Pursuing Your Career Goals

People with vision loss can and do enjoy tremendously fulfilling careers in a wide range of fields, from science to law, creative arts, technology, education and many others. And there's no reason why you can't too. Here are a few helpful resources for pursuing your career and finding a job you care about.

Disclosure: Should you or shouldn't you?*

Disclosure is an individual decision. What is right for you may not be right for another, and what works in one situation may not be successful in another.

Whether you mention your disability in your cover letter or résumé, during the interview or at the time of the job offer depends on you and the situation. If you’re dealing with a service provider or employment agency that works specifically with persons with disabilities, you will still have some say in how much is disclosed. Disclosure is entirely your choice.

To disclose or not to disclose
Before deciding if, when and how to disclose your disability, think carefully about the following questions:
  • Is your disability visible?
  • How do most people react when they learn about your disability? How do you deal with their reactions?
  • When do you feel most comfortable and confident disclosing your disability?
  • Does not disclosing put your safety or the safety of others at risk?
  • Will the employer think you’re dishonest? How would you deal with that reaction?
  • What misconceptions might the employer have about your disability?
  • If you disclose, will you be able to reassure your employer that your disability will not affect your ability to do the work?
  • Asking for accommodations will almost certainly require you to disclose. Do you need accommodations for the interview? Or if you get the job?
  • What do you know about this employer's policies and experiences regarding people with disabilities?
Tips for disclosing:
  • If you’ve had little success in disclosure situations or feel uncomfortable, try role playing the disclosure process with supportive friends or family members.
  • Be positive. Use your disability as a strength, and talk about the many positive attributes (good problem solving skills; solid understanding of assistive technology, etc.) that you bring as a result of your disability.  Focus on your skills and qualifications and don't present your disability as a weakness, but rather as an asset and a strength.
  • Be prepared to address any concerns employers express, even if they’re not expressed directly.
  • Know what workplace accommodations you may need, including their availability, cost and any funding programs the employer can access. (You may wish to bring equipment or assistive technology with you to an interview that you can demonstrate while answering any queries the employer may have).
  • Anticipate the employer's questions about your disclosure and know how you’ll answer them. Use examples.
Telling employers about your disability may be the biggest uncertainty in your work search. How, when and whether or not you disclose is entirely up to you. Once you’ve reached a decision about disclosure, ask yourself one last question: will disclosing my disability at this time and in this way help me reach my goal of getting work?
 
 

How CNIB can help?

If you're ready to pursue your dream career, we want to help you get there. Call your local CNIB office to find out about services available in your area, like:
  • Career services: Our career and employment services give participants the information and resources they need to build their job skills and achieve a satisfying career – from one-on-one support in exploring your career interests, to pursuing job opportunities, networking or building presentation skills. These services are currently offered in Atlantic Canada, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and parts of Ontario. However, in the coming months and years, CNIB is putting a renewed focus on providing robust career services to every Canadian with vision loss who needs them. We look forward to providing these services to people across Canada in the very near future.
  • Technology training: Through our technology training services, you'll discover a new world of cutting-edge products that can help you in both your professional and personal life – from accessible audio book players, to video magnifiers, to computer screen readers.
  • CNIB Scholarships: We're proud to provide a range of scholarships and bursaries to assist Canadians who are blind or partially sighted in achieving their education and career goals. If you’re blind or partially sighted and are looking to get your post-secondary diploma or Master’s degree, you may be eligible for a CNIB scholarship of between $1,000 and $12,500. Click here for more information.

Success stories

Meet Jason Mitschele

Jason Mitschele.jpgNow’s a good time to pursue a career in law if you’re blind or partially sighted according to Jason Mitschele, a prosecutor in the federal Department of Justice in Toronto, Ontario.
 
“In the legal profession, there really shouldn’t be any boundaries because of technology and advancements in the last 20 years,” he says. “For a while, law schools weren’t used to seeing people with disabilities. Now, it’s much more frequent.”
 
Mitschele has been at his current workplace for about 15 years – since he began articling right out of law school (he did his law degree at the University of Toronto). He specializes in criminal law, particularly drug prosecutions and cases involving organized crime.
 
