I've been awake since 3:00 a.m. That's what I get for eating too much sugar and spice yesterday, quite literally! Other than that, the day was very enjoyable, and I got a chance to see just what a wonder drug Topamax is. I was awake at 6:30 a.m. and spent some time on a little project, which I'll discuss below the cut. Then I went to church and attended a new class taught by a professor from the AU School of Theology. I boldly and confidently told him that I am a prospective seminarian and I would like to talk with him sometime, that I had spoken with one professor and the professor felt that I should take another path toward my goal but that I would like more than one perspective because this is a huge decision. I did it without even thinking about what he might think of me. His response was very warm and positive, and I feel very comfortable about the idea of making a call to his office whenever the time comes available. (I have another much more urgent thing to take care of this week.)
After class, I went to the loud third service with a new friend, Cindy, who had come up to visit me and help with Meghan while I was in the hospital. I didn't mind the loudness like I have in the past, and that tells me that I probably have had some significant pain control problems in the past that I was not aware of because I've never known that I was in pain until it was excruciating and uncontrollable. I had no spacing out or disorientation. I did have difficulty understanding speech and lyrics, which is something I've experienced in the "quiet" services over the last few months as well. My hearing aids helped some, but I'm planning to do some advocacy regarding the balance of the vocals on the music because most of what I heard was high frequencies. I just can't understand anything when men are leading.
After church, Mom and Dad took some pictures of me for the CD, then some pictures of me and Meghan and the cats. I still only have one picture of Sierra. I think I may have to buy a digital camerand let C take pictures one day when she sneaks out or something because she won't come out around any other sighted person.
In the evening I went to the first activity for my new small group. I felt a little intimidated because I'm very much the group baby, meaning that all the couples have kids my age! I think I can get over it, though. The leaders asked me to share some specific things I had been talking about in class that morning, and several people in the group responded positively. I also brought up a couple of other ideas that were received well, and that helps a lot. The next meeting is in two weeks, and I'm going to host it at my house. That's a little scary because it sort of puts me on the spot about cleaning; but I've hosted other things here before, so it's just a matter of getting my cleaning list out and getting my time organized.
Now time to take out my frustrations on the journal regarding the issue of unemployment/underemployment of people who are blind--and more specifically yours truly.
There has been a discussion on the ACB-L list regarding the reasons for unemployment of people who are blind. These discussions happen rather frequently; and they take different directions each time. Sometimes the consensus is that the cause is poor social skills and excessive stereotyped behaviors. Sometimes someone points out incidences of discrimination. This time, someone suggested that blind people are not applying for existing jobs. I was bothered by this suggestion for a number of reason and shared what I thought were some fairly detailed thoughts in response in an attempt to provide some perspective for the discussion.
A few thoughts:
What are the qualifications for these positions?
How many unemployed blind people meet these particular qualifications? If they don't meet these qualifications, is the problem that they have no qualifications or that their qualifications are different? The answer is probably a bit of both. The studies citing the 75 percent unemployment typically refer to working-age blind people. Some are in school; some are trying to figure out what type of job would best fit their abilities (a wise idea for a person who intends to keep a job); some, like myself, have qualifications that don't quite go with the jobs anymore--many job qualifications have changed just in the last 15 years, especially in the blindness field. When I entered college, many people with psych degrees could find jobs as VR counselors. By the time I graduated, there were enough Master's programs that job qualifications were being revised all over the country. This is one example--the same thing is happening in many fields.
There may be other reasons why blind people are hesitant to apply for certain types of positions, even if an employer is willing to hire a blind person. An equal opportunity statement doesn't tell me much anymore--I've been openly rejected due to blindness several times in spite of these statements appearing on application materials. So I am hesitant to apply for any position that requires travel which would necessitate the hiring of a driver or paperwork which would require a reader. Discussing these things in interviews has without fail resulted in negative reception, even when I have approached the discussion from the start with the intent of providing my own accommodations (paying the person myself or utilizing a volunteer). In reality, paying a driver myself on a $19,000/year salary (realistic for some of the jobs I have applied for) is not very realistic.
