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Seeking Blind People Tossed Out of Their Jobs by Discrimination, Inaccessible Technology

October 3, 2009 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

Are you a blind person who has lost your job due to blatant discrimination or inaccessible technology? If so, we want to hear from you!

In a Sept. 30 press release, President Obama said he proclaims October National Disability Employment Awareness Month.

“Fair access to employment is a fundamental right of every American, including the 54 million people in this country living with disabilities,” Obama said in the press release. “A job can provide financial stability, help maximize our potential, and allow us to achieve our dreams.”

What does this really mean for blind people? Can we have “fair access” to employment while much of the technology used by the sighted remains out of the reach of the screen readers and other assistive technologies that enable us to effectively operate computers? What happens when technology in a workplace changes without a thought to the needs of employees with disabilities? How are we supposed to respond to the removal of “financial stability,” the wasted potential and shattered dreams of blind people who have lost their jobs due to the wreckless actions of thoughtless employers who respond to technology inaccessibility by tossing away the person as though they are yesterday’s newspaper or just so much trash whose usefulness has expired?

“The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act substantially increased funding for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and provided more than $500 million for vocational rehabilitation services, including job training, education, and placement,” said Obama. “If we are to build a world free from unnecessary barriers, stereotypes, and discrimination, we must ensure that every American receives an education that prepares him or her for future success.”

Although blind people continue to face discrimination and negative stereotypes on a daily basis, many are also hired to fill positions in virtually all walks of life based on their qualifications. Through our own experiences in the world of business and employment, many of us are growing to believe the barrier of inaccessibility is a critical factor that holds us down. In an increasing number of cases, employers would love to hire or retain blind people as employees if only the software they must use in order to do their jobs could be accessed with a screen reader.

Let’s use National Disability Employment Awareness Month to make a strong case for greater accessibility. If you have lost your job because of inaccessible technology or were not hired because the software used in the workplace could not be made accessible, we would like to hear from you right away. Now is the opportunity for you to let your voice be heard around the world, not only on Blind Access Journal, but possibly in the mainstream media. Please e-mail employment@blindaccessjournal.com and tell us your story.

6 opinions on “Seeking Blind People Tossed Out of Their Jobs by Discrimination, Inaccessible Technology

  1. Darrell, Great blog…I forgot I already have it bookmarked…You are certainly bringing awareness to accessibility, and I think a positive, Yes we can,approach is a great tact, for employers and companies.Sometimes it all starts with simply understanding that with the right tools, so many more people will be able to participate in the future of their companies as valuable employees as well as customers. And, If they developed vision loss, they would whole heartedly agree that change is certainly needed.
    I will look forward to reading future articles…
    Good luck this week…
    It was wonderful talking to you both today…
    Karen, feel better soon, good luck on friday.

  2. I have been searching the internet for days looking for some ideas for a career choice. I graduated high school a year earlier than anticipated and I had been accepted to Meredith Manor Equestrian Center in Waverly, WV. I decided to tour before my start date and was devasted when I was told by the owner that they were withdrawing my acceptance because they felt I was a liability and a safety issue due to my visual impairment. I had planned on attending this school for almost two years. I never tried to hide my visual impairment, as a matter of fact I was so forth coming with them.
    The problem is I do not know what I am going to do. I know that I do not want to settle for just a job, and I do not want to go into a field that I am not interested in. I realize there are other equestrian schools out there but I am afraid they will have the same response and then I will have yet another disappointment.
    It is my dream to someday own and operate my own equestrian facility, complete with training, breeding, equine massage therapy as well as offering camps and clinics to child with disabilities.
    I am just not sure how to do that when I keep coming up to obstacles like the one with Meredith Manor.
    Please take the time to read more about myself by going to http://www.mdsupport.org/tutorials.html
    This link is a short biography that I have written entitled “Finding My Stride”.
    You can also read about me at http://tinyurl.com/y9lp9lj
    This link is an article about me in the Mid Atlantic Horse Magazine
    Another article can be found by googling Freedom Guide Dog and entering their site and clicking on Newsletters. The article written about me is the Fall 09 issue.
    Please if you have any suggestions I would greatly appreciate them.

  3. I would like to comment on this.. Even though I haven’t lost my job per-se due to this, I mean I did loose my job but not for this reason, I have had issues as a student trying to get my college degree in Information Technology due to inaccessible testing. At Ivy Tech community college, I was required to take the CompTIA A+ and Network+ series of exams in order to obtain an Associates degree in Information Technology, basically any kind of computer related degree this also applied to. As a blind person, I had no real interest in assembling PC’s, but requirements for my degree, or any computer related degree, required me to take those classes, and pass the CompTIA series of exams. According to Ivy Tech of Warsaw Indiana’s disabilities services coordinator, they said the issue was out of their hands. They said the only thing I could do, is sue CompTIA, or sue PearsonVUE, the company who makes the exams available to colleges. Both the Microsoft Office series of exams, and the CompTIA series of exams, were required for my degree. As was stated to me by PearsonVUE, “we cannot allow zoomtext or window eyes or any other screen reader to be used during testing because we think its not compatible with our testing platform. The only accomodation we can provide is to have someone sit with you and read the screen to you”. they ‘think’ is the most important word there, and not guaranteeing that the person sitting with you can speak fluent english, which was what happened to me. PearsonVUE had to appoint the person who would sit and read the screen to me, which happened to be a person who couldn’t speak good english, and even then I was expected to memorize every menu item for that exam so the person could click the mouse where I wanted that person to click, which I felt was a violation of my rights. After I filed a complaint about it, PearsonVUE asked aisquared for a demo copy of their ZT software, so obviously the issue was being looked into I think, but what was stated to me several times was ‘we cannot accommodate for everyones specific needs. for example, we cannot give a visually impaired person access to a 60 inch plasma screen because we just do not have the resources to provide such an accommodation”. I kept thinking ok, what does that have to do with anything? yeah a 60 inch plasma screen is an unreasonable accomodation, but ZT for instance isn’t the same thing as a 60 inch plasma screen. ZT was already installed on the testing computer, all PearsonVUE had to do was give the permission to the testing proctor to go ahead and allow the tester to use the software during testing.

