the Skills of Blindness on the Job
Opportunities for the Blind (JOB)
National Federation of the Blind
1800 Johnson St.
Baltimore, MD 21230
rises each morning at five. At six-thirty he takes his
white cane from a hook beside the door and walks to
the bus stop. During the ten-minute ride to work, he
scans several articles in his Braille edition of the
"New York Times Weekly."
it's the beginning of a new pay period, a coworker helps
Jim find his time card. Jim quickly puts one Braille
cell at the top of the card. Now he will locate his
card in the rack independently. Sometimes, if his slate
isn't handy, Jim tears a V at the top of the card. This
works well most of the time, but the card gets more
dog-eared, so he prefers marking it with the slate.
morning whistle blows. Jim drops his styrofoam coffee
cup in the trash and hurries from the lunchroom, through
a factory crowded with machines, flats of material,
and coworkers, to his workstation. There he leans his
cane against his workbench and picks up his Braille
for machined parts must often be less than one thousandth
of an inch. A Braille micrometer makes this sort of
accuracy possible. Talking calipers also help for some
jobs. Earphones make it easier to hear the synthesized
voice of the calipers over the din of the machine shop.
all good machinists, Jim is extremely careful of safety
procedures. His turret lathe has safety shutoff switches
like the ones on every other electric device in the
factory. He has not built any special jigs because of
blindness, but he does use the jigs that have been created
to speed production for everyone in the plant.
shop foreman comes over to read Jim the spec sheets
for the morning's work. Much of what is to be done is
familiar-no notes required. That new part for the large
aerospace company is different. The foreman brings it
over for Jim to inspect. Jim jots quick notes as his
foreman reads to him from the spec sheet. After he's
made a few of the new parts, he will be able to toss
those notes, but there's no point in winging it without
a crib sheet when he doesn't have to.
lunchtime. "Hey, Joe," Jim says to the foreman, "I'm
going to the corner for lunch. You want anything?"
good. My wife sent a sandwich, but I think I'd rather
have a Philly cheese steak with lettuce, tomato, and
mayonnaise. By the time tuna salad sits in a lunch box
all morning it smells like cat food. I'll pay you when
you get back."
his way out the door Jim falls in step with Dick Johnston,
another machinist. They talk about the Detroit Pistons
and Dick takes great pleasure in reminding Jim just
who bet on the Lakers. Jim is glad he'd brought an extra
twenty-dollar bill with him this morning. Dick had bet
him a chicken dinner on that basketball championship.
man behind the counter at the deli hands Jim a five,
a one, and some change. Jim quickly folds the bills
so that he can distinguish among them later. "Dick,
how much do you want to bet that the Orioles fold in
afternoon's work is interrupted when the plant manager
calls a meeting to demonstrate the new computerized
equipment the company has just received. Specifications
for parts are entered into the system; the computer
automatically repositions the machine. In effect, the
computer creates automated jigs. Potentially, fewer
people will be needed to do the same amount of work.
On the other hand, the company will be able to increase
the number of parts it produces. The skills of the machinists
will have to be upgraded to make full use of the technology.
looks at the new computer with some trepidation. It
appears to be a keyboard with a computer screen. Jim
wonders what it will take to get voice output. If the
basic computer is compatible with adaptive equipment,
providing speech access should be fairly straightforward.
If not, it may be necessary for an engineer to go into
the system to wire a speech synthesizer and to write
a program to make the speech function efficiently. Jim
is glad he can call the International Braille and Technology
Center for the Blind in Baltimore. The IBTCB can help
him locate assistance if he needs it.
JOAN JAHOOSKI, ADMINISTRATOR
workday begins officially at 8:30, but in reality, she
starts working when her boss picks her up in the morning.
They've discovered that the car ride to work is just
about their only uninterrupted planning session for
nine o'clock, Joan's secretary brings in several stacks
of presorted incoming mail. They sit down together and
the secretary begins to read. After each letter, Joan
dictates instructions. She has written, "canned" responses
to frequently asked questions, but she tries to vary
her opening and closing paragraphs enough to personalize
each letter. Often she is confronted with new questions.
If she can, she dictates immediately to the secretary.
