What Goes Into Planning A Date Night To A Jazz Club?

That's Alicia and Joe sitting side by side on a beige couch at Christmastime. They started dating three years ago today, on April 24, 2015.

Alicia (left) and Joe (right)

Today is a big day for our young blogger Alicia Krage and her boyfriend Joe: it’s their third anniversary together. They started celebrating this past weekend, traveling on their own Sunday from Northern Illinois University in DeKalb (around 60 miles west of Chicago) for a romantic dinner and a night of live music at Andy’s Jazz Club in downtown Chicago. Ali and Joe are both blind, and while they’ve had experience taking commuter trains in the suburbs, the two of them have never taken a train ride to have a date in Chicago before. Ali wrote me last week for information, and I thought her questions — and my responses — might give Easterseals blog readers an idea of some of the things people who have visual impairments have to consider when traveling somewhere new.


Ali: From your experience with Flash Cab, how much time in advance should I be calling them? Keep in mind it’ll take us a little while to get out of the station.

Beth: You can either call them before you leave (even from DeKalb, if you’d like) and give them a time you want to be picked up at the station, as in, “Pick us up at 4:15 p.m. today” or you can call them when you’ve finally arrived outside the station and are at a spot where they can pick you up. Either way, tell them that both of you are blind and that the driver will need to call out to you so you know she or he is there. I’d take the first option, as you will be so busy negotiating the train station that you won’t want to stop and call for a cab. Just schedule the pick-up at a time that allows you and Joe with lots of leeway to get through the station and outside to meet the cab.

Ali: Is there only one exit?

Beth: I think there is only one. It lets you out on Madison Street. A lot of people on your train will be going to Chicago so I’m sure they’ll be more than happy to give you directions if you need them. You could ask the conductor, too, but it’s unlikely the conductor can leave the platform to guide you all the way through the station to the exit.

Ali: We’ll be taking a cab back from the jazz club to the train station, too. In your experience taking a cab to the train station, was the driver kind enough to lead you inside and to an agent to request assistance?

Beth: No. Too dangerous to leave their cab outside unattended that long. If it’s Flash Cab, though, I bet you the driver will at least lead you to the door to get into the train station. Last night I had to take a cab to WGN Radio station, it’s located in the huge Tribune Tower and the Flash Cab driver left his cab to lead my Seeing Eye dog Whitney and me right to the correct door to the lobby there.

Ali: What has been your experience with getting back to the train station? Give me as much detail as you can.

Beth: If the cab driver lets you out at the train station, there will be lots of commuters coming in and out. I’d say there are a bunch of revolving doors, and then wayyyyy to the left of all that swishing noise of those doors swirling around you can find one handicapped accessible door (if you are afraid of revolving ones) with a button about elbow-height on the right hand side of it that you need to push so it opens for you. My experience is that lots of people will ask you if you need help, they always notice me if I’m there, especially if I make a point to look a little bewildered. The inside lobby is pretty huge, I’d ask for help in there, too. Ask them to get you to the ticket office, do this even if you already have a ticket for the train. When you get to the window where people buy tickets, tell them you need assistance to get on the train. They’ll have an official worker get you on the train, it’s very reassuring to do it that way because then you know for absolute sure that you are on the train you want to be on.

Ali: When should we schedule our ride back to the train station? I don’t know how loud Andy’s is, so I’m not sure they’d hear me. Anything is helpful!

Beth: This is another reason I like Flash Cab. In addition to their well-deserved reputation for welcoming — and understanding some of the needs of — riders with disabilities, you can book a round trip with them when you call in the first place. So let’s say you call from DeKalb to arrange your ride from the western suburbs, and you tell them you need a ride from 500 W. Madison (that’s the address of Chicago’s Ogilvy Transportation Center) at 4:10 pm, and you’re going to 11 E. Hubbard (that’s the address of Andy’s Jazz Club). Once they get all that information written down, you can tell them you’ll need a ride back to the train station later that night. They’ll book that ride right then, too. The jazz club isn’t terribly far from the train station, but its likely traffic will be heavy on a weekend night. I know you prefer getting somewhere extra early (over fretting about being late), so I’d say book the cab ride back to the train station so that the cab picks you and Joe up at Andy’s 45 minutes before your train leaves from Chicago back to the western suburbs. Bonus: Flash Cab will phone you to let you know when they’ve arrived and are waiting outside for you. That means you and Joe could put your coats on and all that stuff and then just stay inside listening to jazz until you get their phone call.