    so…thus….I had no choice but to accept failing grades, and now I’m faced with similar situations at indiana purdue of fort wayne attempting to start over, it just seems to be a never ending battle we must face in not just the business world but as students as well..

  4. I’d like to also note that my wife has had issues with Pearson Vue as well. They refise to use any adaptive technology such as Zoom Text, magic and a host of other tools that visualy impaired inviduals often use and access to see things on a compuer screen. We offered to by these tools and given them to peasron Vue, but they declined our offer. The State of Texas Division for Blind Services offered to provide these tools and training on how they work, FOR FREE, but Pearson Vue refused the offer.

    Three time, my wife has failed a licensing test, critical for her to work in her chosen profession, but she can not see the screen on which the test is offered.

    Pearson Vue offer a “reader”, but the first “reader” couldn’t pronounce or announce specific words. On yet another occassion, the ‘reader” had to be woke up and prompted to answer the questions on the screen for my wife. On another ocassion, a table top magnifyer was provided, but this necessitated a third person entering the data in the Pearson Vue computers, which means there is always the possibility for an error by that third person and not the person taking the test.

    A normal hour and half long test took over eight hours to complete, six of it by the tester and then another two hours waiting for the answers to be fed into the Pearson Vue computer. In each case, my wife failed the test, even though she has been certified by a professional school as ready to pass the exam, has had the benfit ofg months of intense professional tutuoing by someone in the field who has passed the test, and even though she passed all on line practice exams with 100 per cent of the answers correct.

    Now, after all of this, Pearson Vue doesn’t want to talk with us and the lnational licensing board that uses Pearson Vue has sought legal counsel to defend their use of Pearson Vue’s services.

    Makes you wonder, doesn’t it? Why get legal counsel if there’s no fire to put out?

  5. I am a graduate student and will complete my MS in June 2013. I am appalled that you have received such treatment in this day and age. You need to contact a lawyer who can use the American Disabilities Act against Perdue or any other University you or your wife have attended that is not provided accommodations for your visual impairment. I am a student at Walden University and they have been wonderful in providing my text in alternate format for me. I also use Microsoft Access tools which enable me to zoom text up to 275% larger and has a screen reader and narrator. If Perdue does not provide an alternate program to Pearon’s Vue, they are not in compliance with the American Disabilities Act. You might also contact the AFLCIO and Workforce, Inc for some advice as to how to proceed. By no means would I allow them to get away with this blatant discrimination. I wish you much good fortune, please do not let this go unanswered.

  6. Steven, here are some useful resources that I hope you will take advantage of. You cannot win a war if you lay down your weapons before the battle begins.

    RESNA Technical Assistance Program : http://www.resna.org/reshome.htm They provide practical information on accommodating a specific person with a specific disability in a work place plus they provide information on employment/accommodation tips for individuals with disabilities.

    Blanck, P., Anderson,J., Wallach., e. & Tenney, J. (1994) Implementing Reasonable Accommodations using ADR and the ADA: The case of the white-collar worker with bipolar mental illness. Mental and Physical Disability Law Review, 18, 458-464.

    THIS IS A GREAT ARTICLE TO SHARE WITH THE STAFF AT PURDUE UNIVERSITY.

    Presidents Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities: http://www.pcepd.gov/
    This site provides information on the Technical Assistance Project funded by the U.S. Dept. of Education, National Institute on Disability Research, a grant providing technical assistance and information to 56 assistive-technology projects located throughout the U.S..

    Colenbrader, A. (1977). Dimiensions of Visual Performance. Transactions- American Academy of Opthamology and Otolaryngology, 83, 332-337 .
    This article is a good reference for some of your “less enlightened” friends and educators.

    DeWitt, J. (1991). Removing Barriers Through Technology. In J. West. (Ed). The American with Disabilities Act : from Policy to Practice (pp. 313-332) New York: Millbank Memorial Fund.
    This article is a good source of information for removing barriers.

    http://www.apa.org/pi/disability/resources/interacting-disabilities.aspx#
    You have probably accessed this website however, in the event that you missed it, I have included it for your use.

    ADA Resource Manual by D. Cameraon and T. Sharp (1998) Ohio: Columbis Ohio Rehabilitative Services Commision.

    Wishing well on your journey.
    Rebecca

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