Do these jobs require relocation? If so, what funding is available to help unemployed persons with relocation expenses? VR isn't going to pay these expenses--that's an issue I've already wrestled intensely with. I have relocated for the sake of a contract job which I had reason to believe would lead to a stable work opportunity. It did not, and I was left living in a new city (a hurricane-prone area, which I hope never to live in again due to the stress of trying to evacuate without transportation) in exactly the same situation I had been in previously, with not enough experience in the new field to make it into another job in the same field and unemployable in most jobs available to psych majors due to heavy paperwork requirements or essential duties involving driving clients but considered employable by VR agencies and thus not a candidate for grad school funding or job placement services.
I have been advised to work in sheltered workshops for the sake of getting "job experience." I fail to see how a sheltered workshop environment will provide me reputable job experience--it isn't related at all to my skills or interest area, and it certainly won't pay the bills. I have settled for "self-employment" consisting of two or three part-time jobs, freelance writing assignments, etc. These enable me to at least continue working in my fields of skill and experience, which I think would look better on a resume in the long term. The income is extremely unpredictable, and financially I am not a success story. I am active and a lot more emotionally healthy than I would be if I continued the "practice interview" technique, applying for jobs with 20 or 30 equally or better qualified sighted competitors where the job involves duties requiring sight.
Over the past five years, I have sent my resume several times to blindness and other disability agencies with jobs matching my qualifications with cover letters stating my willingness to relocate. Most never responded. Twice I got interviews. One was positive, although I was not hired and was told by the interviewer that she could see that I would not be happy in the job given my educational background and she thought that I should go back to school. I was disappointed but appreciated her honesty. The other interviewer asked if I would be all right living so far away from my mother! Needless to say, I didn't get the job.
Getting to interviews in remote locations is far from easy. It requires funds I don't have--remember: I am an SSI recipient earning a variable income that causes my SSI amount to bounce up and down, and I am scraping the bottom of the barrel most of the time. I don't have family members with extra money to loan to me--they've already gone into debt assisting me with purchasing and maintain adaptive equipment and transport to medical appointments with specialists out of state. Most SSI recipients I know are in worse predicaments than I am: many of them literally grew up in poverty, and often their parents are disabled, elderly, or very poorly educated themselves. At least I grew up in the middle class and could be transported around town by my parents.
My comment regarding the hurricane-prone area wasn't made lightly. It is also possible that some people are not applying for some jobs due to personal considerations regarding location. There are certain areas of the country where I know that I would not want to live, even for a million dollar job. There are a variety of reasons for this. One big one is the issue of how much community support I will require in order to live in the area. If I can't evacuate myself in an emergency, then I need too much community support and it's an unacceptable area for me as a single person to live in. If I can't move to the area and survive for the first two weeks until that first paycheck comes in, then there's really no point in applying for a job there--and in an area like New York this is a major consideration because the cost of living is so high and I have no acquaintances with whom I could stay for a couple of weeks. This seriously limits my options.
I can certainly understand the need to relocate to a major city; and I think that reasonable relocation makes sense and might be within the realm of possibility to argue with VR agencies. In fact, I do know that some people have done this when a job required relocation to a city within the same state. I have not, however, had any success in getting expenses covered for getting to interviews or relocating to a job in another state.
Now what was I doing yesterday morning...?
It's interesting that this discussion came up on ACB-L at all. I've been thinking about the concept of employment anyway. Shall I call myself employed even though my level of financial gain is not what I would like it to be and I am still reliant on public assistance? What does the word "employment" really mean? Is it different from the phrase "self-supporting?" What is it that I am seeking? The answer matters in the course of discussion.
The truth is that if "employment" means that I am engaged in work-related activity, then I am employed in part-time work. I am employed as a child care provider, as a freelance writer, and as a musician/songwriter. During the time when my mom was running her own business, she sometimes paid her employees but did not get paid herself; but she was still employed. She did not consider it volunteer activity. So even before the ACB-L discussion, I was thinking that I need a paradigm shift. I need to consider myself employed whether or not I am satisfied with the financial outcome, which at this point is extremely low because I cannot get paid for writing and recording projects during the production phases.
Yesterday morning I went to the career Connect web site and signed up as a mentor. It's a scary step to take; but I need to believe that I am what I appear to be. I need to lose the guilt over not "working hard enough" to get a traditional job. If those doors are slamming in my face, I have two options: to continue doing what isn't working or to try something that will work in time if I devote the time to it.