Paradigm Shift – Is there a B in your DEIA Plan?

By Jonathan Lucus, Executive Director, NSITE

We hear a lot today about how companies are embracing diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility (DEIA) in their workplaces. This active effort gives us a lot of hope. It tells us that by and large, business leaders really want to do the right thing. The savviest among them realize that the strongest workforces reflect many abilities and strengths and people who bring a myriad of ways of thinking and approaches to challenges.

But we also know, despite the best intentions, the business world is rife with misunderstandings and a lack of education about how to make DEIA an intentional part of corporate culture.

Here at NSITE, we’re working with some great business leaders who truly are visionary and open-minded, seeking to embrace a new way of building a strong, well-rounded team of professionals where opportunity is universal within their culture. And we’re proud of the tools we’re putting in place to assist them in this endeavor that include our corporate awareness-raising initiative, Blindness, Equity and Inclusion (BEI).

Our program helps companies expand their definition of diversity and demonstrates the power – and benefit – of the blind and low vision talent pool to businesses large and small. 

Specifically, NSITE has created a basic training program that helps businesses understand what is required to truly integrate blind or low vision employees into their own corporate culture. One of the key takeaways with this program is that diversity initiatives can’t just rest on the shoulders of one person. There needs to be buy-in from the C-suite, support from management, and ultimately, acceptance from the team with whom blind or low vision hires will be working side-by-side.

Our training, led by NSITE team members Doug Goist and Rikki Howie, focuses on:

  1. removing misperceptions about working with the blind, 
  2. demonstrating their “diverse abilities”, and 
  3. providing basic “how to’s” for incorporating blind colleagues into an office or onto a virtual team.  

We’ve learned in conducting these programs that most sighted people don’t realize that more than 80 percent of the blind and visually impaired workforce is skilled in the assistive technology needed to perform day-to-day office work. And, if special equipment is needed, it generally is available to a business at a few hundred dollars cost, sometimes even with tax benefits. 

But NSITE goes beyond the BEI training, working directly with job talent and with business leaders to assist with skills training and upskilling the employee, then assisting the company in integrating the employee into their corporate culture to assure a good match and the potential for a long-term hire.

We know statistics show that only 30% of blind, job-ready candidates are employed. This statistic needs to change, and at NSITE, we’re working with business leaders, influencers and government agencies to create a paradigm shift in how blind and low vision job talent is considered not only in the hiring process, but in corporate retention efforts.