Future Reflections April 1982, Vol. 1 No. 3

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By Doris M. Willoughby

Did you, as a child or teenager, gain valuable experience through a summer or part-time job? Your blind son or daughter can do the same.

I see four stages or levels through which a youngster passes in moving toward adult responsibility on the job. Although all youngsters move through this progression in one way or another, it may be helpful to analyze this more carefully with a blind youngster. The second step, especially, is often given very little thought; but careful attention to experiences at this level can aid greatly in proceeding to the third and fourth levels of responsibility.

1. The child helps with chores in his own home, gradually taking on more responsibility. He picks up his toys, cleans his room, washes
dishes, takes out the trash, helps care for younger siblings, etc.

2. The youngster works at a job outside his home while an adult is present at all times for guidance as needed. Examples include:
working as a "mother's helper" to entertain children while the parent is present but busy; assisting with simple jobs at a business; doing
house-cleaning or other chores for a neighbor, under close direction; learning work skills under close supervision by a teacher.

3. The youngster works independently at a job with some responsibility. He may shovel snow; deliver newspapers; wash dishes in a restaurant; babysit with one or two children, with an adult on call in case of serious problems; assist in an office, etc.

4. The teenager or young adult holds a job with mature responsibilities in the field of his or her choice--factory work, teaching, engineering, secretarial work, or any other occupation.

As the boy or girl takes on more and more responsibility, in general he/she also earns more and more money. By the third and fourth stages, it is important to insist that the blind youngster receive the same pay that anyone else would receive. Even at the first level, it is very helpful if the child receives some payment for certain jobs; he can begin to learn that successful work brings the agreed-upon wages, while failure or omission results in no wages. I am not suggesting that youngsters be paid for all home chores; they also need to learn to carry their own weight of work as family members. But it is very instructive to pay the child a small wage for certain selected tasks--perhaps those that are optional and/or the most difficult.

How can a job outside the home be found is these days when many adults remain unemployed? Here are some suggestions:

--School counselors, teachers of the blind, and the state agency for the blind should help. There may even be school-sponsored situations such as a school radio station, an office job, or a work experience program (these are not only for the non-college-bound). A word of caution, however: a sheltered workshop, even if it is labelled as a workshop for the blind, should not be necessary unless the person has some additional problem (such as mental retardation) which would make this placement advisable even without the matter of blindness.

--There is no reason to exclude blind youngsters from the traditional part-time jobs such as snow shoveling, babysitting, and newspaper delivery.

--Friends and relatives may offer a job or a job lead.

--If your son or daughter is old enough, services from the regular state employment agency should be used. If the employment counselor suggests that the agency for the blind should be helping instead, explain that you want services from both agencies.

--Churches and other community groups often have an odd-job referral service especially for teenagers. In our community there is one called "Rent-a-Kid".

--Other young people may have leads. Another teenager may know of an opening in the restaurant where he works; a busy babysitter may refer surplus customers to your son or daughter who is just getting started.

--Blind businessmen usually are especially willing to give a young blind person a chance, and to help him or her find job leads. The National Federation of the Blind (NFB), particularly, will be glad to try to help. Recently the NFB has started a very successful project called Job Opportunities for the Blind (JOB), a nationwide effort to help blind people find jobs. Contact JOB at 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230, for information on job-seeking, and for the name of a blind person near you.

While recognizing the importance of earning money, it is valuable to note the benefits that often come from volunteer work. For example, my two sisters gained valuable experience during some of their school years by working as Candy Stripers in a hospital. After a time this volunteer job made them eligible for a Nurses Aide course which led to part-time paying jobs at the same hospital. However, even without the matter of leading directly into actual employment, the work as Candy Stripers was very valuable. Marian became a physical therapist, and found the experience to be of direct benefit in her education. Margery became a biologist; she benefited from the general background of work experience. She also worked at a volunteer job in the field of biology and found that this, too, led to a summer job with pay.
Moreover, both my sisters are also homemakers and find the hospital background helpful in regard to home nursing techniques. Although my sisters are sighted, that is not important here because blind young people can and do have the same kinds of experiences--even to the details of doing the very same jobs described here.

My husband, who is a blind electrical engineer, found that work at the campus radio station helped prepare him for his career. Other common examples of volunteer work include selling Girl Scout cookies; teaching Sunday School or other religious classes; supporting a political party through campaigning or office work; giving telephone Crisis Line assistance; and other community service projects.

In most respects, all of this is the same effort that should be made with a young sighted person. We must do the same kinds of things with blind young people. We must consider in addition, however, the greatest problem of blindness: public attitudes. Even when your son or daughter is well qualified for a given job, the employer's misconceptions may cause resistance toward hiring him or her. Overcoming this is the most difficult problem of all, and many materials have been published on this general subject by the NFB and JOB. Here are some suggestions from the experience of blind adults:

--The young person must be well-prepared to handle the job. Teachers and counselors of the blind should help with techniques in personal skills and personal grooming, as well as specific job skills such as child care. In my book, A Resource Guide for Parents and Educators of Blind Children, available from the National Federation of the Blind, I have set down a number of suggestions, including a detailed discussion of babysitting methods.

--The young person should present a poised appearance, and be ready to explain confidently how various tasks will be accomplished. If the employer does not bring up the subject of blindness, he/she probably is nevertheless thinkiig about it; it is wise for the applicant to bring it up and explain the methods that will be used. At the same time, however, keep blindness in perspective as a relatively minor factor; general qualifications for the position are far more important.

--Although it is well to have an open discussion of blindness during a face-to-face interview, it is usually best not to mention blindness when calling or writing to ask for an interview. Too often the employer's misconceptions will result in no interview at all, and no real chance to explain about effective alternative methods. It is no more necessary to mention blindness before the interview than it is necessary to mention race, height, or other personal characteristics.

--As a parent, consider carefully the advantages and disadvantages of your accompanying your son or daughter to a job interview. On the one hand, some youngsters really need help in talking with someone about a job. On the other hand, your presence implies that the young person is not able to handle things alone--after all, if he cannot even go to the interview alone, how could he take responsibility for the job itself? In general, with an older boy or girl we strongly discourage the parent's participation in a job interview. A possible alternative, if help is really needed, is to have a counselor or teacher participate rather than the parent. Also note that if you are needed for transportation only, you can and should stay away from the actual interview--even remaining outside the building. Furthermore, consider very carefully whether some other transportation is possible so that the young person can show complete independence.

--In regard to formal employment applications by the teenager or young adult, become well-informed on civil rights laws and regulations.
Discrimination solely on the basis of blindness is prohibited in many situations, and the National Federation of the Blind is working to get such protection strengthened and broadened. It is sometimes wise to mention judiciously to an employer that you know he does not wish to discriminate. As a last resort, your son or daughter may choose to file a formal complaint if there is discrimination.

Recently I was talking with some blind high school students about part time jobs and future plans. One young woman was describing how she is interested in becoming a veterinarian, and already has a part-time job in a vet's office. "Last week I helped with an autopsy on a horse," she said. "I had to hold the heart."

"Ugh! Was it still beating?" asked someone. "Of course not," she answered; "I said it was an autopsy." "Gross!" exclaimed the others.
"How revolting!"

Accompanying their expressions of dismay, however, was well-understood humor showing admiration for the young blind woman who has a responsible and difficult job while still in high school....She will do well.

--An Old Zen Proverb


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