Back to me. Once Alicia has recovered from all the celebrating, she’ll write a follow-up blog post here about how she and Joe fared at the Chicago jazz club Sunday — stay tuned!

 

Twenty Minutes

Guest blogger Keith Hammond is back! Keith is a manager at the adult day services program at Easterseals Serving Greater Cincinnati, and he’s the father of two children on the autism spectrum. He’s written a number of poignant posts for us before, and I’m delighted to have him back with another one.

by Keith Hammond

Keith and his kids

Keith with his daughter and son

Recently, my wife and I took our son, Steven, to meet with a speech therapist he last saw in 2014. We reconnected with her on Facebook, and found out she was open for some sessions.

Steven has autism. He is non-verbal and communicates by RPM or Rapid Prompting Method — a board with the alphabet on it prompts him to respond and spell words to communicate. RPM is a relatively new technique; few people are adept at it.

Even with this tool, though, Steven has to feel some sort of a connection with people before he’ll communicate with them. Often, and with no pattern we can find, he chooses not to communicate at all. Even as his family, complete thoughts and sentences are something we rarely get. We usually only get simple “yes” or “no” responses, and we consider them as beautiful gifts.

As such, we re-engaged this speech therapist. At the first session, Steven and the therapist picked right back up communicating as if the absence had been four minutes instead of four years. It was great to watch — something we rarely experience.

After about forty minutes of the two of them discussing a history lesson, the therapist stopped and said, “We have twenty minutes left in the session; is there anything you all want to ask him?”

That really hit me. Twenty minutes. Think about that for a second. If you and your 17-year-old son had almost no communication, and then all of a sudden you were given twenty minutes to communicate… what would you say?

It’s a question most people never have to deal with. It’s a question so powerful, my mind darted about, jumping from one thought to the next in a song-like trance. After 17 years, there could never be enough time to ask him everything I want to know. Instead, and for reasons I cannot explain, a sampling of the questions took shape in a humble poem:

Would you like to have more friends?
Why are you so scared of the cat?
Do you like your summer camp and therapy?
Or could you do with less of that?

Are there shows you want to see on TV?
Are there certain songs you’d like to hear?
What’s your greatest, secret passion?
What’s your deepest and darkest fear?

Are there cities and states you’d like to visit?
Are there special sites you’d be excited to see?
Do you even know what autism is?
Would you like to ask God “Why Me?”

Are there actions we can do to support you?
Can we remove barriers that cause you strife?
What else can we do to make things better?
How can we help you have a happy life?

Would you like a girlfriend of your own?
Someday, would you like a kid or two?
What do you want to do after high school?
Is there a job or career you really want to do?

What do you want the future to hold for you?
Where do you want to live in a few years?
What’s so funny when you’re laughing?
Is there some reason when we see your tears?

Would you like new experiences to keep you busy?
Do we help you get enough rest?
Do you know how we feel when we fail you?
Can you understand that we try our best?

Are you truly happy with your life?
Or do you feel like it’s all so unfair?
Do you know how much we love you?
Can you feel how much we care?

There’s so many things we would love to ask you.
I honestly don’t know where to start.
Most parents have forever; we get 20 minutes.
It’s enough to break the strongest heart.

Ultimately, though, even if Steven is unable to provide the answers, I believe that someday we’ll all be together in heaven, and we can ask Steven our questions there.

One nice thing about eternity: it’s a lot longer than twenty minutes.

 

Our Favorite Autism-Related Blog Posts

A teenager with an iPadI don’t know what the weather is like where you are, but here in Chicago April has been cold, cold, cold — it snowed on the Cubs opening game day! I’m blaming the weather for it taking so long for me to acknowledge here on the Easterseals blog that April is Autism Acceptance Month.

