Like other people living with vision loss, I am often faced with the lack of access to everyday tasks and items necessary to perform my job. Sometimes it’s a physical barrier and sometimes it’s virtual. Early on, when I first began using a personal computer with text-to-speech software, the availability of accessible materials, programs, and websites were limited. That was back in 1995 and since then, so much has changed for the better.
Despite the virtual evolution and the removal of electronically based barriers, the lack of access still exists, especially in the workplace. Generally, the talk in the blindness community is most often focused on accessibility issues and it’s because when we know something is easy and useful to us, we use it, and even come to rely upon it to a much greater degree of dependence compared to a person without vision loss.
I could go on and write pages of examples of being both supported and let down by high and low technology and visual aids but that is for another day. I want to share something not many employers are sensitive to: blind employees not being able to fill out assessment forms privately. For years now, I’ve been required to fill out a form after a site visit from the regional manager and I cannot access the electronic document with my technology. I am forced to sit through the reading of the form by the RM and having them scribe for me. This isn’t too weird for check boxes and scaling questions, but when it comes to the written comments, I do not feel comfortable verbalizing what I want to write down myself. Doing this on the fly puts me at a serious disadvantage compared to my sighted colleagues because someone else is writing and I can’t type it out or make sure it’s what I really want to say. My colleagues get to fill out the form in private, so I should be afforded the same process.
It’s like being given a pair of shoes with paper stuffed in the toes to make them fit; they are awkward and just don’t do the job.
It may seem that this means little in the big scheme of things compared to what I can achieve independently and I don’t wish to say otherwise – yet, when the yearly site visit time comes I dread the task. This time, I am going to attempt an alternative to that confounding form and hope I can give the RM a form I have filled out on my own. It will be different and perhaps be a bit unconventional in appearance but I will let the RM know that if I have to spend extra time and effort to complete the form, then his staff must make allowances as well. I’m not sure it will catch on, but I’m going to give it the old college try.
And, this leads me to another related access issue that is so often overlooked: the extra time and effort we take to meet the standards set by people without vision loss. I hope the folks who are reading this who are free of a visual limitation gain some insight to the fact that it takes us longer to cross the street, feel comfortable in new places, and manage our lives just to keep up appearances.