The Cape Argus newspaper recently published an article entitled “We’re human, too, you know” giving an overview of the realities faced by South African people with disabilities. The article stated that in 2016 less than 1% of South African persons with disabilities are employed.
I’ve spent a lot of time trying to understand why so few of the 1.4 million blind and visually impaired South Africans are employed. Here’s a few of the reasons people have given me for why they think this is so:
1. It’s hard finding visually impaired candidates with the skills, training and/or experience 2. The cost of necessary accommodations required to employ a visually impaired person is high. 3. Unconscious bias in the placement process
I want to consider each of these in a separate article so I can explain my thinking without having to rush.
Let’s start by looking at finding visually impaired candidates to fill positions. I want to start by posing a simple question – is it plausible that 99% of those with a visual impairment aren’t interested in being employed? Because isn’t that what’s implied if one blindly (pun intended) accepts there are no visually impaired candidates out there?
Okay, so it would seem there are candidates. But do these candidates have the skills, training and experience for jobs on the market?
Over the past few years I’ve had the opportunity of working with blind and visually impaired learners. I usually leave the sessions impressed and inspired at the skills, confidence and motivation the learners demonstrate. Often by necessity, they have developed strong problem-solving skills, are innovative thinkers and are effective communicators – I say these sought-after business skills are developed by necessity because they are skills we are forced to use on a daily basis as visually impaired people navigating the sighted world.
Then consider the blind and visually impaired graduates who successfully complete degrees or other qualifications. And those who have done so in the past and are still out there looking for work, and those who have been doing so for months, if not years.
I know of several organisations who run learnerships for youth with disabilities, helping them to develop job-related skills, which adds to the number of skilled visually impaired candidates out there seeking employment.
I’ll admit it may be challenging finding visually impaired candidates with extensive previous experience, which may at times be a factor in the candidate assessment process. With employment levels currently being so low in the visually impaired community it’s unlikely there is huge pool of visually impaired candidates with vast amounts of job experience out there. So I think it becomes a self-perpetuating problem –the only way to grow the number of visually impaired people with experience in a job is to start off by hiring more visually impaired people so they can gain that experience.
We also live at a time when technology is helping to make an ever-increasing number of jobs possible for us, when our access to information and services is greater than ever before. I think most people would be startled at how few jobs are currently inaccessible for someone who cannot see. This, of course, raises the question of the costs of accommodating the needs of visually impaired employees – but more on that in a future article.
I’ve been told by a number of people in Human Resources that they’ve never received a job application from a visually impaired candidate. Just as I’ve spoken to a number of visually impaired job seekers who have struggled to find work.
Is it possible that the problem is in connecting the two? Or are there other factors adding to the question? And, if the solution is as simple as that, what forums connecting visually impaired job seekers with organisations looking to hire them exist? And how are they reaching their target markets? Are they reaching their target markets?
I know there are greater minds than mine working on the diverse aspects of this issue. I acknowledge the many individuals and organisations who are doing amazing work to increase the inclusion and employment of visually impaired persons.
My intention in writing these articles is to add my voice to the conversation and to offer my perspective to those with whom I’m connected – you never know what ideas may be sparked by one simple post.
PS If you’d like to read the Cape Argus article cited in this post, you can find it here: https://www.pressreader.com/south-africa/cape-argus/20180502/281814284483805
PPS Please share this article with anyone you know who might need to read it – let’s work together to increase the inclusion of those who are visually impaired into society and the workplace!
X Let’s be honest, anyone who’s been looking for work for a long time is going to feel disheartened. Add to that the awareness that less than 1% of their community are employed and it becomes a little more easy to understand the difficulty wow, that’s quite a challenging mindset to overcome. XXX
Our first stop on the tour of guide dog-friendly places Fiji and I go to was our nearby Woolworths retail store. Today we’re walking just a few steps away from Woolworths and stopping for a cup of tea… or a delicious meal , if you’re feeling a little peckish.