This month especially we encourage you to learn a little more about what autism is, and take a look at the stories of those who are reaching their goals — finding a job, joining a baseball team, volunteering — with the help of Easterseals affiliates across the country.

Here on the blog, we’re rounding up some of our most helpful and popular blog posts related to autism. Whether you’re a parent of a child newly diagnosed with autism, a teenager navigating high school, an adult searching for the right career track, or anywhere in between, check out our suggested posts:

Looking for more autism related content? Subscribe to our Autism + You enewsletter!

 

Book Review: Lisa Fenn’s “Carry On”

Two years ago, while the Summer Paralympic Games were about to start in Rio, I heard a story on NPR about two teenagers with disabilities who ended up on the same high school wrestling team in inner city Cleveland. Dartanyon Crockett was legally blind as a result of Leber’s disease and Leroy Sutton lost both his legs at 11, when he was run over by a train. The ways these wrestlers worked together and cared for each other motivated me to write a post here about cross-disability assistance.

Fast forward to 2018. While gearing up to watch the 2018 Winter Paralympic Games in March, fellow blogger blindbeader remembered my 2016 post and decided to read the book an ESPN writer wrote about those two wrestlers: Carry On: A Story of Resilience, Redemption, and an Unlikely Family. I was flattered to hear that blindbeader had rememberred my post from all those months ago, then delighted when she generously agreed to let us publish an excerpt here of the thoughtful and honest book review of Carry On that she’d originally published on her Life Unscripted blog.

by blindbeader

Lisa’s Story

This story is deeply personal. While it is interwoven with strong and sharp threads of Leroy’s and Dartanyon’s stories — and those of other key figures — this is Lisa’s story. From early childhood memories to blustering and fumbling her way to a dream job to high school wrestling matches and beyond, We get to know Lisa as a warm-hearted woman who yearns for a family. And she definitely gets her wish! We’re introduced to athletes, to coaches, to parents and siblings. We laugh, we cry, and we hope and despair. But, make no mistake, this is Lisa’s story.

Sports — The Great Equalizer?

I’m not huge into wrestling, but Lisa’s writing puts the reader in school gyms, locker rooms, and world-class sports venues. You can definitely feel her respect for athletes in their own right, though there’s a strong undertone (sometimes voiced by coaches and observers and sometimes by Lisa herself) that athletes with disabilities are not talented in their own right… they’re talented “for a legless kid” (as someone referred to Leroy). The reactions to both young men — men of colour, living in poverty, and with disabilities — are almost exclusively related to their disabilities (as many of their peers are both people of colour and living in poverty). Some are astounded that they can wrestle at all and use them as “inspirations,” others don’t want to challenge them out of fear or ignorance, and still others give them the respect of laying it all on the mat. And yet, it’s clear that wrestling — and Lisa and ESPN’s exposure — gave both Leroy and Dartanyon opportunities they otherwise wouldn’t have had.

Disability as Inspiration or Tragedy

As much as I enjoyed this compelling read overall, I had a hard time escaping the prevailing theme that disability was something to be pitied or inspirationalized. In Lisa’s career as a sports editor, she interviewed athletes from all walks of life, including a hockey player who — years before the interview — became injured and paralyzed just seconds after stepping onto the ice during his first major game (you could almost hear the sad cellos playing in the background).

Leroy and Dartanyon’s wrestling coach contacted the local newspaper to write a story about his two disabled wrestlers (clearly without consulting them); Lisa was unable to explain why she thought it was a story that needed national attention, but to her it was, so she dropped everything to fly back to her home city and interview these kids. When the resulting ESPN story aired, the resulting letters and responses left this reader with the distinct feeling that Leroy and Dartanyon were meant to be viewed as recipients of generosity and catalysts for people to look outside themselves, rather than talented athletes in their own rights.

And Yet…

No one can ignore the confluence of race, poverty, and disability, and how Leroy and Dartanyon’s families — neither of which were what many would consider “stable” — shaped their high school and college/university experiences. Dartanyon, in particular, frequently refused to be “pitied” as a blind guy, even though he could’ve made use of adapted services, because he didn’t want anyone to treat him differently. Leroy didn’t have the luxury of being able to blend in, but it is clear that his school and training environments are not well-equipped for many students (lack of uniforms and sports equipment) and definitely not set up with wheelchair-accessible buses or classrooms.

