GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Before reading this story, click on the audio and decide if you can understand what it’s saying. More on that in a moment.
First, applying for a job can be intimidating, especially for someone with a disability like blindness or low vision.
A recent meeting between executives at Steelcase and managers and clients with the Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired aimed to remove any barriers in the application process.
Osman Koroma, the employment coordinator at ABVI, brought the agency’s clients to the meeting to share their experiences.
“The first biggest barrier is the accessibility for someone going to a website to apply for a job, and that website is not accessible for the person to navigate with a screen reader,” he said.
A screen reader provides audio descriptions of what is on a screen, but a website must be compatible with the reader for it to work.
Malissa Moore, the diversity, equity, and inclusion programs manager and consultant for Steelcase, was part of the meeting with Koroma.
“We have a fantastic team of individuals who are going above and beyond our (the Americans with Disabilities Act) requirements. They handle those accommodations as they come to be, but we also had a really great opportunity to connect with cohort members with the program to really give us a greater awareness of the needs that may not be being met,” she said.
Moore said Steelcase has started a project working to be more inclusive of practices to meet the needs of those who identify as having a disability. It has a lot to do with the feedback from the meeting.
“One specific individual said that they had an experience with applying to one of our job offerings and then shared their experience. Then, it was really great because I think that made other people within the cohort feel more comfortable, and really felt this sense of trust with us to kind of share authentically their experiences,” said Moore.
If you clicked on the audio at the top of this story and couldn’t understand it, that would be the typical response for someone who is sighted. Koroma, who is blind, understands all of it because it’s audio from the screen reader he uses daily to do his job.
“My screen reader is called JAWS, which stands for Job Access With Speech,” he said. “It’s about 550 words per minute. I can understand what it’s saying.”
For context, the average rate of reading English silently is 238 words per minute, according to a scientific study from 2019.
“To stay in the workforce in a competitive employment field, we have to push ourselves to grow so we can have a job and provide for our family as well,” said Koroma.
He works to educate clients about how to approach hiring managers to help them understand what tools they need to be successful and show that having a difference, like low or no vision, doesn’t mean they can’t handle the job duties.
Koroma also pointed out another benefit to hiring someone with a disability and creating a great workspace for them: loyalty.
“I have friends (who are blind) who have been working with a company that provided the accommodations for them, and they’ve been there more than 40 years. They’re just loyal to that,” he said.
ABVI will host a fundraiser on Wednesday to support the association and allow it to keep serving individuals who are blind or have low vision, helping them overcome challenges in the workplace and at home.