In fact Sostanza, the coffee shop/restaurant we’re about to visit is so close to Woolworths that I usually instruct Fiji to find the counter in Woolworths and navigate my way from there – when we first learned our way to the coffee shop Fiji tried going straight there, stopping at each table to say hello to the people sitting there. It wasn’t long before I figured out that it was easier for me to navigate from Woolworths, so that’s what I taught her to do.
Over the years my guide dogs and I have had issues gaining entry into a fair number of restaurants – not a lot, but enough for me to call the instances easily to mind. But we’ve never had a problem at Sostanza– in fact, they’re welcoming to all dogs, though I think Fiji and her guide dog colleagues are the only ones allowed to sit inside; other dogs have to sit in the corridor.
We’ve had a number of funny experiences at Sostanza – like the 5-year old girl who was convinced Fiji was cold lying on the floor and sacrificed her own seat-cushion for my dog. And the day Fiji was pulling to get to the people at the table behind me and it was only after I’d chastised her that I realized we knew them. And last week a Jack Russel was whining piteously to be allowed to come and play with Fiji – and Fiji simply turned her back and went to sleep.
Sure, Fiji often has people coming across to pet her but I’ve never had to yell at a fellow patron for trying to slip her food, and it’s a great opportunity for me to tell people about the amazing work being done by the SA Guide-Dogs Association in training these remarkable animals.
Not only is Sostanza welcoming to guide dogs, they also serve amazing food – whether you’re looking for a tasty breakfast, a scrumptious lunch or just a slice of cake with your tea or coffee. As for the pizzas… Well, let’s just say that Sostanza makes what I consider to be the best pizzas in Cape Town and leave it at that!
I doubt you’d be interested to hear about the other places Fiji and I visit at the Old Bakery Centre – especially since one is the cash machine and the other we only went into by accident when the passage to Woolworths was temporarily blocked. So we’re going to go further afield on the next stages of our tour of guide dog-friendly places.
In the meantime, anyone feel like a pizza?
I love using emoji – sometimes they so exactly capture what you’re trying to convey, where you’d need a whole bunch of words.
So I was intrigued when I listened to a recent episode of the Assistive Technology Update podcast and heard an article about some new emoji that are being considered – including emoji of guide and service dogs, people in wheelchairs, people with white mobility canes, hearing aids and prosthetic limbs.
I was interested to note that it is Apple who have put these new emoji forward for consideration – well done, Apple!
Here’s a link to the article about the new emoji from the Assistive Technology Update podcast show-notes. Why not take a look and tell me what you think.
A little while back I said I wanted to start a series of articles recognizing places that were welcoming to my guide dog. Here’s the first of those articles.
I live in Lakeside, in Cape Town. Our closest shopping area is the Old Bakery Centre, so named because it used to be a bakery. When we first moved into the house I would regularly wake to the scent of freshly baking bread – Mmmm…
So I want to take you on a tour of some of the local shops and restaurants who not only accommodate, but go out of their way to welcome my guide dog and I – and the Old Bakery Woolworths is going to be our first stop.
Fiji has been trained to walk straight to the counter where the tills are located in Woolworths. Whenever we enter, the employees greet me and either offer assistance immediately or politely ask me to wait for a minute or two while they finish up with their current customer. Then they assist by collecting the items I need and bringing them so I can look at them before I pay. Admittedly it’s a small Woolworths and my needs aren’t overly complex – besides which, I keep my shopping list short since I’ll have to carry everything home in a backpack.
On occasion I accompany the assistant to select the items I need, especially if I’m buying fresh produce, but usually I stand out of the way and let the assistant manage the process. Yes, I am aware that there are several apps and other assistive technology devices that would let me shop pretty much on my own and maybe one day I’ll do so. For now I just find it easier to shop this way and the assistants are amazingly efficient in how they help me. And it makes a huge difference to me.
I’ve heard of so many cases where a visually impaired person has been refused entry into a shop because they have a working animal with them. We’ve even had a few instances where it’s happened to Fiji and me, even once in a different Woolworths. So I’m truly appreciative of the amazing service I receive at the Old Bakery Woolworths in Lakeside.