“I have a great career – really interesting work, with wonderful, supportive colleagues,” he says.
 
Although there are always challenges, Mitschele generally finds that he’s able to work around most barriers to do his job. He uses accessible technology like JAWS for electronic communications and consults legal databases like Quicklaw to pull precedents, which he finds to be accessible. Some of his work involves non-electronic documents such as handwritten notes from police officers, but he has an assistant who summarizes them for him.
 
Then there’s visual evidence such as photographs or video. He’ll have his assistant describe these so he’s fully briefed before he presents this evidence in court. Sometimes the court itself orders a description of evidence into the official transcript. At times, he will give photos to witnesses and have them describe them in their own words. He will also ask witnesses to read written documents out loud.
 
“I don’t have to do much to it, because it [visual evidence] sort of speaks for itself,” he says.
 
Mitschele has volunteered for NEADS (National Educational Association of Disabled Students). He has also been involved on the international development committee of the Council of Canadians with Disabilities, a role that allowed him to go to New York City and participate in meetings to develop the UN Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (passed in 2006).
 
He did his undergrad in international relations at the University of British Columbia, and spent one year as an exchange student at the University of California, Berkeley.
 
While studying for his law degree, Mitschele participated in two internships in South Africa. During his first, he did research projects about environmental law, and the next year, he did work around human rights law for people with disabilities. The post-apartheid constitution had only recently been adopted, so it was a pretty exciting time to be involved.
 
“The legal system was being written from scratch,” Mitschele says.
 
He highly recommends international internships for boosting a résumé and obtaining valuable professional skills such as time management and learning how to deal with different people, situations and cultures. He notes that his internships were a major topic of discussion at the interview for his job.
 
He advises students to specialize in subjects they enjoy for their undergraduate degree, because they are more likely to get the high grades needed for law school admission. While some people assume you have to take a certain type of program to prepare for law school, Mitschele says that’s not true.
 
He also emphasizes believing in yourself: “Don’t let people talk you out of your goal,” he says. “It’s not easy, but nothing worth having really ever is. Work hard, but also work smart. Find the most efficient way to work, and that is very individual.”
 
He recommends developing a good support network (whether it be parents, friends, classmates, colleagues or a combination of the above) – and the right attitude.
 
“You have to have a good personality and be outgoing. Sure you’re going to have problems, but you have to work your way through. In life, we’re all going to face problems and challenges and barriers. The key is how you overcome them.”
 

Meet Sharon Kanhai-Johnston

Sharon-working.jpgSharon Kanhai-Johnston, from Toronto, was diagnosed with diabetic retinopathy, the leading cause of vision loss in Canadians under 50, in 2004. An estimated 265,000 Ontarians live with the eye disease that results in elevated blood glucose levels that cause blood vessels in the retina to swell and leak. Without treatment, diabetic retinopathy can advance to permanent vision loss.

“One day, as I was working on my computer at home, I saw a big flash,” says Kanhai-Johnston. “When I tried to focus on my work, it looked like someone had taken a big black sticker and placed it on my eye.”

The black mark in her vision was the result of blood. Kanhai-Johnston underwent laser treatments once a week for a year and she had three surgeries in an effort to preserve her vision, but they were unsuccessful – she was legally blind.

At the time, she was working as a paralegal.

“I was working as a proof-reader; reading legal documents,” says Kanhai-Johnston. “I thought, ‘How was I going to do that?’”

Neither Kanhai-Johnston, nor her employer, were sure how to proceed. She took an extended medical leave that ended with her leaving the position.

It was at this point that one of her doctors suggested CNIB. Upon receiving the doctor’s referral, CNIB staff attempted to get in touch with Kanhai-Johnston but she refused to answer the phone.

“I was still hoping some of my vision would return,” she says. “I was not ready to admit that I was blind.”

CNIB’s persistence resulted in Kanhai-Johnston agreeing to an in-home assessment.

