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‘Damning’ survey finds employment discrimination rife for low vision Australians

New research commissioned by Vision Australia shows that more than half of Australian employers have never considered hiring a blind or low vision person.

The survey of 1,003 employers – conducted in April this year by market research firm EY Sweeney – also found that many employers believed blind people would not be productive enough or thought they would be a financial burden to their business.

The organisation has released the results of the survey this month as it begins to mount a new campaign aiming to reduce negative perceptions of candidates who are blind or have low vision, and raise awareness of the supports and services available to show employers that it is easy to employ these candidates.

Mr Ron Hooton, Vision Australia CEO, said the findings showed there was no doubt people who are blind or have low vision were subject to discrimination and outdated perceptions when looking for employment.

“People who are blind or have low vision are no different to anyone else in that they want to work and make capable and committed employees and it’s extremely disappointing they’re being denied that opportunity out of hand,” he said.

Vision Australia CEO Ron Hooton says Australian employers are lagging behind when it came to employer awareness and acceptance for blind and low vision people. Image: Vision Australia

The survey found only 30% of Australian businesses were willing to adapt the job requirements to suit a person who is qualified for the role but has a vision impairment.

Half of people with involvement in recruiting staff have never even thought about hiring someone with a vision impairment. And 80% were not confident in hiring someone who has a vision impairment.

In terms of key barriers to hiring a person with vision impairment, 67% were concerned about the associated risks, 56% had doubts over productivity, 35% had concerns about their staff working with and managing the person and 31% had financial concerns.

While the findings of the research illustrate the multitude of challenges people who are blind or have low vision must overcome to find employment, Hooton said they also showed how employers were denying themselves the opportunity to find the best possible candidate for a position.

“We often hear from employers how they can’t find candidates who are qualified or committed, yet here we have evidence that employers aren’t even willing to consider a cohort of driven and talented candidates,” he said.

“My message to any employer or recruiter who comes across somebody who is blind or have low vision is to forget your perceptions and judge them on their merits. Consider them on the talents and diversity they could bring to the role.

Hooton said the results of the survey were “damning” and showed how the country was strides behind the rest of the world when it came to employer awareness and acceptance for blind and low vision people.

“We can do better than this and we need to do better than this.”

‘I was asking what’s the point?’

Sydney man Mr Conor Smith is no stranger to the sound of a job interviewer’s voice changing the second he tells them he is legally blind.

From feeling like a cost or a problem to a workplace to being asked if he thinks he can even do a job – Smith has spent more time searching for jobs in his life than working.

He was 12 years old when he was diagnosed with a degenerative disease that would make him lose his sight. By the time he was 23, he was completely blind. He was at university and began looking for a job for the first time in his life.

Conor Smith and his dog guide Liquorice. Image: Vision Australia

For five years, Smith was applying for at least five jobs a week.

From hearing the tone change of interviewees when he said he was blind to being asked: “do you really think you’d be able to do this job?”, he said there were many points where he wanted to give up.

Another problem he faced was inaccessible application processes, even in government jobs.

Smith said he never would have applied for a job he couldn’t do and it was “demeaning” and “disheartening” having employers express ignorance when asking whether he was capable.

“I found myself often asking ‘what’s the point?’ – employers made me feel like a cost or a problem and that was before I’d even go to the second round of interviews,” he said.

“I felt like I was being told again and again that I was not of value to society.”

Smith said people who are blind are just as capable as anyone else. From competently using a computer and having excellent communication skills, he said there needs to be far more employer awareness around the benefits of employing someone who is blind.

“We are just as good as anyone else.”

Smith now works for Blind Citizens Australia and enjoys it. But he doesn’t want to feel like he is pigeonholed into only working in advocacy roles as a result of his blindness.

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