The next stop on our tour of local places where my guide dog is welcome isn’t far away. In fact, next time I want to tell you about the coffee shop/pizzeria right next to Woolworths, who also look after Fiji and me as if we’re royalty.
But that’ll have to wait for another day…
I’m wagging so hard right now that I think my tail might just fly off! You won’t believe what’s happening!
Mom and I are going to write a book together… In fact, I’m going to write the book and mom will just co-write it with me. Don’t you think that will be exciting?
We’re only in the planning stages right now but we often have long conversations about what we think should and shouldn’t go into the book. I still disagree with mom that we should include stories of me being naughty – she says it will make me more human (I think she means canine). But ultimately I’ve never written a book before and mom’s written five, so maybe I ought to listen to her.
What I really wanted to say is that if you have any ideas about what you’d like to see in the book, you must just let mom and I know… I promise we’ll consider them!
And we’ll most definitely let you know how we’re getting on as our plans develop and we start putting paw to paper.But no pre-orders yet, please – it’s a little early for that.
Wow… me, a published author… wag wag wag wag wag wag
It won’t surprise you to know I have a fairly extensive global network of blind and visually impaired people on social media. I also listen to several podcasts by and about people who are visually impaired. Recently I’ve been amazed how often I’ve heard stories of people being refused access to places and services because they have guide dogs.
Which got me thinking – Fiji and I have been working together for just over 2 years. Add that to the years I worked with my previous guide dogs, Leila and Eccles, and you land up with a scarily large number.
In all that time I’ve really never had a major problem accessing places and services with my dogs. Sure, there have been times that I’ve been challenged about bringing a dog into ashop or restaurant, but we’ve always managed to resolve the problem then and there.
And yes, there have been times I’ve become frustrated at the increasing amount of bureaucracy that’s required when travelling by air with Fiji but, believe me, the administrative hoops Fiji and I have to jump through are minor compared to what some of our international colleagues have to.
I’ve also heard horror stories from friends in other cities in South Africa, so maybe Cape Town is just a really special place. To be fair, I haven’t experienced problems in Johannesburg but Fiji and I haven’t really travelled much together outside of Cape Town– at least, not yet!
Fiji and I regularly go to new places and make use of services and are usually welcomed and treated with respect. So I want to start acknowledging some of the places she and I go and acknowledge their fantastic service to us. .
Why not suggest a few places you feel we ought to try – if we can get there, we’d be happy to do so and share about our great experiences. And we’d love the opportunity to show the rest of the world what a great place Cape Town is to work with a guide dog
Should someone who’s driving me around use a disabled parking bay?
That’s a question I ask myself every time a driver asks if he/she can make use of such a bay when I’m in the car with them. And it sends me into a spin trying to figure out how to answer – here’s why:
A disabled bay is there for anyone for whom not having to traipse long distances to get into a shopping centre or other building makes a difference, right? Well, I may be blind but my legs work just fine. So no, I shouldn’t let my driver use the bay and possibly deprive someone who really needs it.
Will using the disabled parking bay make my life easier, especially if I’m going to have to navigate a busy parking lot with Fiji, or with a sighted guide who isn’t used to guiding me? Well again yes, undoubtedly so. So maybe there is an argument for us using that parking bay after all. But then, what about the person who really needs it that I may be depriving of the bay?
You’d think that after being blind for so long I’d have made up my mind and decided what’s right, but sadly not.
So, next time you’re driving me somewhere and ask if we can use the disabled bay remember the conundrum your question’s going to cause!
At first I was thrilled when my bank, First National Bank, released an iPhone app. For years I had been using telephone banking but increasingly it wasn’t serving my needs. The thought of being able to use technology to do all my banking appealed to me. So I downloaded the FNB app and started to play…
At first I was fairly happy with the usability of the app, especially since the in-built screen reader on my iPhone allowed me to access most of the information I needed to complete any transactions. Then FNB updated the app and it all went a little crazy.
