By Tanner Gers
Next year will mark My Blind Spot’s 10th anniversary of inspiring accessibility and inclusion for people of all abilities. When our fearless Founder Albert Rizzi lost his sight, he was driven to fulfill a vision of inclusion, opportunity, and digital equity for people of all abilities. It’s the same drive behind our team’s unwavering mission, vision and purpose in overcoming decades-old oversights and barriers preventing blind and print disabled communities from coexisting independently alongside our friends, colleagues and peers. These oversights and barriers are rooted in antiquated myths, stigmas, and misperceptions about Ability versus disability. It’s why people with disabilities (PWD) are the largest diversity group in the world and why PWD are still fighting for equitable inclusion in societal and corporate cultures. People with Disabilities around the world know this truth all too well.
My Blind Spot is incredibly proud of our partnership with the New York State Preferred Source Program for People who are Blind (NYSPSP), which is now featuring MBS’s suite of digital accessibility and usability services! From state agencies to municipalities in New York, including schools, colleges and universities as well as private sector corporations working with state agencies, Procurement Officers are now able to bypass the normal competitive bidding process when it comes to ensuring the function, accessibility, and usability of their digital platforms, websites, mobile apps, electronic documents and communications when offering the same to people of all abilities.
A Personal Perspective on AccessAbility
I debated on sharing why this step forward means so much to me personally, but here it goes. I’m Tanner Gers, Executive Director of My Blind Spot.
After an auto accident at age 21, I woke up in the hospital totally blind. Unexpectedly, immediately and unwillingly, I entered the community of people with disabilities. I should have died that day, and there were years of medical complications I still needed to battle, including battling for my life, but ultimately, I made it. Why? Because I made a decision about my life. The decision is rooted in the behaviors and actions that revolve around this belief. I will not be defined by disability, but by my ability.
As a person who only began living with a disability as an adult, I have unique first-hand experience of looking for, applying for, interviewing for, and acquiring a job as an individual with a disability and an individual without a disability. Let me tell you, I’ve had many, many jobs over my lifetime. Even though I’ve been totally blind for 14 of my 19 working-age years, I’ve only had 3 jobs as a man who happens to be blind. This is not by coincidence.
Life; Before & After a Disability
Because of this unique first-hand experience of living life without a disability, including looking for, interviewing for, acquiring and retaining employment, I can uniquely speak to the extraordinarily enormous and increased difficulty of doing the same with a disability. I should really say attempting though because acquiring and retaining employment as someone who happens to have a disability has never been easy. Near impossible is a better description.
It damn sure wasn’t for a lack of trying though. As a professional with sight, I held entry level positions, sales positions, training positions, and management positions across a wide sector of industries; from construction to retail and fast food to telecommunications. I started at Taco Bell, and when I lost my sight, I was a manager at a landscape construction company who was preparing to enter the Air Force. I had already taken the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) test and was going to be an Air Traffic Controller.
Disability employment statistics vary because people with disabilities understand exactly what happens when they are labeled as disabled by a potential employer. In the fourth quarter of 2018, the US unemployment rate is hovering around 3.7%. Even though open jobs outnumber job-seekers in the US, the unemployment rate for people with disabilities still hovers around 70%! This is the cause and effect of what it means to be labeled as disabled in a “thriving” economy. This problem is not due to a lack of effort, experience, or skill sets of people with disabilities. This is just the world Albert and I woke up into.
Why Work Environments Need to be Authentically Inclusive
Today, My Blind Spot continues inspiring accessibility for all. While our immediate focus is on digital equity, accessibility and usability, our larger vision includes inclusive employment for people of all abilities. We believe when people with disabilities are excluded from equally accessing the digital world surrounding us, they are subsequently excluded from building careers, financial freedom, and a meaningful and fulfilling life.
I know I survived the horrific injuries and infectious diseases I’ve suffered for a reason. That reason is to create meaning for my life and to help others do the same. This meaning is rooted in the behaviors and actions that revolve around this belief. I will not be defined by disability, but by my ability. Today, in the digital world, this begins with unfettered equal access to technology; no exceptions. And the announcement by the NYSPSP, and New York State’s adoption of the same, is that long-awaited step in the right direction.