It’s hard to look away from the reality that many cards are stacked against these young men’s lives and journeys. Lisa is tireless in her desire to provide for Leroy and Dartanyon, even as her adopted and biological family with her husband keeps growing. It’s heartwarming and frustrating and an important conversation — nature and nurture and empathy and personal responsibility. It made this reader uncomfortable, and maybe that’s a good thing.

Conclusion

This book is part memoir, part sports journey, part family history. There are some deeply uncomfortable mentions of ableism, racism, and inspiration porn (based on the depiction of the ESPN piece, “Carry On”, this reader has no desire to see it). And yet, this autobiography is compulsively readable, uplifting in places, and thought-provoking. It’s definitely worth the read.

 

15 Questions Elementary School Students Asked Me About My Disability

Photo of Beth and Whitney in front of the class.

The questions were fast and furious. Photo courtesy of retired teacher Maria LaPlaca Bohrer, who, with her husband Glenn, graciously fed and put us up for the night.

My husband Mike, my Seeing Eye dog Whitney, and I flew into La Guardia last month just in time for their fourth Nor’easter hit this year. We were there to see old friends and visit elementary school students who’d read my children’s book about guide dogs, Safe & Sound. The day after we arrived, New York City schools were closed due to snow. The next day, schools on Long Island were closed, too, so our Thursday visit to Rall Elementary School was cancelled.

Eyebrows up! Whitney and I finally outlasted Mother Nature on Friday. We spent that entire day at Harding Avenue Elementary School in Lindenhurst, and if you ask me, the questions the kids asked there made the wait worthwhile. Some examples:

    • What happens when you have to go upstairs?
    • How many dogs have you had?
    • What inspired you to write books?
    • How do you eat ice cream?
    • How can you write books if you can’t see??
    • What if your Seeing Eye dog bit you?
    • How come you’ve had so many dogs?
    • But what if the ice cream is in a cone?
    • Can your dog have babies? Why not?
    • When you go to shop, how do you pick out clothes?
    • How can you drive?
    • How come you have to change dogs so much?
    • Is your dog with you all the time when you’re at home, too?
    • How do you feel if you’re blind?
    • You said all you can see is the color black, right, so I gotta wonder if, when your dog pulls you, does she keep you safe?

It took that little boy a while to get that last question out. I sure didn’t mind — it just gave me a chance to lean down and scratch Whitney’s ears while I listened. Bonus: the concern in the boy’s voice motivated me to lift the harness on Whitney’s back and demonstrate how a Seeing Eye dog works.

And so, for our grand finale, I commanded “Whitney, outside!” The kids watched in awe as my magnificent Seeing Eye dog led me safely around chairs, bookshelves and children sitting criss-cross applesauce on the floor to the door out of the room.

Special education teacher Caitlin Farrell emailed me after our visit with a note. “I read the story to my students on Friday afternoon,” she wrote. “We had some really great discussion about how important seeing eye dogs are, and how we can educate other people about avoiding touching dogs that are service dogs.”
Bonus: she attached thank you notes from her class that I can hear. If you are looking for — or need — something to smile about, click the players below to hear their beautiful voices.

 

3 Ways Stephen Hawking Revealed Possibilities for People with Disabilities

In a May 2011 interview with the New York Times, journalist Claudia Dreifus asked Stephen Hawking, “Given all you’ve experienced, what words would you offer someone who has been diagnosed with a serious illness, perhaps A.L.S.?”

Hawking, who prepared his answers ahead of the in-person interview, answered: “My advice to other disabled people would be, concentrate on things your disability doesn’t prevent you doing well, and don’t regret the things it interferes with. Don’t be disabled in spirit, as well as physically.”

Hawking’s progressive and positive attitude toward disability here exemplifies everything Easterseals works toward every day: A world in which people with disabilities can achieve their goals without barriers; the notion that disability isn’t something to fear or regret, rather it’s a natural part of life.

