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20 False Assumptions of Employers

During the ADA's (Americans with Disabilities Act) 15th anniversary, eSight(r) members took the opportunity to provide employers with their perspectives about what is most harmful in hindering their efforts to gain meaningful employment. In 2005, perception, fear, myth and prejudice continue to artificially limit understanding and acceptance of disability as a form of human diversity, especially in workplaces around the globe.

During July 2005, nearly two dozen individuals on eSight's "Swimming in the Mainstream" (SiM) blog examined their own misconceptions and used that insight to understand and address the false assumptions an employer may have about their ability to thrive in a mainstream job. Specifically, they discussed this question: What one myth about employing people with disabilities do you wish to dispel among employers?

For the purposes of this article, I'm using the following definitions:

"Perception" is the level of awareness through discernment based on knowledge about a set of social issues, such as disability employment.

"Fear" is an emotion stemming from an expectation or awareness of personal danger and can be founded on fact, as well as falsehood.

"Myth" reflects an unfair prejudice that stems from beliefs, often learned in childhood, which have never been re-evaluated. Unlike prejudice, myth is not malicious and can be more easily challenged by facts.

Those who hold onto a belief in spite of overwhelming proof to the opposite show "prejudice."

I have used these four definitions to place the following snippets from the SiM blog participants into categories. The quotes I selected describe 20 false assumptions about disability that I believe can be helpful for companies as they consider options for meeting their Equal Opportunity Employment obligations.

Perception:

"I wish employers would realize that it is NOT expensive to provide accommodations, that people with a disability do NOT do less work (and, therefore, the rest of the team does NOT need to 'carry them' and that, b and large, people with a disability have a lower turnover rate and better attendance than employees without a disability."--Janet

"I would like employers to realize it's false that just because we have a visual disability we can't comprehend things. That causes people to talk down to us as though we are children who can barely speak. Also, when they talk to someone else about what we can and can't do, they often do it right in front of us--as though we can't understand or make decisions on our own."--Anet

"My main wish is that employers realize that, as visually impaired employees, we do not require a babysitter. Our capability, capacity and autonomy are questioned and invalidated by people who want to care but are under-educated about how to care."--Connie

"Employers need to realize that we're just human like everybody else ... that we do make mistakes just like everyone else etc."--Jake

"I would wish that employers would focus on abilities. It is the perception that my disability or need for mobility assistance will present a problem when the problem is not with me but with the employer and those in the employer's workforce who cannot see the value in a team member who does not look quite like them.

"In 15 years with my chronic illness, I have not missed a single day of work due to my illness. I have been sick, but ... colds/flu are part of life. If disability were not a natural part of life, it might be easier to understand.

"Different? Yes, that I am, since my walker is my companion and aid for mobility. I would wish that the conversation with employers could cover the questions that are never asked. They aren't, and so the understanding of lack of understanding continues.

"There is a broader and more important discussion with employers that needs to take place that is beyond the scope of the ADA. Until that happens, I believe that most employers will pay lip service to the ADA and the disabled community in the mistaken notion that it is too difficult to accommodate people with disabilities, and that somehow we cannot contribute on the same level as the non-disabled--which is blatantly false. Each interview is an opportunity to educate those with whom I interview and hope to move the process of building a true community of people forward."--Barney

"...There needs to be education and training provided to employers by blind people for those blind people looking for work, complete with those who are already steadily employed as support for employers. This training needs to be as consistent as the celebration of White Cane Day or Save the Earth Day and needs to be followed up to make sure the ADA is not just another piece of legislation that receives lip service as a diversion from undercover prejudice."--Natalie

"Ah ha! Wouldn't it be surprising for employers to realize that every person with a disability doesn't necessarily hang out with others 'of their own kind,' so to speak? I've been asked, 'Oh, do you know so-and-so? He/she is blind.' Just because the cat had kittens in the oven doesn't mean you call them biscuits!"--Jo

Fear:

"Often employers are afraid to hire people with visual impairments because they believe they can't fire them if things don't work out. People who are blind are just like anyone else. They just can't see. They should be treated like adults and thus like any other employee."--Mary Ellen

"I just wish employers would stop imagining what they would be able (or, more likely, not able) to do if they went blind. It's to their advantage as well as to ours that they realize one can get along plenty well enough without perfect vision. Besides, an interview with me is not about them. It's about me and what I can do."--Nan

"I don't know whether to laugh or cry when an employer makes the false assumption that, even though I got myself to the interview and spoke intelligently and even asked relevant questions, I cannot possibly live alone and take care of my basic needs. Oh, and I just MUST live close to my parents who help me because, otherwise, how would I manage? Employers seem to be stuck in time, unwilling even to think about how I manage to eat, dress, shop, feed the dog, climb the stairs etc. in 'my condition.'