“Two people came to my house. During our discussion, I heard something clicking,” recalls Kanhai-Johnston. “When I asked about the noise, I was told that one of the staff members was using a brailler to take notes. Something in me clicked. ‘Are you blind?’ I asked. That made me realize I was not limited in my abilities. I could still work and live an independent life.”

Shortly thereafter, Kanhai-Johnston signed up for CNIB’s Intensive Rehabilitation program where she learned orientation and mobility skills, such as how to navigate with a white cane, as well as independent living skills to help her with day-to-day activities.

Her newfound confidence led her to return to school. She received her diploma in social work from George Brown College in 2011 and began to look for a job in this new field.

Kanhai-Johnston decided to be upfront about her vision loss during the job search. The first few places she contacted for a placement were unsure how to interact and never offered her an interview. It wasn’t until she approached The Learning Enrichment Foundation in person that she was given a chance.

“The hiring manager admitted that she didn’t know what I would be able to do, but she admired my bravery and confidence and was open to having a discussion about the possibilities,” says Kanhai-Johnston.

Kanhai-Johnston was hired by The Learning Enrichment Foundation. This initial foot-in-the-door was helpful in her subsequent applications, as she could now point to concrete experience working in the field.

Kanhai-Johnston currently works for Fred Victor’s Housing Access and Support Services program where she helps individuals find affordable housing.

Despite her success in the field, she still faces obstacles and stigma about working as an individual with vision loss.

“When I am out with clients, I often have to correct landlords who believe that I must be the one receiving help,” says Kanhai-Johnston. “I feel like I am doing double duty. I have to advocate for my client and for myself. It can be frustrating, but you have to be able to sell yourself. It is important that individuals with vision loss are armed with the knowledge and confidence to help people see past their misconceptions.”

Hear Kanhai-Johnston share her story with Kelly & Co. on AMI-audio!

http://www.ami.ca/category/health-and-lifestyle-kelly-and-company-kelly-and-company/media/sharon-kanhai-johnstons
 

Meet Melanie Spratt

Melanie Spratt, from Tweed, is a child and family therapist. She provides counselling to struggling families and takes pride in the positive difference she can make in their lives. She has been at her current position for 14 years. She also has vision loss.
 
Spratt, now 43, was diagnosed last year with vitelliform macular dystrophy, a genetic eye disorder that can cause progressive vision loss. Spratt went years with her condition undiagnosed until her vision deteriorated to the point where her optometrist recognized that something was going on. Upon diagnosis, she was quickly referred to CNIB.
 
CNIB was able to help Spratt with the required accommodations to ensure she continued to be successful at work. Any difficulties with completing her computer reports were solved by using ZoomText, a screen magnifying program. Her trouble with reading things on white paper disappeared when she started using yellow tinted glasses and a natural light at her desk. Working with Scott and Brenda, Independent Living Skills specialists with CNIB, Spratt realized her vision loss didn’t need to limit her.
 
Scott visited Spratt’s office to show her how her desk space could be optimized for her vision. In addition, he helped her articulate her needs to her employer.
 
“Thankfully my employer was happy to accommodate me,” says Spratt. “I offered them the notes from CNIB that listed their recommendations and they were promptly taken care of.” 
Despite her positive experience, Spratt is worried about her future. The progressive nature of her condition means she will need to look at other accommodations down the road because the glasses and ZoomText will no longer be sufficient.
 
Fortunately, CNIB can help her get comfortable with screen reading software like JAWS (Job Access with Speech), which makes it possible to use the computer with no vision.

Hear Spratt share her story with Kelly & Co. on AMI-audio!

Meet Edgar Tigley

Edgar Tigley, 46, was diagnosed with diabetic retinopathy in 2013. An estimated 265,000 Ontarians have diabetic retinopathy, in which elevated blood glucose levels cause blood vessels in the retina to swell and leak. Without treatment, diabetic retinopathy can advance to permanent vision loss. Doctors attempted to preserve Tigley’s vision through a series of injections and surgeries. In the end, he was left with no vision in his left eye and limited vision in his right.
 
At the time of his diagnosis, Tigley, who lives in St. Catharines, was working at a call centre in Welland. He was determined to push through the challenges that he was facing at work as long as possible.
 
