by Jennifer MacNeil, Employment Services Lead for the CNIB Foundation
Canada has made great strides in improving accessibility and inclusion for individuals who are blind or partially sighted, but we must do more in the world of work.
The unemployment rate for Canadians with sight loss is a staggering 14.5 per cent, triple Canada's general unemployment rate.
In a CNIB Foundation survey, more than 4,000 Canadians impacted by blindness told us about their experiences, needs and ambitions – and 91 per cent said the employment level for Canadians with sight loss is a serious issue.
I wouldn't be where I am today had I not had mentors and people guiding me throughout my career. I was blind at birth and I knew that I wanted to help others when I grew up.
Here's what other Canadians with sight loss have told us about their career aspirations:
- 'I want to own my own business full-time in the future; to sustain myself in my own right and be viewed as just an entrepreneur – not an entrepreneur with a disability.' -Ashley
- 'My bold dream is that anyone who wants to work is able to work…equality must be achieved!' -Chris
So, what are the barriers to employment? The answer is rooted in a lack of experience working with an individual with sight loss, as well as a lack of understanding when it comes to knowing how someone with sight loss performs their job.
As many as eight in 10 Canadians have never worked with someone who is blind or partially sighted. Further, two in three Canadians don't know someone with sight loss, but that doesn't mean they can't create more inclusive workplaces.
Firstly, you can volunteer your time to mentor individuals with sight loss who are starting or changing their careers. As business and community leaders, you can share your expertise and experiences to guide mentees in the right direction to foster professional development.
I'm so thankful that professors and colleagues were there to help me as mentors throughout my career. Now, it's my turn to give back. Earlier this year, I signed up to be a mentor for a young woman from BC who is just starting out in her career. I live in Nova Scotia, so we meet virtually through Zoom to talk about her goals – and together, we're developing a plan to help her get to where she wants to be.
Secondly, your organization can provide paid internships/returnships, full-time, part-time and contract work for Canadians with sight loss. Several employers have already discovered an innovative talent pool of Canadians who are blind or partially sighted through the CNIB Foundation's Come to Work program. The program introduces employers to an innovative talent pool of Canadians who are blind or partially sighted and provides job seekers with work experience.
A job is so much more than just a paycheque. It's a means to self-reliance, a source of identity and pride and a gateway to a brighter future. Together, let's create a Canada where everyone can come to work.
To volunteer as a mentor or become an employment partner, contact ComeToWork@cnib.ca or call 1-800-563-2642.