If her response requires her to do research, she takes
notes on a Perkins brailler and dictates her answer
later on a Dictaphone.
of her mail is newsletters and some of it is "junk"
mail. She is interested in a professional journal and
instructs her secretary to begin by reading the table
of contents. Once she has picked articles she wants
to read more closely, Joan skims them by interrupting
the reading to say "skip." The secretary jumps immediately
to the next paragraph. Joan sometimes instructs her
secretary to read only headings or those items that
are in bold type, italics, or some other print style
designed to give emphasis.
eleven, Joan has read through fifty pieces of mail.
Some will take more work; she has finished with most.
a sigh, she turns her attention to the proposal for
the new day care program for the children of employees.
Union contract negotiations will begin soon and she
must have something to present to the Board of Trustees
so management can offer a coherent benefits package.
been gathering data for weeks now. She's attended numerous
employee relations meetings, read dozens of reproofs
of research on the topic, and analyzed cost-benefit
statistical projections on the computer. Now she must
synthesize the mound of data and condense it into a
one-page summary for the Board.
turns to her computer, grabs the rough braille outline
she's developed, and begins typing. Thank goodness for
word processors. The final document which emerges after
and hour's effort is clear and concise, but it bears
little resemblance to the original outline. The Speakqualizer
connected to Joan's computer makes it easy for her to
review her work and to locate spots where revisions
are needed. She could certainly work with her secretary
to draft this one-page synopsis, but Joan has discovered
that it is more efficient to craft precisely worded
documents on the computer.
it's possible for her to use the Speaqualizer to proofread
her own work, it is faster to read it through for content
and run a quick spell check before taking the disk to
her secretary to be printed. Joan's boss does all the
proofreading for everyone in the office. In fact, one
of the few unbreakable organizational rules is that
final proofing of any document must be done by someone
who had no hand in its creation. It's simply too easy
for someone who has helped write or type a work to overlook
errors in grammar, syntax, spelling, or punctuation.
time for Joan to leave for the airport. She's flying
to Seattle to deliver a paper at a Business and Professional
Women's conference. Her Braille 'Speak and four-track
cassette recorder/player fit neatly into a camera bag.
Her notes on the conference and on pending correspondence
nearly fill her briefcase. She will have plenty of work
to occupy her on the flight.
taxi drops her at the terminal entrance where she checks
her suitcases. The nervous skycap finally gives her
directions, though he would have preferred to take her
to her gate in a wheelchair. Joan is a frequent traveler,
so she is familiar with the general layout of the airport.
Since this flight is one she has never taken before,
she stops fellow passengers on the way to the gate to
confirm her directions.
preboard you," the gate agent informs Joan.
thanks. I'll board when my row is called."
settles into her assigned seat and prepares to go to
work. Perhaps she can finish one section of the budget
justification she's submitting as backup data for her
child care proposal.
have you flown before?" The flight attendant interrupts
have to give you a special briefing. Do you know how
to fasten your seatbelt?"
ma'am. I need you to tell me the row number of the overwing
emergency exit. That's the only thing not covered in
your standard briefing."
a minute, honey. I don't know. I'll have to go check."
the flight attendant's return, Joan turns on the Braille
'n Speak and begins work on the budget document.
exits are at row nine and row eleven. What is that you're
braille laptop computer. I'm on a business trip and
have a deadline to meet, so I thought I'd work on the
plane. Thanks for the exit row information."
business women's conference is large enough to fill
several hotels. Joan strikes up a conversation with
Cynthia, an insurance company executive from Connecticut,
while waiting in a registration line. They take the
conference agenda into the coffee shop. Cynthia reads
descriptions of the concurrent workshops and the two
women discuss the relative merits of each option.
workshop at which Joan is giving her presentation is
well attended. She walks to the podium, greets the audience,
and begins speaking. The podium has a small shelf which
is perfect for concealing Joan's 3 by 5 index cards
with her Braille notes on them. At the end of her talk,
several people congratulate Joan for her ability to
make such an organized presentation without using notes.
STONESMAN, KINDERGARTEN TEACHER
Ted rises each morning in time to make breakfast for
himself and to feed his golden retriever guide dog.
