In honour of October’s National Disability Employment Awareness Month, CNIB is launching an EmployAbility campaign, calling on employers to look past misconceptions about hiring people who are blind or partially sighted.

Vision loss can happen to anyone, at any age – and when it does, it can have a serious, negative impact on employment potential. At half a million and rapidly growing, Canadians who are blind or partially sighted comprise a significant portion of the nation’s population. Of these, over 100,000 are working age adults. 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.

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.

Today, working with a colleague who is blind or partially sighted is really no different than working with anyone else. People with vision loss successfully perform a wide range of careers, including in areas such as science, law and technology.

“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.”

CNIB’s EmployAbility campaign features a series of public service announcements challenging misconceptions about what it’s like to work with someone with vision loss.  The PSAs, made possible by Government of Canada funding, feature real people who are blind playing the roles, not actors, and were produced by creatively acclaimed, internationally recognized marketing communications agency DDB Canada. Through an extensive audition process, Fred LeBlanc, a former firefighter who lost his vision in his 40s and now uses a white cane, and Shelby Travers, a public relations student who uses a guide dog, were cast in the English TV spots.

“All people face work related issues and some employers wrongly assume that those with vision loss experience more problems than the sighted,” says Dean Lee, executive creative director, DDB Canada Vancouver.  “The smart and simple creative depicts common workplace challenges and plays on the expectations and preconceived notions that CNIB is trying to change.”