A visually impaired man who holds a master’s degree is far from amused at the treatment that he said has been meted out to him by prospective employers.
In short, he described it as discrimination.
My colleagues have even had experiences where they have been ridiculed in interviews and asked how they fed themselves, found their clothes and other things that were totally unrelated to the job offering. (PHOTOS: JOSEPH WELLINGTON)
The man, who wishes to remain anonymous, is 30 years old, married with one child, a Calabar High School old boy, and holds Bachelor of Science and Master of Science degrees in social work with focus in human service administration and management from the University of the West Indies, Mona.
Although his résumé does not state his disability, his interviews, he said, continue to return discouraging results, which, he is convinced, are because of his blindness.
“I had applied for a job at a tertiary institution where they wanted a social work lecturer. The position required one to possess a master’s degree in social work plus teaching experience, which I have. All the courses offered I have completed and I have also taught. I completed the application and was called for an interview, did it, and was contacted by the personnel manager who said I did well in the interview but I could not work there because their buildings weren’t accessible for blind persons,” the man told the Jamaica Observer.
The position, he said, was advertised again. He re-applied and this time attached a letter stating that accessibility to buildings did not affect blind individuals, but rather people who are wheelchair-bound. However, he was still refused.
“She [personnel manager] then proceeded to tell me that it was more than the access to buildings that was an issue. She changed her word and then told me I had not satisfied the interview requirements,” he said.
“We know that no one is obligated to employ anybody, but the basis on which myself and other disabled persons have been refused employment can be classified under the United Nations convention on the rights to persons with disabilities and also the national disabilities act as being discriminatory. My colleagues have even had experiences where they have been ridiculed in interviews and asked how they fed themselves, found their clothes and other things that were totally unrelated to the job offering,” he said.
What irks him even more is the fact that announcements are always made telling disabled individuals to get qualified in order to tap into jobs. He said some of his colleagues who are qualified have been searching for employment for as many as 20 years and continue to be refused jobs because of their impairment.
He added that data from a Statistical Institute of Jamaica report revealed that 250,000 people in Jamaica may be living with a disability, but argued that of that number fewer that 50 per cent are trained, therefore the Government and other private sector institutions could absorb that number of people without affecting their budget or wage bill.
“In the 1990s, the Government mooted a policy that stated that five per cent of the jobs in the public sector should be reserved for persons with disabilities who are trained. They keep telling us to get trained and qualified for jobs, but we are trained, qualified and actively seeking employment,” he lamented.
He said he has left both an electronic and hard copy of his résumé at every government agency and corporate foundation, but he does not know whether it has reached the human resource offices.
Claiming that the unemployment rate among the disabled in Jamaica is in excess of 90 per cent, the man said: “Figures are often disclosed about youth unemployment and gender-based unemployment, but not us. This contributes to vulnerability, as we are being ignored by persons who tabulate that data.”
His frustration, he said, is made worse by his experience of people calling him to make various presentations for voluntary purposes, which he gladly does. However, in other instances, when the content is to be delivered for remuneration, he is not contacted.
“Our cost of living is far more expensive and our obligations are similar, and in a lot of cases more than the remainder of society,” he said. “We have to repair wheelchairs, buy the software to use on our computer, which costs in excess of US$1,000. The talking watch and different gadgets cost more than what is used in mainstream society. I am not exempt from responsibilities, and my family has to be taken care of.”
Apart from employment challenges, he explained that no internship programme — except for one recently started by Digicel Foundation — is available for people with disabilities.
Luckily, he said, social work comes with a practical component which exposed him to the field prior to graduating, as the youth programmes currently in place to provide summer jobs do not cater for individuals like himself. In addition, “the registries that are supposed to be in place for us are not active”, he said.
His frustration growing, he made an appeal to the authorities: “Put more incentives in doing the right thing. We are not asking for handouts, we have been certified in one way or another. And I am not speaking of those who sit at home and do nothing, I am talking about those like me who have done all that is required to gain employment.”
He is trained, he said, in areas of programme planning, writing programmes, evaluating and monitoring social intervention, poverty reduction, conducting community workshops, community intervention, community empowerment, and capacity-building in communities, schools, hospitals, government ministries, and several international organisations.
He also has a little experience teaching at the tertiary level.