Jack Marquardson's Story

Having never worked with a person who is blind before, Jack Marquardson was apprehensive. But he not only found his apprehension to be unwarranted, he found the experience to be rewarding.

"I've learned a lot from Scott about patience and overcoming barriers. And I've learned that a person who is blind can do almost anything a sighted person can do, albeit a bit differently."

Marquardson is the manager of writing services in the communications services branch of the Manitoba Government. He has worked with Scott Best for a year and half as his supervisor. Best, now 27 years old, was born with retinopathy of prematurity and lost, what little vision he had, by the age of three.

Scott was hired through the Gateway program, a placement and referral program for external job seekers who self-declare as a member of one of the following employment equity groups: Aboriginal, visible minority and individuals with a disability.

At first Marquardson had some trepidations and felt uneasy about how to address Scott's sight issues in the workplace.

"I was worried that I would say or do something that was offensive to Scott. I was also concerned about Scott's ability to do the job and whether his blindness would limit his effectiveness, which could be a big problem, especially during periods with a heavy workload."

But he found quite the opposite and through his experience working with Best, Marquardson gained the knowledge of how easy it is to work with a person who is blind.

"After working with Scott for just a few short weeks, I quickly learned he was every bit as capable as our other writers and his blindness was pretty much a non-issue."

Best's office is outfitted with the same equipment as other staff. The only specific accommodations provided for Scott was Jaws software, which allows Best to read the screen through a text to speech output, and a Braille printer. 

Not only did he learn how to make a workspace accessible, he learned that hiring a person with a disability does not mean they can't do the job.

"He is now an important member of our team, a skilled writer and editor who is held in high regard throughout our department. Perhaps the biggest compliment I can give Scott is that, these days, it seldom occurs to me that Scott is blind." 

Best is one of the few people across Canada who are blind that is employed. The employment rate among Canadians with vision loss is strikingly low: 38 per cent versus 73 per cent for people without a disability. And approximately half of Canadians who are blind or partially sighted live on a low income of $20,000 a year or less.  

"That's tremendously unfair and a waste of a valuable resource, because many disabled individuals, like Scott, have excellent qualifications, but they can't get a foot in the door," said Marquardson. "I suspect it's because many employers see the disability first, and the person second. They're worried that they'll need to provide a lot of special accommodations and that it will involve lots of extra work and expense.

"But it's not true. Many individuals with disabilities require very little assistance in the workplace, and they tend to be very motivated employees, perhaps because they're determined to show they can do most things that an able-bodied person can. All he needed was an opportunity."​​