“I had a hard time adjusting to the fact that I was going blind,” says Tigley. “I didn’t want to admit it. I was even driving with just one eye”.
 
Tigley carried on this way for as long as he could. Eventually, however, the obstacles became too great. A daily commute by car was not possible. He walked away from his job under the assumption that he could no longer succeed. He did not even bother to ask his employer about possible accommodations that could be made. He assumed he was a hopeless cause.
 
“I spent a year and a half cursing life,” says Tigley. “But eventually I knew I needed to get myself back on track.”
 
Tigley had a passing awareness of CNIB prior to his diagnosis, so he knew they were a resource that he could turn to. With the help of CNIB service staff, Tigley learned about accessible technology like CCTVs, digital magnifiers and e-readers. He also received counselling and was introduced to peer support groups that helped him come to terms with his vision loss. These programs and services helped him with important life skills and instilled in him a sense of confidence that allowed him to get back out into the working world.
 
Tigley approached March of Dimes Canada, who helped him find a company that had positive attitudes about working with individuals with vision loss. One of the companies they suggested was Sitel, an organization specializing in outsourced customer service management. March of Dimes worked with the HR department at Sitel to make sure that they understood Tigley’s accessibility needs.
 
Tigley was hired as a call centre representative. His role focused mainly on fielding phone calls, but there was a computer reporting component where he required some accessibility adjustments.
 
“I use two large monitors,” says Tigley. “On top of that, I use a larger font and reverse contrast [light text on a dark background]. I’m able to, with the practice and training I received from CNIB, move around the screen.”
 
Tigley also praised the patience and commitment of his training supervisor, Angel.
 
“Angel did a great job. She wasn’t always sure exactly how to help, but she was always up to the challenge and would work with me to make sure my needs were met.
 

Meet Scott Garner

Scott Garner was born with some vision loss, but he didn’t require CNIB services until his vision started to significantly deteriorate at 21 years of age.

After experiencing a retinal detachment, Garner turned to CNIB, the primary provider of post vision-loss rehabilitation therapy for Ontarians, to help him maintain his independence through employment services and independent travel instruction.

“It was very important. These skills helped me build confidence during a time when I was really struggling. Thankfully, CNIB’s orientation and mobility training has helped me remain independent, despite living in a number of communities,” says Garner. “When I graduated secondary school, I wanted to be a journalist, but I quickly realized it would be challenging for me to get to the story ‘first’ if I had to rely on public transit.”

Upon reflection and part of his personal journey to overcome the challenges of vision loss, Garner attended Mohawk College in Brantford in hopes of becoming an Independent Living Specialist and helping others build everyday skills such as safely pouring a cup of coffee, using household appliances and identifying money. That dream was realized in 2006 when he began working for CNIB in Northern Ontario.

“It was extremely rewarding to be able to help people regain their independence, especially seniors. Often, they would break down in tears when I showed them a simple adaptation that could make their lives easier, and that was very humbling,” says Garner.

Currently, Garner works for the City of Thunder Bay as a Municipal Accessibility Specialist.

“Part of my role is to break down barriers for people with disabilities. While people often think about the structural barriers, the attitudinal barriers are the biggest challenges,” says Garner. “Luckily, I work in a supportive environment, but others face challenging misconceptions about how they will be able to contribute because of their disability – it can be difficult to convince employers that you’re employable.”

Sixty-two per cent of the working-aged, blind and partially sighted population is not employed, compared to 27 per cent of the sighted population. For the sighted population, the "unemployment rate" (people who are actively looking for work) is approximately seven per cent and the remaining 20 per cent are not looking for work for a variety of reasons (stay-at-home parent, student, etc.). For the blind and partially sighted population, there isn’t an accurate unemployment rate because many people have given up looking for work even though they would like to be employed. As a result, approximately half of Canadians who are blind or partially sighted are living on low incomes, making $20,000 a year or less.

According to a new Ipsos survey, 70 per cent of Canadians say, if faced with two fully qualified candidates, they would hire a sighted job candidate over a blind one. This inequity is rooted in widely held misconceptions and stigmas about the perceived abilities of people who are blind. Barriers to employment are rooted in lack of experience working with an individual with vision loss, as well as lack of understanding about how someone with vision loss performs their job.