Let’s dig a little deeper into his wise words:

  1. Concentrate on things your disability doesn’t prevent you doing well: Certain things may be harder to accomplish with a disability, but that doesn’t mean that everything will be. Everyone is uniquely capable of contributing talent, perspective, and skill to make an impact. Hawking was a wonderful example of this. We help people of all abilities make their unique impact at Easterseals, with the right supports and resources. We are confident that one of the next world-changers will be a part of the Easterseals family.
  2.  Don’t regret the things (your disability) interferes with: Hawking was diagnosed with A.L.S. in 1963 at the age of 21. Following his diagnosis he resisted using a wheelchair. Becoming a person with a disability later in life (as opposed to being born with a disability) was hard on him. However, he eventually let go of regret and focused on what he was good at and what he was put on this earth to do. He embraced assistive technology to continue his groundbreaking work, and had a hand in developing and advancing the programs he used. Later he became a vocal disability advocate, taking part in the Charter for the Third Millennium on Disability, which stated: “In the 21st century, we must insist on the same human and civil rights for people with disabilities as for everyone else.”
  3. Don’t be disabled in spirit as well as physically: The experience of being human includes disability. We all have the capacity to reach for our wildest dreams, live the fullest lives, and make the greatest change in the world – not in spite of perceived limitations, sometimes because of them. It is what makes us unique, genuine and complete. Hawking calls us all to not be a barrier to ourselves while navigating difficulties in life. Do not stifle the dreams you were born to realize.

For Hawking, the limits of what was possible were vast. He made us consider not just the wonder of the stars, but the wonder of our existence. We remember him as one of the great minds of our time, but I hope we also remember him as an important figure in the timeline of disability history.

I’ll leave you with another wonderful quote from this same interview: “Obviously, because of my disability, I need assistance. But I have always tried to overcome the limitations of my condition and lead as full a life as possible. I have traveled the world, from the Antarctic to zero gravity. Perhaps one day I will go into space.”

Connect with Angela: LinkedIn | Twitter

More blog posts by Angela Williams:

 

Accessibility Means Being Part Of The Community

Erin Hawley

Erin Hawley

Accessibility breaks barriers. It’s not just about navigating a space using a wheelchair, or working in a scent-free environment; these are both part of a bigger, more important consideration – that disabled people should have access to the community.

Visiting friends or going to a restaurant means calling ahead to check if a place is accessible, researching public transit routes, and hoping subway elevators aren’t down for maintenance. Leaving your house is a gamble, and a drain on physical, financial, and/or emotional resources. For me, attending any type of gaming convention (I’m a huge nerd) needs lots of planning and checking in with game designers to see if their event is accessible for me; sometimes I can play, sometimes I can’t. And while the games I do play are exciting and memorable, I can’t help but think of all I am missing out on.

This feeling translates across every facet of my social life, from friend’s parties, to concerts, to historical tours, to vacations and weddings and volunteer opportunities. I do a lot of fun and meaningful things via online communities, like Easterseals Thrive, but I don’t always feel part of an offline, local community beyond my immediate family – and sometimes that hurts.

Inaccessibility leads to isolation, to feeling like you are not wanted in a space. Inaccessibility is mostly a result of ignorance and the belief that disabled people don’t go out in the community. I can tell you that most of us do, but more of us would go out if things were accessible. I want to be more involved with my local community, but I am often reminded that I am not welcome here. My town prioritizes history and old-time charm over accessibility, and any attempt at change, or even dialogue, is met with scorn.

But there’s room for hope. Easterseals affiliates and organizations across the nation are working toward community access equality. Easterseals Project Action Consulting offers travel training based on the Americans with Disabilities Act. Many affiliates, like Easterseals New Jersey, offer Day Habilitation, a program that gets disabled people involved in social settings with peers and in the community. These services are crucial, and will change how society views and treats disabled people.

An accessible community is something I dream of. I imagine a fully accessible public transit system with adequate room for wheelchairs and other mobility devices. Curb cuts on every corner, and paved sidewalks. A ramp in every home. Captions and audio descriptions for movie theaters. ASL interpreters at events. Quiet rooms. Braille restaurant menus. The list goes on.

I do think these goals are achievable. In fact, many are already on their way to becoming a reality; we just need to keep pushing for change.