Now the app is a mash-up of accessibility and inaccessibility – I know which button I need to tap to log in (though I had to get sighted help so I could label it rather than simply having a screen full of things simply invitingly labeled as “button”), I can sort of get to the point where I’m ready to make a payment to a beneficiary… though I can’t access which account I’m paying from, and I can’t see the details of the transaction I’m about to make on the screen with the equally inviting button that encourages me to confirm the payment- hey, is it too much to ask that you show me the details you want me to confirm?
Two months ago I tweeted FNB to engage with them about the problems I’m having accessing the app. Their support guy was very quick to reply and assure me it would be investigated… and I’ve heard nothing since.
Which is why I’m writing this article in a fit of extreme frustration – I’ve banked with FNB since I was seven years old… but maybe it’s time for a change!
Despite the ominous storm clouds that had dogged our way from Athens, the sun was shining down benignly when we arrived at the ancient Temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounion. It may sound odd, but I believe the nearby storm clouds made our appreciation of the magnificent ruin perched precariously on the top of a cliff even more profound.
I Have no doubt the view from the ruins across the ocean must have been breathtaking, but it wasn’t the view that literally took my breath away – it was the sense of how exposed to the power of the elements we were and how totally insignificant I felt in comparison. And while my notoriously poor head for heights was happily absent for most of the trip to Greece, it struck back with a vengeance this once!
Hmm, I seem to have wandered from the point of this post – it’s not to focus on the weather or on my attack of height-head. I actually intended to write about how impressed I was that the site made a significant effort to be accessible to those travelling in a wheelchair.
I’ve commented before on how difficult it must be to make a protected heritage site accessible to wheelchairs. With the exception of the ancient Roman site at Fishbourne Palace in Chichester, UK which is easy to navigate using the raised wooden walkways that give wonderful views of the beautiful mosaiced floors, there are few ancient sites that have managed to find ways to make accommodations for those whose mobility is impaired. ,
I know my insights into the realities of wheelchair travel are imperfect at best, but here’s my attempt to describe what I imagine the experience of visiting the Temple of Poseidon might be like for someone using a wheelchair. Access to the entrance of the site from the parking lot was easy with only a very gentle slope up from the parking area which is large and would allow for easy movement of a wheelchair in and out of a vehicle.
I’ve hauled myself up enough so-called wheelchair ramps that are in reality no more than badly converted flights of stairs to know that the gradient of the access ramp at the site was gentle enough to make it navigable. And, while I imagine that accessing the actual site of the ruins might pose some challenges, at least the site had a viewing platform from which the magnificent ruins and the surrounding ocean could easily be seen.
While I didn’t check if there was an accessible restroom at the site, the giftshop was accessible and had wide aisles for ease of navigation.
I’ve found myself wondering whether it’s better to be able to walk through the ancient ruins yet not be able to see them, or to be unable to get into the centre of the sites but still be able to view them and am not sure if there’s an easy answer – like most things in life, I guess each has advantages and disadvantages. And certainly complete access is the goal to strive for in any destination.
But it was good to see that the Temple of Poseidon and it’s curators at least had taken the needs of those with a mobility impairment into consideration and tried to accommodate their wish to see this beautiful site.
Ten days ago I posted the audio recording of my first interview with Cape Talk 567 Radio during the week leading up to World Sight Day on 12 October 2017.
Here’s the second interview, this time with Pippa Hudson on her daily lifestyle show.
There were a few things that made this a memorable interview for me – first that Pippa invited Fiji and I into the studio which was a lot more fun than sitting on a phone and, second that the interview seemed to develop a life of its own – it seemed to flow seamlessly from one topic to the next.
And it appears I wasn’t the only one who felt it went well – from what I’ve been told, not only did Cape Talk replay the interview the following day, but it was also picked up by their sister station in Johannesburg, 702.
And, if that wasn’t enough, this was the interview that led to a journalist from YOU Magazine picking up on my story and contacting me to ask for an interview for their online magazine – but more on that in a future post!
I won’t be posting an article on 2 January – everyone needs a few days off to see in the new year – but look out for my next post on Friday, 5 January 2018.
Thank you for all your support over 2017 and I look forward to sharing more of my experiences and observations with you in 2018.