Well, I’ve done it: I’ve taken the monumental step of applying for disability benefits while I finish my final year of university and join the ranks of those desperate students looking for gainful employment. After almost a full year, my application has finally been dealt with … and it has been denied.
On my application, I stressed that, while I am fully capable of working, employer attitudes—as well as workplace accommodations—pose a serious challenge. Even if I have all the right skills and knowledge, an employer is likely to skip over me in an effort to avoid hardship. I can’t even blame them, really. No one likes to take a chance on what they perceive to be a wild card. I know, I’ve been there before. (That’s another story for another post.)
Despite my attempt to explain the challenges I face, the person who reviewed my application remained unmoved. I should, she wrote, go out and purchase assistive technology (she did not specify which technology, nor did she specify where I was to get the money for such purchases). She went on to say that, once this technology has been acquired, I should have no problem finding a job. I’m not sure she realizes that setting up just one laptop so that I can use it can cost $1000. A braille display can cost $3000. If I had that kind of money lying around, I wouldn’t be applying for benefits, now would I? She concluded by informing me that I was not disabled enough to qualify for benefits. In closing, she advised me to make use of job searching tools.
Not disabled enough. Now that’s a new one. All my life, people have been assuming I’m more disabled than I actually am, and now that it matters, I’m being told my disability is, in essence, irrelevant when it comes to job searching. What I find interesting is that many blind people in Canada, the US, and the UK have little difficulty obtaining disability benefits based on blindness alone. I have other disabilities which hinder me as well, but even with all of those, I’m told to go out and buy some tech. No mention of how I’m supposed to convince reluctant employers to give me a try. No mention of how I’m supposed to live while I search (as I start repaying my student loans, of course). Most interestingly, no mention of how disabled I would have to be to receive any help at all. I’ve known other people on benefits for bad backs … surely blindness, mental illness, and chronic tension pain are equal to a bad back?
I’m not alone. I have spoken to a handful of blind Albertans who claim they were denied as well, even when they appealed. I’m currently in the process of appealing, but my hopes aren’t high. Even the process itself is frustrating. I can’t seem to get hold of anyone. Everything takes an inordinate amount of time to get done, if it gets done. Some dark part of me thinks they make it arduous on purpose, just so you’ll give up and go away.
I won’t go away.
I need this more than they need to be left in peace. I hate to admit it, but it’s true. I was raised to be self-sufficient. Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps, and all. It took me years to admit I might need government help, and to this day I cringe when I think about it. I feel absurdly guilty, even though I know I have the right to a bit of help. Struggling as I have to be approved, I’ve had ample time to doubt. Maybe I’m just grabby? Maybe I’m not trying hard enough to explore alternatives? Maybe employers are more receptive than I think they are? Maybe … maybe …
The facts don’t support my doubts, though. Take a look at this disturbing poll in which employers admit they find hiring blind people frightening; they don’t want to deal with extra expense (sometimes the expense is much lower than they think it will be). Most tellingly, they believe that a disabled person takes more and yields less. A black hole, in other words. Who wants to throw money at a black hole?
Their fears are mostly groundless. There is evidence to suggest that disabled people, once settled with the necessary accommodations, are hard workers and very loyal. We know the value of a job, and for my part, I’d never risk it because I know how precious it is. I’m not naïve enough to search for the perfect job. I don’t need rewarding, not yet. What I need is paying.
So, even with the deck stacked against me in almost every way possible, I’m stuck—at least for now. I will have to hope that, once I graduate, I find employment very quickly. I will need to pay for an apartment, and the living cost in Edmonton is only climbing higher. I will need to begin paying back my student loans. Once my fiance moves here, I may need to support us both for awhile until he can find a job himself. We are both blind, and both qualified to do useful work. We are both, theoretically, in demand. And yet our resumes will find their way into the recycling bins more often than not. Our calls will go unreturned. Hiring managers, initially so excited by our qualifications, will suddenly lose interest without any apparent provocation. They will make feeble excuses, because they can’t legally say, “sorry…you’re blind, so we don’t want to deal with you.”
Eventually, I’ll get lucky. I’ll find a company that is willing to give me a shot. I’ll do well, because I’ve been trained well and because I am grateful for every opportunity. I’ll be okay, eventually. Haven’t I gone on and on about how blind people live full, rich lives?
In the meantime, though, I’ll just have to hope that someone decides I’m disabled enough.
I think you’ve struck a nerve with this one, or at least hit a sore spot for most of us. The only thing I can do is wish you the best of luck, since I don’t have any magical solutions. If I did, I’d share it for free.
The sentiment is appreciated.
“Go and buy some devices.” Ughhh. General advice doesn’t help, specifics are needed to make a plan of action. This kind of dismissive response annoys me and I’m dismayed your request for help was answered like that. The old saying the squeaky wheel gets the oil applies: self-advocacy can lead you to someone who will give you specifics on devices, maybe even a mentor in the job search, a job coach or a community organization that has worked with people with disabilities looking for a job. I live in the US. I found help from my state’s department of rehabilitation services and vocational training. There was also a community org with a career services division that I participated in because they had worked successfully with job seekers with disabilities before. Yes, there were times throughout when things lagged, but that whole squeaky wheel thing…
Yes, I was also annoyed by the generality of her response. The technology itself isn’t even the issue; I did not even mention it on my application. I was much more concerned with employer attitudes and discrimination. Tech can be worked around, but if no one gives you a chance, no amount of tech or job searching will help. I don’t think she has any concept of how the system actually works.
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shocked to read such a thing! I don’t know how the benefits thing works in Canada or the US but, the minute I turned 16 I started receiving the blind pention. a lot of times centerlink often need to screen those people who are entitled to benefits and often they don’t screen the fraudsters. in other words, people who are entitled to benefits don’t always get them and those who aren’t entitled to them do. I’m lucky I’ve had the support I needed to organize these things and I can honestly say that my mother did her best to come to any important appointments and if proof was required it was straight to the doctor’s office whether the gp, a specialist whatever. and it’s easier said than done to find a job let alone get any technology you require for that job. there was one time I was close to having a job but things fell through at the last but that was 3 years ago and at the time I was angry and called in the disability advocates which luckily I’d kept the phone number for. but recently things really changed for me in a positive way. I was phoned by my employment agency and they said prepare for an interview as there may be a job at the end of it and sure anough there was. luckily no disclosure of blindness was necessary as it happened, it ended up being a job within my local hospital and miraculously, I know a hell of a lot of people around the hospital as I have been a patient there for years. and, if you do get a job remember you are still able to collect your blind pention and here in Australia there has been a push to get people of the disability pention but for us blindies it’s the disability pention = blind. collecting the blind pention even while working helps by going towards any assistive technology one needs if they need to upgrade it i.e a new braille display or something else. I’m no expert but I’m just telling this from personal experience I’ve had my job now for 3 weeks and I love it although in 3 months time there will be a review to see where to from here and I’m hopeful that I will continue. I do however need to prepare for both senareos as I learned the hard way not to get too excited as if this happens and your hopes are dashed like a sack of shit it’s gutwrenching to say the least.
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