"Advances in technology and mobility training have provided the tools and techniques for people who are blind or partially sighted, such as myself, to do the job a bit differently than our sighted peers, but every bit as effectively," says Diane Bergeron, Executive Director, CNIB Strategic Relations and Engagement. "It's time for employers to recognize that we are just as capable and competent as our sighted colleagues."

In 2010, Garner had surgery in hopes of regaining some of his vision. Fortunately, it was successful.

“I’m still not able to drive, but I’m able to use computer software that magnifies the text and provides colour contrast. In the past, I relied on a screen-reader,” says Garner.

After the surgery, Garner says it was like walking into a cartoon.

“Before, I could only see shapes and colours. Now, I could see a kaleidoscope of colours. All of these details were coming back to me and it was overwhelming,” says Garner. “At first, I remember pointing at signs and getting excited about being able to read a ‘no parking’ sign. And, when I saw my wife for the first time, she was as beautiful as I thought she was and that was comforting,” he says with a smile. “It was also really exciting to watch the hockey playoffs. For the first time in years, I could see the hockey jerseys.”

 

Meet Bernard Akuoko

Since he was 17, Brantford’s Bernard Akuoko has always worked.
 
The 28-year-old has worked at a movie theatre, a call centre and a group home for adults with mental disabilities. He spent a year as an employment outreach specialist. Now, he’s a residence counsellor at W. Ross MacDonald School (WRMS).
 
That would be an impressive résumé for any millennial, but Akuoko has an extra challenge. He was born with retinitis pigmentosa, an eye disease that has caused him to lose his vision.
 
But, he’s never let it shape his life. He attended traditional elementary and high schools, hiding his disability.
“As a teenager, I didn’t want to be singled out as the visually impaired kid,” says Akuoko.
 
His strength of will served him well at Sheridan College. He completed his Social Service Worker course in a year and a half instead of the normal two.
 
Having earned his diploma, he was ready to go out and work, but his parents urged him to go on to university. That meant a bridge year at Ryerson University. To pay his way, he worked at the movie theatre on weeknights and in retail on the weekends.
 
The retail sector taught him some painful lessons.
“I had a manager who did not want to deal with me,” says Aukuoko. “He kept saying: ‘We don’t want you here.’”
 
One Saturday, he told Akuoko not to come in for his next shift.
 
When he returned to work, a different manager asked: ‘Where were you?’ Akuoko explained what had happened. He vowed to work so hard that no one would ever question his dedication again. He fulfilled every task he was given – then did more. He won the respect of his colleagues. Four years later, when Akuoko left for university, he received a commendation for his hard work and gift card, signed by every employee.
 
Even after graduation, he still faced barriers. Despite his social work degree, an employment support worker steered him toward a call centre outside of Brantford. Akuoko soon realized the company took advantage of employees with disabilities, demanding long hours and paying minimum wage. One morning, a new recruit came in. Just as Akuoko started to explain the routine, a manger stepped in. ‘You can’t train new employees,’ he said. ‘You use adaptive technology.’  (Akuoko uses a screen reader and screen magnification.)
 
“Stuff like that really hurt,” says Akuoko. “I started looking for a new job.”
 
His aunt, who had always looked out for him, spotted a posting for an outreach specialist for people with disabilities in the GTA. Akuoko’s heart leapt at the possibility of helping clients improve their lives. He joined a team of energetic young workers.
“At first, some of them weren’t too keen on me. They didn’t know whether I’d be able to get around and meet clients,” recalls Akuoko.
 
He quickly extinguished their doubts. He walked, he took the bus, and he took the GO train.
 
“I was on top of the world. I loved my job,” says Akuoko.
 
Unfortunately, it was a pilot program and his contract wasn’t renewed.
 
Heartsick and adrift, he applied to Wilfrid Laurier’s master of social work program, but he didn’t get in. At the same time, he developed a painful cyst on his jaw which had to be removed. The surgery was more debilitating than he expected.
 
