As I have held the harness handle each morning as Makiko guides me into work, whether that be at one of the high schools I serve, the University of North Texas, or at my office building, I have been reminded of the importance of this month, October, for people with disabilities, especially those who are blind or visually impaired.
- National Disability Employment Awareness Month
- World Blindness Awareness Month
- Eye Care Awareness Month & Children’s Vision Month
- the month of National Braille Week (October 10th – 16th)
- the month of White Cane Safety Day (October 15th)
- the month of World Sight Day (October 13th)
Each of these are huge by themselves but together make a pretty big month.
National Disability Employment Awareness Month was declared in 1988 by the US Congress to raise awareness of the employment needs and contributions of individuals with disabilities.
This is HUGE to me both professionally and personally.
As a person with a disability in the workforce, I am blessed to have a very rewarding job that I absolutely love to go to, where as a person with a disability I am treated as an an equal and I have the accommodations and supports to work as one. I have an amazing supervisor who has been there for me as I continue to lose vision, is not afraid to learn or ask questions about accommodating someone with vision loss, and is just very generally supportive. I recognize though that not everybody has this opportunity to be equally employed or have an accommodating supervisor.. but that’s what this month is about.. helping highlight the importance of hiring someone with a disability and the contributions that they CAN have to the workplace.
Professionally as many of you all aware are, I am a Transition Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor for the State of Texas – now the Texas Workforce Solutions – Vocational Rehabilitation Services, formerly known as DARS. My passion/job is helping high school students and young adults with disabilities figure out their next steps after high school and how they can transition into employment. With that, I absolutely love when employers see these individuals who at first they didn’t think would be good employees or didn’t understand how they would be able to employ them, and then years later they see what amazing, devoted, hard-working, long-term employees they are and how they are an asset to the business in many ways.
It has been shown that when an individual with a disability is given the accommodations they need and are in an accessible environment, they often stay longer than their counterparts without disabilities. So, spending a little extra for a piece of Assistive Technology will pay off in the long-run when that person stays for years and years whereas they are spending a lot of money in on boarding and training of new employees who don’t stay. A lot of this is because individuals with disabilities have a hard time finding employment so when they find a good job, they often try harder to maintain it and make up for areas that they have difficulty in or aren’t able to do due to their disability. People with disabilities are often very LOYAL to their employer. People with disabilities often have to be creative in their personal and professional lives to “get the job done” and therefore are often more flexible and think with an open and creative mind. This is often a great asset on the job!
Of course, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has helped us TREMENDOUSLY in making sure that individuals with disabilities are given reasonable accommodations and to prevent discrimination as much as possible for employing individuals with disabilities.
(Random fact: Did you know that public access for people with service animals and employing someone with a service animal are covered under different sections of the ADA? Public access rights are covered under Title III but reasonable accommodations are covered under Title I. What this means is an employee, in most situations, has to apply for a reasonable accommodation to bring their guide dog or service dog with them to work and in most situations, it has to be approved unless it provides to be an undue hardship on the business.)
Now, I am charging YOU, yes you.. the person reading this.. next time you are looking at your candidate pool or interviewing someone, next time you are sitting on an interview panel, or giving input on hiring practices, please consider all of this.. please help make your workplace more inclusive as a whole and don’t discount someone’s abilities just because they have a disability.
World Blindness Awareness Month was created to help the world understand the realities of living with vision loss, encouraging people to become more aware of individuals with visual impairments and how they are vital members of society.
Eye Care Awareness Month and Children’s Vision Month are both in October to encourage individuals to get routine eye exams and take care of their eye health. One place I read stated that 80% of blindness is avoidable through prevention or treatment. (I’m not sure I believe that though.) Children’s Vision Month is to encourage parents specifically to take their children to eye doctors appointments and they can get their vision examined starting as an infant. Often times vision problems are the cause for difficulties at school but parents/teachers don’t realize it until after struggles.
National Braille Week was October 10th – 16th and aimed to raise awareness of Braille and other non-visual systems that open up written text and literacy to visually impaired individuals.
Personally, I am not a Braille reader but I have started learning it here and there. I think if I had lost my sight earlier on, I would have been more dedicated to it for literacy purposes, but right now, I use other methods of accessing written text that work very well for me. I switch off between using large print (when my eyes are fresh and I’m not tired) and audio. At work, when I’m not face to face with a consumer, I’m usually accessing and writing text and so I use my screen reader a lot for that, in addition to my CCTV and scanning documents into my computer using the PEARL camera and OpenBook or a regular scanner.
However, Braille is an amazing system and is absolutely essential to the literacy of our youth who can’t access written text visually.
White Cane Safety Day was first signed and proclaimed by Lyndon B. Johnson on October 15, 1984. It is a day to celebrate the achievements of people with blindness or vision loss and also to raise awareness of the white cane as a symbol of independence for people with vision loss. In recent years, many White Cane Safety Day celebrations also include recognition of guide dogs as well.
I LOVE White Cane Safety Day (also known as White Cane Day – WCD) every year. In the past, I have organized it for my community with two staff members of UNT. This year, we decided to join forces with Fort Worth and participated in their White Cane Day — and loved it!! It was at the Fort Worth Stockyards. There was a Scavenger Hunt where we learned different facts about things that affected individuals with visual impairments, such as the development of the first guide dog school in the US, The Seeing Eye. We saw the Cattle Run, which was totally cool. There were a lot of guide dog handlers there so that is always fun to see new faces and catch up with old friends. We had a terrific lunch and had the opportunity to listen to inspirational stories of people with visual impairments and how they have overcome their blindness .
World Sight Day is on the second Thursday of every October and is designed to bring awareness to eye conditions that are avoidable.
World Sight Day has 3 goals:
- To raise public awareness about blindness and vision impairment
- To influence governments to support blindness prevention
- To educate people about avoidable blindness
The International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB), under the direction of the UN’s World Health Organization (WHO), and the Lion’s Club International work together to coordinate activities and events the world over to celebrate World Sight Day.
So, all this to say.. please be open minded when thinking about employing or working with an individual with a disability and realize they have many strengths and abilities. There is a great website, JAN – Job Accommodation Network, that does an excellent job at describing how to accommodate people with different disabilities. I encourage you to check it out. If you’re still not sure, feel free to ask me or another trusted individual with a disability.. most of us would be glad to share our stories and knowledge with you. You can also contact your state’s vocational rehabilitation program if you would like to know more or are interested in hiring people with disabilities. I also encourage you to get routine eye exams and encourage your loved ones to too. Individuals with disabilities choose many different tools (for example – for individuals with visual impairments, some use Braille, some prefer audio.. some use a cane, some use a guide dog) to be independent in their personal and professional lives and it is their choice what they want to use.
Oh.. and one more thing.. Happy Halloween! 🙂