He packs today's class materials, which he prepared
last night, into a large satchel, and walks the five
blocks to the elementary school where he teaches.
stops along the way to relieve his dog. From the rounded
position of the animal's back, Ted knows he must pick
up after the dog. He slips his hand into a baggie and
checks the ground where the dog had been until he finds
what he's looking for. He picks it up in his covered
hand, turns the baggie inside out so that what it contains
is completely enclosed, and ties the baggie closed.
Now it can be dropped into the nearest public trash
has twenty minutes to set up the classroom before his
students arrive. He arranges twenty chairs in a circle.
The first activity of the morning is always a quiet
game to get the children settled down.
says good morning to each child coming into the room.
When everyone is seated, Ted gives each student a picture
of a piece of fruit which he has labeled in Braille
on the back.
he says as he hands a little boy a picture of an apple,
"What is the thing in this picture called? Can you tell
me what you do with it?"
an apple, Mr. Stonesman. I eat the inside, but the outside
is yucky. My mom peels it for me."
It's an apple and some people like the peel. Can any
of the rest of you think of other ways people eat apples?"
child says his or her own name to attract Ted's attention.
Ted calls on volunteers to start things off, but then
he turns to the quieter children and makes sure they
get a chance, too.
about ten minutes, Ted collects the pictures and tells
the children to gather around the big worktable in the
back of the room. He's laid out ingredients for making
cupcakes. Ted decides to handle filling the cupcake
papers himself; five-year-olds only believe they can
do all things. Ted dips a one-eighth cup measure into
the batter and moves it carefully to the lined muffin
tin. His method minimizes mess. The children have already
done enough with their vigorous stirring.
the cupcakes are in the oven in the home economics room,
Ted distributes pencils and paper to the class. He goes
to the blackboard and prints a large letter M. He calls
on each child by name and asks for a word that begins
with the "mmm" sound. Then each child takes a few minutes
to write a line or two of M's.
five or ten minutes of quiet writing, the children begin
to get restless. It's time for more physical activity.
Kindergarten room has its own tiny playground area that
is separate from the space used by the other grades.
Ted lines the children up and they walk to the playground.
Ted uses his white cane during recess. His dog is splendidly
trained, but golden retrievers find it practical impossible
to witness a ball being thrown without wanting to fetch
guide dog will not be able to stay quietly under the
teacher's desk during the afternoon session as it does
in the morning. The animal is endlessly patient with
children and endures stick-fingered caresses stoically.
However, one child in the afternoon class seems to think
that dog ears and tails were meant to be pulled. For
several weeks Ted tried to keep the naughty child and
patient dog separated, but now he simply takes the animal
to the teachers' lounge and attaches the leash to the
leg of a sofa there.
the playground, Ted and the children bounce balls and
play "Follow the Leader."
time to retrieve the cupcakes from the Home Economics
room. Ted whistles for the children's attention and
calls roll as they line up to go back into the building.
has picked two class helpers for the day. Each child
gets a chance to be helper about once every two weeks.
The children know who has been helper because each name
is on a chart on the wall. If a child does a good job
helping, he or she gets a gold star on the chart.
helpers pass out the cupcakes which Ted has taken from
the oven. They also bring the milk cartons from the
machine down the hall.
children line up at the sink and wash their hands before
eating their snack. After a trip to the bathroom, the
children get their quiet time mats and spread out on
the floor. Ted picks a Twin Vision book from the bookshelf
and begins reading to the class. He holds the book up
to show the children the illustrations, and every once
in a while he passes the book around so the children
can examine the pictures more closely.
during the lessons on letters, Ted shows his students
both the Braille and the print letter. A few children
have tried writing letters in Braille on Ted's slate.
quiet time is over, the children take smocks from the
cupboard and bring their chairs to the large worktable.
Ted distributes clay to each child. The holidays are
coming and the children are making clay candy dishes
with their handprints to give to their mothers.
checks his Braille watch and ends the work with the
clay fifteen minutes before the bell rings to end the
morning session. The children need time to get cleaned
up to go home. Tomorrow the children will paint the
gifts they've made.
Ted says goodbye to each of his morning students, his
mind is racing ahead to the afternoon session-twenty
new children with twenty entirely unique personalities.