What does an accessible community look like to you?

More posts by Erin:

Thankful For Online Friends and the Technology That Connects Us

Empowered and Disabled: Why I Don’t Like ‘Special Needs’

Disability and Dating: How to Find Love While Being True to Yourself

 

Women’s History Month Highlight: A Mom Who Made Textbooks Accessible

Vivette Rifkin reading a textbook into a microphone

Thanks to Vivette Rifkin and other readers, students with visual impairments got their textbooks in audio on a timely basis.

I’m giving a talk at the University of Illinois Chicago (UIC) this afternoon to honor a woman who helped young people with visual impairments and other disabilities make it through school 50+ years ago.

Some background about the woman the seminar is named for: Vivette R. Rifkin (1911 – 2007) founded Educational Tape Recording for the Blind in the 1960s to help her daughter Jill and countless other people with visual impairments and other disabilities succeed at school. Jill was born prematurely and was left with badly impaired vision. In her younger years Jill attended a special school for children who had disabilities, and when she expressed a desire to attend her neighborhood high school and go on to college, her mother helped by recording textbooks for her. When her daughter started at University of Missouri, Mrs. Rifkin and her team started recording textbooks for students all over the country. From the Chicago Tribune:

What made Mrs. Rifkin’s firm especially valuable was its quick turn-around on book orders. Employing a team of volunteers, and recording for five hours a day herself, Mrs. Rifkin would get students and others the books they needed, even lengthy tomes on science and other subjects, in a matter of days.

Vivette Rifkin herself never had the chance to go to college, but in 1999 the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) awarded her an honorary doctorate of humane letters. After Mrs. Rifkin’s death in 2007, her family established the Vivette R. Rifkin Seminar at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Late last year I was contacted by Keenan Cutsforth, Assistant Dean for Advancement at the UIC College of Applied Health Sciences, to invite me to meet with him and Dovie Horvitz, another of Vivette Rifkin’s daughters, to talk about the 2018 Vivette R. Rifkin Seminar. Over lunch, Dovie told us that her mother had been recording textbooks well into her nineties. “The University of Illinois was right to give her that degree,” Dovie said with a shrug and a smile. “After reading thousands and thousands of college textbooks, she could have been hired to teach classes there!”

Dovie and I really hit it off over lunch that day — how could you not love a woman named Dovie? After lunch she accompanied me to an elementary school in Deerfield to hear me talk with the kids there, and now I’m looking forward to being with her again at the seminar this afternoon. Here are the details :

The 2018 Vivette R. Rifkin Seminar presented by Beth Finke

Blind in the City: Not as Dark as it Sounds

Description: In her presentation, Beth will outline her decision to move from a small community to a large city after losing her sight at age 26. Through her talk, Finke will examine cultural attitudes about disability, reasonable accommodation issues, and the role disability arts and culture movements play in urban life.

Thursday, March 15
12:30 – 1:45 p.m.

UIC Lecture Center Building F, F006
807 S. Morgan St.

It is an honor to be asked to give a talk for the 2018 Vivette R. Rifkin Seminar. I hope I do it justice. For more information about this event, directions or other inquiries, contact Keenan Cutsforth, Assistant Dean for Advancement at the UIC College of Applied Health Sciences, at keenanc@uic.edu or 312.966.1339.

 

I Waited To Disclose My Disability. Here’s What Happened.

This is part two of Ali’s interview story. You can catch part one here, where she walks us through her job search experience.

A laptop next to a phone and some pencils and pensOn the day of my job interview, I turned from nervous to excited. At least, while I was on the bus.

I had scheduled the ride well in advance. They usually drop off all the on-campus riders before the off-campus ones, but that day, even though the other passenger was staying on campus, the driver went out of his way to drop me off first. This was a job interview, and the driver agreed with me that the earlier I got there, the better.

When we arrived, the driver led me in the building, and that’s when the excitement turned to nervousness. Remember: I hadn’t told them ahead of time that I was blind, so I’d be walking in with my cane and they were going to have to interact with me face-to-face.

