Overcoming Adversity as a Blind Job Seeker During a Pandemic

woman's hands on a laptop computer keyboard.

My name is Paulina Vazquez. I am a recent college graduate with a background in Communications. I am currently seeking employment as a customer service representative.  Although I have several career goals. including working in the travel industry or working in public relations, I’m keeping my options open for any opportunities that come my way. I love to travel and have visited several states in addition to Mexico and Canada. Further, I love interacting with people, so I find that working as a customer service representative provides me with excellent skills for any future career. In this blog, I’m going to share some of the challenges and reward I have discovered related to the intersection of having a visual impairment while job-hunting during a Pandemic. 

Stock your toolbox for maximum flexibility 

For the most part, because most potential employers have moved to remote access and online systems, I’ve had a great deal of success in filling out job applications. However, I have also struggled with some common issues. Some applications are in image-only formats, often using verification systems designed to test for a human applicant. As screen-reader users are aware, unless the document author creates an accessible, image-only documents are usually not recognized by OCR-using screen readers; and this can create a barrier if there is no auditory form of the verification system available. Understanding that some content will not as accessible as we might like or need, it’s important to be flexible and be willing to work around accessibility barriers. During my job search I had to accept that some applications will be a challenge even when you advocate for getting the application in a different format or you find an alternative.  

For planning my job search, looking for jobs, and promoting myself, I utilize several job-search resources such as indeed and Zip Recruiter. I try to be proactive by keeping my web profiles for these services up to date with a current copy of my resume. In this way, I can focus on my job search. Additionally, and most importantly, I take advantage of available resources such as the Aira employment program and my state rehabilitation agency. My philosophy is: The more resources you have available and can use, the more options you have available. 

Plan for your interview and plan for the unexpected 

Job interviews have taught me that each employer has a different interview style. While styles may be different, the basics of what a potential employer is looking for will be similar. So it is very important to review the job description or posting and how your skills match up ahead of time. You can, and should, prepare for your job interviews by doing your research, checking your technology, practicing talking to someone about your background and skills, and answering interview question like:  

  • what makes you a good fit for this job? 
  • why do you want this job? 
  • why should I hire you? 
  • tell me about a time you had a conflict at work and how did you resolve it? 

But, also prepare for the unexpected. Let me give you some examples. The first is from when I got an interview for a job as a receptionist. I got the interview. However, I did not realize until I arrived at the job site that most of the employees spoke Spanish. Additionally, the company had a large clientele of Spanish speakers. It turned out that most of my interview was conducted in Spanish; which surprised me simply because I did not expect it. What I learned from this experience is the importance of doing as much research as possible about the company prior to the interview. Use the internet to find company profiles, discover how many employees to they have, what industries do they serve, who are their main clients or customers. Learn the names of their managers or board members. If you can learn the name of the hiring manager, or department you are applying with try to discover any projects they are working on. All of this information can help you demonstrate why you are a great fit for the job. 

During my first video interview I made sure to test my camera and headset, check for lighting, and trouble shoot for any visual presentation or audio issues. However, I’ve also learned the benefit of being able to handle the pressure during the interview as even with preparation things do not always go as planned, such as technical problems with a camera. For example, during one interview I was asked to fill out an inaccessible form that required third-party assistance for me to complete. I kept as calm as possible and was able to complete the form, and that interview went well. 

Organization is your ally 

Prior to the pandemic I went on a few in person interviews, but since the start of the pandemic many employers are conducting interviews remotely. Despite having various challenges during my job seeking process, I have also found several positive outcomes during the Pandemic. For example, I’ve learned new ways of interviewing, new tools for job searching, and I’ve strengthened my organization skills. Here are a few final tips and suggestions. For success finding work and working, time management is very important. I keep a calendar and put everything in it including: 

  • The days I looked for jobs. 
  • The day and time of when I complete an application and/or submit my resume for a job – including the job title, name of the company to which I submitted the information, and any contact information. 
  • Interview dates and times. 
  • Set reminders for job interviews so I don’t double book. 
  • Additionally, reserving time for organizing my week and time for resume updates. 

Build your skills … 

I have attended several workshops related to employment. If your area has an agency for the blind that offers such workshops, I highly recommend them. In addition to their Career Mentoring Program, the National Federation for the Blind (NFB) has many resources for job seekers.  This summer I even attended a job seeking during a Pandemic workshop. The information I learned through that workshop was invaluable. I learned about networking, resumes, cover letter, and so much more. If you can attend a convention whether in your state or national, you will not regret it. During the pandemic many, if not most, conventions are being offered online, offering a great and relatively low-cost option to learn and network from the comfort of your own home. 

… and your Network 

If you are struggling in any way during while job seeking use your resources. This is where networking comes in, talk to family, former employers, friends, and let them you are looking for a job. Also, do not forget mainstream tools. General audience blogs, articles, and videos about job searching are also helpful resources. Starting with your inner circle and working your way out can bring you new opportunities and connections.  If you require assistance with aspects related to learning or using assistive technology, reach out to available resources to seek training, as confidence with these tools is key to employment success. When you do have an opportunity, be confident about your challenges and how you overcome them, show an employer that you can do the job and be willing to problem-solve for yourself and demonstrate creative solutions, rather than expecting them to do this for you. They may have no experience with a person who is blind/ low vision who uses access technology, so be prepared to explain it and how you accomplish tasks. This will give them encouragement to extend an opportunity to you. 

Final thoughts 

I leave you with my final thoughts, even during a time of uncertainty, there are many ways to look for and apply for work, and there are numerous resources to assist you on that journey. Do not become discouraged if you are not selected for a job, as it can take many interviews to find the right job for you and persistence will pay off. If you keep looking, applying, and networking, you never know where your next job might come from.