BLAKE, STATE EMPLOYMENT AGENCY COUNSELOR
takes the subway to work each morning. Fellow commuters
are visibly shaken as she uses her cane to find the
edge of the platform. They're even more nervous when
she walks along the platform near the edge. Her reasoning
is simple. If she stays near one edge of the platform,
she can avoid benches, other obstacles, and fellow passengers
in the middle. She has discovered this is the quickest
and the safest way to walk down a crowded platform.
the train pulls into the station, Donna follows the
side of the car until her cane finds an opening. A quick
sweep of the opening assures her that it's a door, and
not the space between two cars.
conductor calls stops, but Donna is sure that the muffled
voice could not be saying English words. It's a good
thing she can recognize her stop by the turn the train
makes just before getting there.
"office" is divided from the workspace of her colleagues
by four-foot high partitions. The state planners who
built the building thought such an arrangement would
contribute to flexibility and economy. It certainly
doesn't contribute to privacy.
is Tuesday, so Donna will be spending her morning interviewing
clients and her afternoon answering telephone inquiries
from the public.
job seeker is handed registration forms by the receptionist.
When those forms are complete, the applicant is assigned
a number and asked to wait to be called by a counselor.
This means that the counselors get a random caseload.
In any given day, Donna may see would-be janitors, secretaries,
factory workers, or sales representatives. A few clients
are seeking entry level professional jobs.
receptionist hands Donna the paperwork for the first
client of the morning. Donna takes the forms back to
her desk and looks them over using her closed circuit
TV magnifier. The applicant is a woman who graduated
from high school twelve years ago, worked four years
as a clerk-typist, and has been without paid employment
for eight years. Donna can see that the handwriting
is neat and the spelling accurate.
takes her Dymo slate and labels the folder. This client
will be her responsibility, along with approximately
one hundred fifty others. It is quicker to find the
right folders by checking Braille labels than by taking
each folder and looking at it under the CCTV.
applicant is personable, neat, and almost totally lacking
in word processing and other modern office skills. She's
trying to re-enter the workforce now that her youngest
child is in school, just as Donna had guessed. After
they talk for fifteen minutes, Donna remembers a job
listing for a file clerk position with a large company.
The job does not pay well, but the company has an excellent
employee training program. If this job applicant is
going to have a chance at a really good job, she'll
need to upgrade her skills.
looks through her Braille index file of job listings
and finds the card with the summary of this position,
including its job number. She switches her CCTV to computer
mode and calls up the job number on her terminal. She
learns that the vacancy still exists and that a basic
clerical test is required. Since the state employment
agency administers screening tests, Donna sends the
applicant to testing. If the results are good, as she
suspects they will be, Donna will call the employer
and set up an interview for the applicant.
meets with five applicants this morning. She is able
to refer two to jobs. (One of the two is hired. The
other will call Donna daily for referrals and will get
a job within the week.) Donna refers two applicants
to job training programs. The fifth applicant has no
skills and only knows that he wants to be paid at least
thirty thousand dollars a year. He will need more counseling
than Donna has time to give him.
Donna and a friend from the office decide to spend their
lunch hour shopping. Donna carries a set of swatches
of material with her. These are her colors. She will
buy nothing which is not the color of one of the swatches.
They browse through racks of blouses. Donna can see
colors fairly well, but she asks her friend to back
up her judgment.
returns to the office with two new blouses and a slightly
blown budget. She doesn't have much time to lament her
extravagance. The phone begins ringing as soon as she
reaches her desk.
are varied. She handles general information requests
immediately. Job orders from employers take a little
more time. She must fill out a computerized agency job
order form. Her CCTV enlarger helps, but she is glad
that her computer also has speech access. Sometimes
it's more accurate to use both. By the end of the day,
when Donna's eyes are tired, the speech output is a
Four thirty! Donna logs in her last call, picks up her
purse, cane, and new blouses and is about to head for
the subway. Just as she's almost out the door, the phone
it, Donna," a coworker says as Donna begins to answer.
"The work day's over."
know, but I'm compulsive." She picks up the phone. "Employment
service, may I help you?"
Donna's smile broadens as she listens. "Sounds terrific!
I'll meet you at Giuseppe's. After all, it's not every
night that a lady's husband offers to take her to dinner
AND a movie."