Or were they? What if they told me to leave? Would they really tell me that? Why might they? All these thoughts were circulating around my head when the driver approached someone at the desk and told them I was here for an interview. I took it from there — I can speak for myself.

The receptionist hesitated a moment. “You’re here for the job?” she asked, and I couldn’t tell if maybe it was just me over-analyzing it or if she actually sounded skeptical. Like, skeptical of my ability or something. I gave a confident smile and said yes. She told me to sit down. I politely asked her to lead me to a chair, and she acted flustered while giving me directions.

Once I was seated, she then gave me the name of the person who would be interviewing me. My heart sank. It was the same person I’d talked to on the phone, the one I didn’t want to talk to now. But I had to. I plastered on a smile and said, “Okay, thanks.”

When the interviewer explained the job, he said material had to be “sent over” to a department where data is collected. I am familiar with Microsoft Excel and spreadsheets, that sort of thing, but the guy said they don’t have the type of software I would need to do the job. He practically dismissed me right then and there.

I think I took this all well, though. I thanked him for his time, and I also made him aware that a lot of blind people do search for jobs. I told him it’s very possible that I’m not the only blind person he will see interviewing for this job. I recommended he call the Disability Resource Center here on campus. If nothing else, maybe they’ll have a software recommendation.

When I walked out of the office, though, I was very discouraged. I called the bus driver, and when I told him I was ready for a ride home, he said, “You’re done already?” The interview was supposed to last a half-hour. It had only been ten minutes. I could tell the driver knew from my voice it did not go well. “I’m on my way,” he said.

I called my boyfriend Joe from the bus, of course. This was one of those days where being blind is really difficult. It doesn’t normally bother me. Sometimes I just have minor mishaps throughout the day where I think, “This would be easier if I could see,” but this… this felt different. It sort of shook my confidence for a while.

When I told all this to Joe, he sympathized. He said he was sorry it didn’t go well, but he was proud of me for putting myself out there and getting the experience. He also took the time to remind me of a talk we had a while ago about the advantages of being blind.

It’s something I try to remember when I have these type of days.

 

‘Do I Tell A Prospective Employer I’m Blind Before An Interview?’

A pair of sunglasses on a white desk next to a keyboard and mouse.Once I settled in after transferring colleges, I decided it was time to apply for a job. 

Despite some accessibility issues with the application, I was able to apply for a job I thought I was well qualified for. A week went by with no word, but I was so busy with schoolwork that week that I actually forgot about it.

I received a phone call the next week, but when I didn’t recognize the number that came up on the caller ID, I didn’t answer. I checked the voicemail they left me, though, and when I found it was from the place where I had recently applied, I immediately called them back.

The person on the phone told me that they got my voicemail and asked if I was still interested in the job. I said I was. They discussed the number of hours and where they were located.

While we conversed, I noticed they didn’t sound very pleasant, almost annoyed or bored like they didn’t actually want to be talking to me. But I ignored that, because I really did want this job. I went along with it, but I did secretly hope this wouldn’t be the person doing the interview.

After the interview was set up, I was overjoyed. I was also nervous, though, because there was a pressing issue that was nagging at me: Do I tell the employer that I’m blind? If I were to tell them, they’d know ahead of time and could think about accommodations, if there needed to be any. They could also jump to the conclusion that I was incapable of doing the job before even having met me. What to do?

Finding a job can be a problem for people who are blind or visually impaired. The American Federation of the Blind reports that 75 percent of the estimated 4 million adults in the U.S. who are blind or visually impaired are not in the labor force.

I had asked my boyfriend for his input, as well as a few of my friends that are also blind. I wanted to gain their perspective. They all said that ultimately, it was up to me. This didn’t help! For some reason, I wanted someone to tell me exactly what to do. When I told my parents about the interview, I asked them the same thing, and they gave me the same answer. So I finally decided on my own: I wasn’t going to tell them.

The day before the interview, I received a call from the same person saying a snowstorm was on the way. They’d already been informed that my university would be closing the next day, so we needed to reschedule the interview.

So, we rescheduled it for February 13th. That gave me four days to prepare, but also an extra four days to just wait. I’m not good at waiting.

Stay tuned for part two of Ali’s story, where she shares her interview experience!