Understanding Employer Knowledge and Attitudes
Have you ever wondered what prospective employers know about the ways blind people perform job tasks? Or what employers think about hiring a blind person?
When asked about barriers they encounter while seeking employment, negative employer attitudes are usually the most common barrier mentioned by people who are blind. What can be done to address these negative attitudes? To help answer this question, we first wanted to learn more about employers’ attitudes – what do they really think and know about blind people in the workplace?
We conducted a study that included 197 employers – people in hiring positions within businesses of different sizes – in four states. Most of the employers were randomly identified, but a small portion were business contacts of vocational rehabilitation (VR) agencies. We asked them questions that measured their attitudes about blind people as employees and about their knowledge regarding the ways blind people can perform five typical job tasks. This is what we found:
- Most employers are not knowledgeable at all about how blind people can perform routine job tasks, such as accessing a regular print document or using a computer. This means they need you to tell them how you can do these types of tasks!
- More employers thought they knew how tasks could be completed than actually did. This means that some employers are misinformed, and it’s another reminder of the importance of explaining to employers how you can complete workplace tasks.
- Employer attitudes were better for those who actually knew the correct way for a blind person to accomplish the tasks – but not necessarily for those who thought they knew. Accurate knowledge about how blind people perform work tasks is important and may contribute to a greater openness toward hiring blind employees!
- Employers exhibited a wide range of attitudes on the topic of hiring blind workers, ranging from very negative to extremely positive. On average, their attitudes fell at approximately the mid-point of the attitude scale.
- Employers who reported communicating with the Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) agency that serves blind people in their state tended to have more positive attitudes.
- Employers who were more knowledgeable about how blind people perform work tasks also tended to have better attitudes.
What does all this mean to you?
It is important to realize that most employers really don’t understand how you could function on the job. If they don’t understand that, how could they consider hiring you for a position? A few things to keep in mind:
- Educating employers about how blind people can function on the job is important. This is something that you can do! Your VR agency staff can also help provide helpful information and insight.
- Working with your local VR agency to obtain job interviews may be beneficial, given that employers who have communicated with VR staff tend to have better attitudes about hiring blind workers.
- Before a job interview, be sure you are aware of the essential job functions for the position. These should be listed in the job description.
- In the job interview, don’t hesitate to speak up to describe how you can perform job functions! Just because the employer doesn’t ask you, this doesn’t mean he or she doesn’t have questions. In fact, he or she might be hesitant to ask, so it’s up to you to provide this information. Better to make it clear in the interview that you can perform the necessary job functions than to possibly leave them wondering.
- In some cases it may be useful to bring some of your more portable Assistive Technology with you so you can demonstrate how you would use it for a particular function. Remember, the interview is an opportunity for you to assure the employer that you can do the job, and the more capable you appear, the more likely you are to become employed.
- Take the employer’s perspective – for many employers, the most important consideration is that they hire an employee who can perform the necessary job functions efficiently (in addition to having all the necessary “soft skills,” such as a strong work ethic and good social skills). If you don’t make it clear to them that you can perform the necessary job functions efficiently, can you really expect them to hire you?