I am a member of several mailing lists which discuss topics related to my field, as well as other topics which happen to interest me. One of these lists is a discussion group concerning employment issues as it relates to job seekers who are blind or who are visually impaired. Someone on the list started a thread which led into a discussion of the prejudices which we face from well-meaning, sighted recruiters and how we can best handle such problems in a positive way. I posted a true story to the list and decided to repost it to this blog, for those who might find it of some interest or value.
A long time ago, in an unnamed galaxy far, far away, a local outfit was looking for a computer instructor. I walked in, handed them my resume and asked to speak to someone about the position. The interviewer, who I’ll call Joan, came out to meet me and we talked about the position and what they were looking for. Her demeanor was professional but I was sensing a kind of distance from her and I knew she was wondering how on earth this blind guy was going to use, let alone teach other people how to use a computer but she wouldn’t ask and I knew I had to address it.
Had I not done this, the interview would have ended professionally by her thanking me for my time and her showing me to the door.
So, I took a breath and said, “Well, you’re probably wondering how a blind man is able to use a computer and do this job.”
“Yes,” she admitted, a bit awkwardly.
Well, I come prepared for these things and I asked, “May I show you?”
Well, I guess Joan figured she had nothing to lose and she must have had extra time and so she said, “Yes.”
I asked her to take me to one of her computers. She did so. I pulled out my trusty thumb drive from my pocket, inserted it into the USB port, fired up my portable copy of the NVDA screen reader and had her PC talking in less than a minute. Of course, I was explaining all of this to her as I was doing it so she would at least have a clue as to what I was doing.
For those not familiar with this type of software, NVDA, or Nonvisual Desktop Access, is known as a screen reader, a program which allows a visually impaired computer user to hear what information is on the screen. In addition, these programs offer a variety of ways to allow a person to review as well as to jump to a particular section of the screen with keyboard commands. NVDA can be run directly from a USB flash drive, without the need to first install it onto a PC’s hard drive.
Once NVDA was up and running, I opened Word, did a bit of simple editing and then went on Google and performed a simple Web search.
It is no exaggeration to say that, from that moment, her demeanor totally changed. She went from being professional and businesslike to being extremely friendly and much warmer. I was expecting her to thank me for showing her how I use a computer and assumed the interview was over. Instead, she asked, “Would you like to see our classroom?” Let me tell you I was floored and, trying not to show too much surprise, said, “Yes.” She took me to the classroom, introduced me to the instructor and tried to find the CEO so that I could meet her but the CEO was out to lunch.
Sadly, I never heard from Joan and so I didn’t get a second interview or an offer of employment. My theory, and I’ll never know if I’m right, is that I’d have been working there had it been up to Joan but she may have been convinced by her CEO or someone else that I wouldn’t be as good of a fit as she might have hoped. Again, I’ll never know. The truth is that a more qualified applicant may have walked in the door the next day who was more deserving of the position. It’s really OK. However, the point is that I think the interview was as memorable for Joan as it was for me, perhaps more so. Also, Joan now knows the capabilities of people with disabilities and will perhaps receive the next blind applicant with the warmth and receptivity that he or she deserves and will begin the interview by evaluating them on his or her skills.
Also, it pays to know your screen reader. Learn to use it confidently and, when possible, have it with you in case you need to demonstrate how it works. I can tell you it can make a difference.