"What REALLY irks me about employers and others who have misconceptions about blind people is that they are comfortable holding onto the misconception no matter what you do or say. I believe that it stems from fear of becoming blind or fear that they themselves might be unable to adapt to life without eyesight."--Jo

Myth:

"When I see 'EOE' (Equal Opportunity Employer) in ads or on websites of prospective employers, I can't help but feel that this has not been true for me. Employers really need to realize they are committed to what ... 'EOE' means when they use that designation.

"It took me about a year to find a job. I just found two part-time jobs. That's good for now, but I need benefits.

"Anyway, one damaging myth is that it is costly to employ blind or visually impaired people. Adaptations, which there may not need to be many, could really be low-cost.

"Also, the other myth is that I can't fit into their business--the way they use computers and other equipment and paperwork--with the little vision I have. In reality, I can use the microscopic lens (strong prescription eye glasses) that I already have to read most everything to complete the job. I can memorize where things are kept and mark buttons on devices, if needed."--Brenda

"One of the things I have found working in various places and being visually impaired is that people treat you as if you are either mentally challenged or you cannot hear. So they yell. It is impossible for some individuals to comprehend the nature of one's disability."--Jan

"Interviewers have told me ... when I show them a note-taker device and talk about it, that it is interesting. They then ask more about blindness and want to know how it will affect my performance on the job. I tell them that it won't and that all I need is some adaptations to the computer, learning where the washroom is, where the lunchroom is and then I will be able to be like any other employee.

"They act like I am someone from another planet. They write down this information, but it doesn't influence a hiring decision. I think that the employer would rather hire someone without a disability because they feel we will be too much of a problem for the organization or company."--Kerry

"One of the biggest myths about employing people with a disability is we're all slow in some way. We come across as slow learners. People need to know that we work harder than the average Joe and have much more stamina and less distraction."--Betty

Prejudice:

"The thing that gets to me is that people think I am unhealthy because I am blind. The reason this bothers me so much is that I get this from neighbours and even family, as well as workplace peers. I also really hate that people assume, because I am visually impaired, I wish to give up my right to make decisions about my life. I am not stupid, incapacitated or sick. I am blind. That does not diminish who I am; it is part of who I am."--Connie

"People assume ... my abilities are based upon what they can see and based upon their suppositions. Potential employers and acquaintances might talk to me indirectly because I'm deaf or they think I'm an ... imbecile. People also think they're helping by arbitrarily doing things for me instead of letting me learn by guiding me kinetically because they don't realize I have to budget my time to do what I need--just like they do.

"The assumption is that our interests and the way we live life are identical. It's kind of like among the sighted population that, 'if you see one blind person, you've seen them all.'"--Natalie

"While working, everything is fine--until someone finds out I am visually impaired. Then they seem to change how they treat me--as though I am no longer capable to do the job I was doing."--Anet

"People who are applying for positions must be judged solely on their capabilities as a person--not to be judged as a group."--Len

"If only our qualifications were considered, we would have the opportunity to show all we can do for an employer."--Brenda

"Just pure ignorance prevents employers from hiring us because they assume that we're less capable human beings. As a 32-year-old visually impaired person, I've personally struggled with this narrow-minded society where leaders pretend to equally help everyone but, in reality, they're only concerned with elite and able-bodied folk. Yes, I'm glad the ADA is here to help us gain our civil rights, but, we, as a disabled population, must unite and fiercely demand true equal access to fair treatment in the workplace."--Carlos

This article funded by a grant from American Express Foundation first appeared online at eSight Careers Network, www.eSight.org, the online community providing career management resources for people who are blind or physically disabled, on August 3, 2005.

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