when they meet a blind person for the first time.

This is especially true for people when they meet someone like me. I have a little usable vision-no one knows quite what to expect! Even close friends and family are sometimes surprised at what I can and cannot see.

Anyone reading this publication appreciates the importance of words in conveying a positive message.

The words we choose can demonstrate our attitudes about blindness, and as people who have disabilities we can do a lot to help to educate others, and to let them know that it is all right to use the words "see", "look" and "watch" around us. We don't need a special vocabulary as not to offend our sensibilities.

People are often afraid to use "the wrong word" and offend us. We all feel this way at times.

Have you ever been in a situation where you were afraid of offending someone? Have you ever spoken to a recently divorced friend and embarrassed yourself by saying something about marriage? Have you ever been to a funeral and been totally paranoid about using the word "die" in a sentence?

I work in the employment field with groups of job seekers, many of who have disabilities or other significant employment barriers. All job seekers, blind and sighted alike, need to have a positive attitude in order to succeed in finding work.

Cooperation between the employer and prospective candidate must be established in order to bring about a good "fit" between the job and employee. I suggest that all who are in search of work should only apply for jobs for which they are qualified and able to accomplish with reasonable accommodation. It is important, furthermore, that the employer collaborate with the candidate to meet their accommodation needs.

We have to remember that employers, like others in our workplace milieu, are not psychic and may not be familiar with what we need. They may not know that not all blind people use braille-some of us read large print. Very few non-disabled people know about adaptive software and where to obtain it. Inviting supervisors and colleagues to ask honest, appropriate questions related to how the job is to be performed will help to dispel the unspoken misconceptions that may linger around the workplace.

During my 14 years of work, I have had the privilege of serving clients who have had to overcome seemingly impossible odds and have taken their place within the workforce. But there are still those who believe that people with disabilities cannot work.

As the numbers of blind people in the workforce increase, the attitudes of sighted colleagues can't help but continue to improve. It is, however, up to us to do our part to bring about this change.

I know that I have been successful in making people feel comfortable with my disability when my clients put their hands up in the air in response to a question or colleagues tell me that things are "over there".

At play, the same thing occurs.

For the past 12 years, I have been going to a local fitness facility to keep in shape and to prepare for the United Way's annual CN Tower Stair Climb.

While I can participate fully in a fitness program, I do require some assistance.

I need verbal cueing from the instructors in aerobics and spinning classes. I only have the use of one eye, and balance moves are more of a challenge. I have to be more aware of free-weights or other obstacles (including fellow participants) on the floor during strength training sessions.

It is up to me to tell my fitness instructors what they will need to do to help me. It is up to both of us to find a way to assist me to participate in a truly integrated manner, and to get the most from my work-outs.

There are some who still believe that people with disabilities cannot be physically fit. I have met many people who, by their example, are changing this attitude.

At work and at play, attitude is a two-way street. Blind and vision-impaired people can show by their example how having a positive, proactive attitude can help to overcome obstacles. In turn, those with sight would learn some valuable lessons.