South Africa

Op-Ed: Job-hunting as a blind person is full of challenges and discrimination

By Zingisa Kona 1 November 2017

October was World Eye Care Awareness Month and is something I feel very strongly about. I want to succeed in work and life but it has been a tough journey on the career front so far. I am completely blind and want to share my experiences in the hope that it will help people to understand my position, as well as that of many other fellow South Africans. By ZINGISA NGWENYA KONA.

I have searched far and wide to find a job. Despite having a Journalism and Media Studies degree from the University of the Free State, it has been an uphill battle. Not only has it been difficult to get a journalism or communications position, it has extended to other vacancies that I come across – at a call centre, as a switchboard operator, receptionist or quality assurer, in HR and in admin. I have managed to find work as a quality assurer and part-time transcriber in the past, but it has been particularly difficult over the past year.

My journey to find a job has led me to consider what it is like for other people in South Africa who are in the same position as I am.

Discrimination among the visually impaired seems to have gone viral this year. Many people in the blind community have experienced discrimination. I am one of them. It’s something we’ve been talking about more and more among ourselves. What often happens is that companies will invite visually impaired people to apply for an internship or a job, but then will mention that the person must have at least 50% vision. Now the question is: What about someone who has 45% vision… and more especially, where does this leave someone who is completely blind?

I recently went to an interview, but didn’t get further than the waiting room. When they saw I was completely blind, the CEO and the HR manager came out of the interviewing room and they said they were sorry I had made the effort to come to the interview. They promised I would hear from them within 48 hours, but they never got back to me.

A second company encourages disabled people to apply for learnerships, but when I phoned them, they said they only considered people with at least 50% vision.

This is a very disturbing issue as it discriminates among us. It suggests that completely blind people are not supposed to work, even if they are qualified for posts. It’s sad at the same time, because this can bring shame to completely blind people and cause low self-esteem. Most of all, it creates division and conflict among us, as some people are prioritised above others. This is not supposed to be the case. We need to be treated equally.

There are also divisions among different kinds of disabilities. Employment is a very serious issue when it comes to people living with a disability, but it becomes a more serious problem among people who are visually impaired. Under normal circumstances, people living with disabilities are supposed to be prioritised by every employment sector, but unfortunately the opposite often happens.

Many companies will say that they encourage disabled people to apply for a post, but they actually mean physically disabled people.

When you talk about disability, many employers tend to picture someone in a wheelchair. They automatically focus on physical disability and forget about other impairments, such as being blind.

Accessibility is another serious issue. Some people think we need ramps. But these are not necessary if you are blind, deaf, or have a speech impairment. It would be best if an employer would simply ask differently abled people if there’s anything they specifically require to do their job properly.

When you go for an interview, employers say they cannot accommodate your disability. Some see us as a burden. The most disturbing experience has been to see that some are not willing to listen to our ideas about how they could help and how we could jointly make this work. They also think it is not possible to employ a blind person, because they think we cannot use computers. But this isn’t the case.

When it comes to computers, all it takes is to install JAWS software in a computer – and we are good to go. The price at a shop is reasonable. A 40-minute mode of the software can be downloaded, while software called NVDA can be downloaded online for free.

Orientation and mobility are also necessary for any blind person in a new environment, but it should only take two to three days for a blind person to master the whole environment.

There’s a tendency to underestimate the ability of blind people. People often treat us as objects and believe we cannot really do anything by ourselves. They don’t take the time to ask, learn, and read up about our disability and the way in which we function. Sometimes we are perceived as Intellectually disabled. People tend to think that because we are blind we can’t think, hear, talk, or do things on our own. Yes, we are disabled, but differently abled at the same time.

Sometimes when I’m with someone, people will pose questions to the person I am with, instead of to me. They also sometimes assume that if we are educated and have a number of qualifications, a favour was done for us to pass or to get those qualifications. There’s a belief that we cannot really perform. This is not right. We can perform and when we do, we give it our all. I am dedicated, and work well both in a team and independently. I can work under pressure and meet deadlines. I embrace life. I love long distance running and ballroom and Latin dancing. I’m willing to take calculated risks and am keen to learn new skills. I may be visually impaired, but I am as qualified and keen, if not more so, than others. So are many of my fellow visually impaired South Africans.

I would encourage people to take time to study each disability carefully so that they can understand it. By employing someone who is blind, you’ll not only help them, but you’ll also help to break down stigma and raise awareness about the visually impaired. It will create a positive atmosphere in the company as well, as blind people are generally friendly, talkative, have good listening skills, grasp information easily and work hard.

Give us a chance to prove ourselves and help us to learn, grow and achieve. We will show you how capable we are. We will make you proud. DM

Zingisa Ngwenya Kona is originally from East London and is living in Johannesburg. Zingisa became blind when she was 19 due to glaucoma. Despite this sudden setback in 2006, she persevered, studying for a marketing management course at the Pioneer College in Worcester and obtaining a BA Communications Sciences degree at the University of the Free State. She is currently studying towards an LLB degree, while exploring career prospects.

Photo: Thomas Lefebvre/Unsplash.

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