We’re here today to recognize October 2020 as the 75th observance of National Disability Employment Awareness Month. But October isn’t the only month we should be thinking about and discussing disability & inclusion. Particularly when it comes to hiring practices within our organizations!
When I started my company, Leads at Scale, in 2013, I initially hired 1 sighted person and 1 blind person.
As background, Leads at Scale provides support services to our client’s businesses in throughout the US and Canada. Inbound & outbound call centers, customer & patient satisfaction surveys, customer retention work, sales support, etc.
The common thread in our business is ‘communication’ and ‘relationship building’. We help our clients connect with their customers at all stages of their customer lifecycle.
As we grew we needed to hire more people. That’s when I realized the skill set being delivered by the blind & visually impaired was much stronger than the skill set we were seeing from other candidates. So, we completely changed our business model.
Now 100% of our employees are either blind or visually impaired. This was a major shift for the company!
The Best and the Brightest
At that point my goals for the company began to center around creating professional employment and advancement opportunities for the blind and visually impaired! And we haven’t looked back – the experience has been fantastic for both my company and for our clients!
Another shift came when we realized we could recruit & hire the best and brightest candidates anywhere in the US if we could offer our employees a remote working model. We undertook this challenge and have been operating in a remote work environment since 2015. Because of this shift we have been able to hire great candidates we wouldn’t have had access to otherwise!
During the past few months of COVID-19, I like to joke that we were remote before remote was cool! And again, we’ve been able to target and hire the best and the brightest candidates across the United States!
Why don’t Companies Hire the Blind or Visually Impaired?
Like many of you, in my line of work, I speak with people all day long. During conversations with other businesses about hiring the blind and visually impaired I consistently hear, ‘I understand, but my business is different’; I couldn’t hire a blind or visually impaired person here because – I don’t know if they could perform the job; my worksite is too dangerous for someone who can’t see; I would have to make too many changes; It would be too risky; I don’t know if they would fit in; What if I hire someone and they don’t work out – I wouldn’t be able to get rid of them; and on and on.
My response is always the same because I’ve heard all of the excuse’s way too many times! “Tell me, wouldn’t that mean your worksite could be too unsafe for others as well?” or “Tell me, do you ask yourself these same questions when you hire someone who is sighted?” If not, I suggest you start!
I also hear how businesses would “LOVE” to hire a blind or visually impaired candidate! But, they simply couldn’t because they are in a manufacturing business. Or because they need very specialized or targeted talent; Perhaps they believe their work is too technical. The list of excuses is endless!
A Mismatch between Unemployment Rate and Employers struggling to Find Talented Candidates
One key statistic that always surprises – The unemployment rate for the blind and visually impaired is over 70%! And this figure is from before the pandemic, business shutdowns, furloughs, and the like!
At the same time, I speak with business leaders who bemoan the difficulty of finding enough well-qualified candidates to hire.
What a strange contradiction! On one hand, we have businesses struggling to find enough well-qualified candidates to hire. On the other, there is a significant pool of talent where more than 7 in 10 people is unemployed!
That’s just plain crazy!
Where Could the Blind or Visually Impaired Fit in Your Organization?
Let me give you some background and share some real-world examples with you:
- First, the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) – I serve on the Employment Committee at the NFB. In my role, I am actively involved in our Career Fairs with both Employers and Job Seekers. The NFB holds Career Fairs twice a year. Once in February in Washington DC; and again, in the summer, during the NFB’s National Convention. Last year we had over 50 employers and more than 350 job seekers participate. It was a great resource and a big success for both the Employers and Job Seekers who participated. The feedback we received is that they all benefited and gained much from the experience!
- I also serve on the Advisory Council for the Inland Northwest Lighthouse for the Blind. We have 3 locations – in Seattle, Spokane, WA, and Summerville, SC.
- And I serve as the Secretary of the Washington State Chapter of Disability: IN, whose mission is to empower businesses to achieve disability inclusion and equality!
During my involvement with these, and other organizations, I see all job functions being successfully performed by blind or visually impaired employees every day:
The NFB Career Fair
At the NFB’s Career Fair in Las Vegas last year, my contact from the CIA, who also happens to be blind, was extremely excited to have interviewed a gentleman with a PhD in Physics. A position she had been trying to recruit for quite a while. She immediately scheduled this candidate for a follow-up interview. My contact at the FBI was excited to find a couple of candidates who are attorneys.
The Inland Northwest Lighthouse for the Blind
At the Inland Northwest Lighthouse for the Blind, employees manufacture all of the white boards, cork boards, glass wall boards and easels Acco sells in Office Depot and Staples stores.
They also manufacture litters (stretchers); entrenchment tools (the folding military shovels); and hydro packs & canteens for the US Military; and over 187,000 parts per month for the Boeing 737 model and later aircraft.
Let me ask – Do you still think the blind and visually impaired’s potential or job skills are too narrow or limited?!
Leads at Scale
These examples may seem anecdotal, so let me share the reasons we hire the blind and visually impaired at Leads at Scale.
The skill set the blind and visually impaired consistently bring to the table always impresses me!
The blind and visually impaired are experienced problem-solvers. They bring greater creativity and ingenuity to their work; just look at some of the outbound sales and cold calling results we’ve been able to achieve for our clients.
Their communication skills are wonderful. Their active listening skills are unmatched. The attention to detail always impresses me. They think outside-of-the-box, have a greater sense of empathy and possess many other transferrable skills we all search for but rarely find at the same level as other candidates.
I learned long ago, we can teach technical skills. But we need our candidates to bring the appropriate soft-skills and a positive attitude! I suspect you are in a similar position. The blind and visually impaired do this consistently!
Further, at Leads at Scale we have exactly the same expectations of our blind and visually impaired employees and job candidates as we would of a sighted employee! Why? Because at the end of the day the work still needs to get done for our clients! And, because I’ve learned the blind and visually impaired can do the job just as well, if not better, than a sighted employee!
Given this wide range of skill sets, you may be wondering what roles we’ve hired the blind and visually impaired for. Well, to name just a few – Customer Service; Call Center Agents; Sales (in fact, our top-performing sales agents continue to find success utilizing our 12-step sales process framework) ; Marketing; Quality Assurance; Supervisors; HR – interviewing, hiring and on-boarding; Coaching; Client Services; Account Management.; Data Entry. The list is almost endless. When you add backgrounds in manufacturing, logistics, PhDs in Physics, attorneys, accountants and more the opportunities to fit into your organization grow exponentially!
I wonder – What role couldn’t you match a blind or visually impaired candidate to in your organization?!
How Can You Hire the Best and Brightest?
Let me close by reiterating that we celebrate National Disability Employment Awareness Month every October! We should, however, be focused on disability and inclusion within our organizations every month of the year!
All employers face the challenge of recruiting, hiring and retaining the best and the brightest employees every day! To be successful, you need to have access to every possible pool of talented candidates! To be successful, you should be including blind and visually impaired candidates in your recruiting!
If I can be a resource; answer any questions; act as a sounding board; or help in any way, reach out to me directly! I am happy to speak with you about this journey, how it’s benefited Leads at Scale and how it will benefit your organization!