“I was kind of down,” recalls Akuoko. “I didn’t know if I’d ever be able to move on.”
 
Through a haze of pain and morphine, he stumbled across a job posting for a residence counsellor at WRMS. Daring to hope again, he applied, throwing his heart into his cover letter and providing a detailed CV.
 
He was offered an interview. Determined to get the job, he prepared a powerful 10-minute presentation, explaining how he would support a student with vision loss. A week later, he got the call.
 
Without his extraordinary work ethic and supportive Ghanaian family, Akuoko might not have beaten the odds. Sixty-two per cent of the working-aged, blind and partially sighted population is not employed, compared to 27 per cent of the sighted population.
 

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Meet Robert DiMeglio

Sudbury’s Robert DiMeglio was born with retinitis pigmentosa (RP), a genetic disorder that affects the retina's ability to respond to light. As a child, DiMeglio wore glasses at school. It wasn’t until his twenties that RP robbed him of the majority of his sight.

At the time, DiMeglio was working in construction.

“When I had to quit my construction job, that was the worst,” says DiMeglio. “I spent a number of years on ODSP [Ontario Disability Support Program] and things were rough. I didn’t have much confidence in my ability to be independent.”

One day, however, DiMeglio decided he needed to embrace his new circumstances.

“I wanted to become a pro at my situation. I wanted to be awesome at being blind,” DiMeglio says. “You need to try and take your blindness and use it as an ability. Once you’ve learned to live with your blindness, you can do whatever you want.”

DiMeglio’s brother also had issues with his vision, so the family was familiar with CNIB. He decided to learn braille and how to use adaptive technology such as screen readers and closed-circuit televisions. He also signed up for independent travel instruction, and orientation and mobility (O&M) training.

“The O & M was one of the most crucial pieces of the puzzle for me,” says Dimeglio. “It allowed me to travel independently again.”

With his newfound confidence and skill set, DiMeglio began teaching in Belize, Central America. As part of his internship, he taught braille users about assistive technology. He also taught school administrators about software programs for students with vision loss and helped with developing training programs that could be implemented once he had left.

“The work empowered me,” says DiMeglio. “It gave me energy.”

Upon his return, DiMeglio continued to work in the accessibility field. He worked as a computer trainer at Independent Living Sudbury Manitoulin (ILSM). DiMeglio also spent time in Self-Managed Attendant Program Direct Funding. Now, he’s the Executive Director of ILSM. In this role, he’s responsible for hiring, which gives him a unique perspective on working with individuals with vision loss, and other disabilities.

DiMeglio notes that employers still have a long way to go with regards to their hiring practices.

“A lot of them just don’t know. There is this great untapped market of skilled workers that are not given a proper chance,” says DiMeglio. “We need to provide more education. Employers need to know that individuals with disabilities, including vision loss, can do the job.”

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Helpful links

Looking for more information about pursuing or maintaining a great career after vision loss? Check out the following helpful links:
  • workink.com: WORKink™ is a national employment resource that helps Canadians with disabilities find jobs and the tools needed for employment.
  • Transitions Magazine: The magazine of Disability Alliance BC, featuring information about income taxes, workplace disclosure, accessibility and more
  • Project Aspiro: A comprehensive career planning and employment resource for individuals who are blind or partially sighted, featuring information for not only people with vision loss, but family and friends, service providers and employers
  • Disability Impact on Career and Employment Assessment: An online assessment designed to identify how a person's disability may affect their career options and work performance, and what workplace accommodations may be helpful to performing a job effectively
  • NEADS - Job search videos: Features dozens of informative videos on all aspects of job searching for people with disabilities, from interview preparation to online searching to disclosure
  • NDEAM, or National Disability Employment Awareness Month, (October) was established to increase the awareness of the positive outcomes of hiring persons with disabilities in Canada.
 
*Information marked with an asterisk was provided by Chelsea E. Mohler, Research Consultant with National Educational Association of Disabled Students (partly adapted from University of Alberta, Career and Placement Services Tips) and altered slightly for a blind and partially sighted audience by CNIB.