October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM), an annual recognition of the workplace contributions of people with disabilities sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor Office of Disability Employment Policy. This year’s NDEAM theme, “Advancing Equity and Access,” emphasizes the need to ensure people with disabilities have equal opportunities to prepare for and succeed in employment.
NIB and its associated nonprofit agencies recognize those contributions every day. Our talented workforce of more than 5,100 people who are blind or visually impaired provides a range of quality SKILCRAFT® products and professional services to government and military customers. Nonetheless, we are always working to increase the number and types of career opportunities available.
Today, despite an unemployment rate at historic lows, 70% of working-age Americans who are blind are not employed. The reasons behind this alarming statistic have nothing to do with the capabilities of people who are blind, and everything to do with attitudes and misperceptions common in our society.
One reason employers often give for their hesitancy to hire people who are blind is the cost of accommodations. But that notion is outdated – technology has been a great leveler in terms of making jobs and workplaces accessible at low-to-no cost.
It’s easy to understand the roots of this misperception – when the first text-to-speech technology was introduced in 1978, the Kurzweil Reading Machine cost $30,000 and was about the size of a washing machine. Forty-five years later, text-to-speech capabilities are built into most computer programs, mobile phones, and other types of technology and are available to users at no additional cost.
NIB’s talent management enterprise, NSITE, is working to eradicate this and other common misperceptions about hiring people who are blind or visually impaired. NSITE works with employers to assess their staffing needs, then matches them with talented job seekers who are blind that are ready to meet position requirements.
But matching employers with talented employees is just part of the NSITE equation. NSITE’s accessibility service uses a hands-on approach to workplace accessibility and accommodation designed to support the unique needs of individual employers and employees. The service doesn’t end when a position is filled – NSITE provides continuing support to employers and employees to make any needed changes or adjustments to ensure a productive and satisfying relationship for both parties.
People everywhere are recognizing the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) throughout our society. A recent study by the Pew Research Center found that 56% of employed adults believe focusing on increasing DEI at work is a good thing. NSITE is unique in its ability to help organizations meet their DEI goals.
NSITE Consulting offers a variety of training and advisory services that not only explain the wide range of capabilities amongst people who are blind, but also help organizations understand the positive impact a diverse workforce can have on the bottom line. In addition, services are available that focus on preparing staff to work with people who are blind or visually impaired, including learning effective communication, recognizing unconscious bias, and utilizing inclusive models of leadership and team building.
As we all work to build a more equitable society, NSITE is ready to partner with employers to expand access to workplaces for people who are blind and empower them to build rewarding careers. For more information about NSITE and its variety of service offerings, visit NSITE.org.