The national unemployment rate is at more than 8 percent. Many more are underemployed. Imagine, though, if you were part of a population for which unemployment exceeded 70 percent.
That's the challenge faced by disabled Americans. Despite technology and adaptations that allow disabled employees to compete with other workers, many employers are hesitant to hire someone with a disability.
October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, which spotlights disability employment issues and celebrate the contributions of workers with disabilities.
NewView Oklahoma is the state's largest employer of the blind and visually impaired. Our employees are engaged in a range of manufacturing and service jobs. We're the sole supplier of wooden airplane wheel chock blocks for the U.S. military, and the sole supplier of fire hoses for the U.S. Forest Service.
NewView employees pack military rations and first-aid kits. They convert rolls of vinyl into shower curtains. They work at telephone switchboards and in mailrooms. They're accountants, supervisors and administrators.
A few simple adaptations — proper lighting, a magnifier or tactile cues — are all that's needed for our employees to be successful. With adaptive computer software, there are few jobs or professions where a blind or visually impaired worker can't excel.
Despite this, workers who lose their sight in middle age often find themselves dismissed from jobs they've held for years and shut out from careers they've built over a lifetime. Those who are blind or visually impaired in childhood may navigate through high school and college, only to spend years going to job interviews without a single job offer.
A job is about more than income. A job gives you the satisfaction of providing for yourself and your family. Being a productive and contributing member of the community heightens one's sense of self-worth.
Too many disabled Americans are denied this opportunity. NewView Oklahoma works each day to create jobs for blind and visually impaired Oklahomans, but the need is great. Other employers throughout the community must be involved if we're to ever reduce the absurdly high unemployment rate among disabled individuals.
I'm privileged to work with the most dedicated and determined employees anywhere. Every day, I see capable employees who, after years of discouragement and depression, found hope and independence by finding a job. I invite you to come see it too.
Branch is president and CEO of NewView Oklahoma (www.newviewoklahoma.org). For more information about NewView or to arrange a tour, call (405) 232-4644.