How Do You Find a Job When You Are Blind?
How Do You Find a Job When You Are Blind?
by Marcia Moran
Meet Rebecca Bridges. Wife. Mother. Management consultant at FMP Consulting. Rebecca has also been blind from birth. Knowing the unemployment rate is 70% for people who are blind, how could she grow up with the hope of finding a job that she would enjoy? Is it luck or is it something else?
We have all heard the statistics. According to Simon Sinek, author of “Leaders Eat Last,” 1 in 3 employees seriously consider leaving their jobs. Of that number, only 1.5% of employees actually leave voluntarily. They feel safer with the job they hate than the unknown. With these types of statistics, I wondered how Rebecca found the courage to fulfill her dream.
You Have to Be Better than Anyone Else
Rebecca remembers her dad giving her advice as a little girl when she complained that being blind wasn’t fair. “Too bad. You just have to be better than everyone else,” he said. That piece of advice stuck. When talking with Rebecca, she comes prepared for everything.
She didn’t have any inkling that she would go to grad school. Then one day, as she browsed around the Web looking for something that her husband might like, she found a program that changed her life: Organization Development and Knowledge Management from George Mason University. It piqued her interest.
“The program description talked about organizational change and transformation, process consultation, and really meeting people where they are and taking them where they need to go,” expressed Rebecca. “I went to the information session and applied the next day. I was so excited because I had found my calling!”
As she went through the program, Rebecca learned a lot about herself. How she dealt with situations, both good and bad. How she dealt with conflict. What kind of leadership style made her unique.
“I really enjoyed the courses that I took as part of the program,” Rebecca said. “I wanted to work with organizations and clients to help them achieve results that were even greater than they anticipated. At the end of my program, consulting seemed like a logical step. I started looking and I found FMP Consulting. It seemed like a good match.”
Did I Get the Job?
When Rebecca went to the interview with FMP, she paid close attention to what she wore. She also thought about their perceptions as she crossed the room. It seems as if her dad’s voice whispered in her ear. “You just have to be better than everyone else.”
“We have to be more prepared than any other person interviewing. We have to show up with our technology and be prepared to answer any of their questions whether we want to or not,” says Rebecca. “It’s a balance because you don’t want to be too defensive, but you also want to show that you are competent and capable because there are questions that they are not supposed to ask you in the interview process.”
When a week and a half went by after her second interview, Rebecca summed up her courage and called the human resources manager. Her heart dropped when he said there were a couple more things they wanted to know.
“The hair stood up on the back of my neck. I thought, ‘Oh no, this is it. They are looking for something to weed me out today,’” said Rebecca. “He started asking me about my technology and how I work with applications such as Excel and PowerPoint.” She had two ways to go. Rebecca thought about not answering the questions, but took a deep breath and answered them honestly. She needed to elevate the game because, although it might have seemed unfair or felt uncomfortable, it was important that she provide every assurance within reason that she would be a good fit.
“Whether you think it is fair or not, being blind makes it harder because you need to be more skilled than other people in certain areas. You have to demonstrate your competence and ensure to the hiring manager that you are capable of doing the job. Once you have the job, the other challenge is keeping it. There are a lot of things that are still not accessible to us,” commented Rebecca.
Her husband, Eric Bridges, has put accessibility squarely in his sights. Although relatively new to the executive director role, he has been working with the American Council of the Blind since 2007, and he had made some significant progress.
Rebecca thinks of her landing a job with FMP as skill and luck. As a consulting firm, they appeared more accessible to her than a Booz Allen Hamilton or Deloitte, who have thousands of employees. With less than 100 on staff, FMP seemed like they could make a difference in their clients’ lives. In fact, Rebecca feels like their organization works really hard to do the things they tell their clients to do. The amazing thing? FMP was the only place she interviewed post grad school.
The Most Important Thing in Her Life? Family
When asked about her biggest achievement, Rebecca laughed and said it was her child. She remembered bringing the baby home, holding him in the rocking chair and thinking, “What in the hell am I going to do now?” She says that little Tyler has been the world to her and Eric since he’s entered their lives. Rebecca proudly says that they have full-time jobs, keep a clean house, and have a child who is fully sighted, fully functioning, and just plain awesome. And they’re both blind.
With respect to her work, Rebecca would like to be there for a long time. It’s important to be gainfully employed doing something you love to do. “No one likes to pay taxes,” Rebecca laughs. But it’s clear that she’d gladly pay them rather than be a burden on society. She is now looking at getting her PMP certification.
“At the end of it all, I want to look back and say that I had jobs doing what I enjoyed and I contributed to the well-being of individuals and organizations,” remarked Rebecca.
So ... now I’m wondering. How many more people who are blind are out there looking for work and not finding what they want? Is it because they aren’t as prepared as Rebecca is at being better than her competitors? Or was she just one of the lucky ones?