PEOPLE: Debunking common misconceptions of hiring blind professionals – Rhonda Partain

Rhonda Partain is one of millions of Americans and 2.2 billion people globally who are legally blind or visually impaired.

In Rhonda’s experience, there are common misconceptions that being blind hinders someone from being able to work effectively, creates excessive costs for an employer, and limits their ability to travel for work.

Today, Rhonda is debunking these myths in the workplace and does her utmost to ensure employers and the professional workforce overall gets a more accurate understanding of the true capabilities of blind people. She is a customer service level 1 tech support person for Serotek Corporation, public speaker, and CEO of Inspiravate Enterprises LLC.

In this interview, she shares her experiences as a blind person in the workplace, observations of employers that don’t understand or welcome diversity, and how she sees diversity evolving in the corporate sphere.

  • You’ve coined the term ‘inspiravate’. What does this mean to you? Why was it important to introduce this term?

Inspiravate means to inspire and motivate. Often people have said I’m an inspiration. They see I am blind and live life as a child. I climbed trees because other kids said I couldn’t. I rode a bicycle. I attended public school before mainstreaming was cool. I never allowed my blindness to stop me.  I’m married, have two grown daughters and five grandchildren. I graduated from college and work for a company that sells access technology. I don’t want people to feel I’m an inspiration just because I manage to live life to the fullest. I want to motivate them to overcome their own personal challenges. We all have challenges of some sort. My challenge just happens to be very noticeable.

  • How have your personal experiences impacted the work you do today and what drives you? 

I work as a customer service level 1 tech support person for Serotek Corporation. I truly enjoy helping other visually impaired or blind people learn how they can navigate and even play on the internet. It can be challenging understanding new software. I know – I’ve been there before.

I am patient and go step by step with my explanations. I am empathetic to customers who have recently lost their sight. It can feel devastating at first. I listen and offer encouragement.

My own experience has taught me that many employers are just ignorant. They see a person who is blind and immediately they assume I couldn’t do their job. Education, access technology, and blindness organizations help many to live out their life with happiness. The main barrier to employment to people with a disability is the attitudes of companies. It won’t matter if I have technology that will read me text on my computer screen; it won’t matter that I can travel independently with a guide dog if those with hiring authority continue to hold to their negative perceptions of disability. I don’t even like the word disability. Dis means to subtract. I would be having a minus in my abilities and that just isn’t true.

  • What are the biggest misconceptions about diversity and inclusion you come across among the businesses and business leaders you work with? How do you believe society can overcome these? 

Businesses think that accommodating a person with a disability will be expensive for them. They don’t bother to investigate. Most accommodations are very low cost. I just feel that many employers are quick to say they value diversity, but their actions say otherwise.

I remember interviewing over the phone for a customer service job. I felt the interview had went great. I was later told that I should have disclosed my blindness. I told them the job had nothing to do with sight. It required I answer calls, make notes of the calls, answer customer concerns and forward on calls that needed escalation. They didn’t end up hiring me.

Companies need to be told of successful workers who have different abilities. When they conduct an interview, their concern should be – “Does this person possess the skills and education needed to perform the job duties?”

  • In your experience, how has the diversity and inclusion debate changed in the last five years, and how do you think it will evolve in the next five years?

I believe people are more aware of diversity than when I attended college in 1983. Many web sites are now accessible. I can shop at Target and Walmart. I can do my banking online and don’t have to have someone else know about my financial records. Many apps on the iPhone are helpful, from telling me what color a shirt is to reading directions on a package of cake mix. Money might be green, but businesses don’t care who gives them money. Many legal suits have caused companies to realize that sites must be accessible to all.

I do see improvement and I look forward to a day when a blind person, a person who is deaf, and a person who uses a wheelchair can compete equally for jobs and services.

I have great hope for the future. Diversity makes a company great. No company wants workers who are all the same. I am a great problem solver having had to find alternative methods of cooking, cleaning, raising children and working. I don’t give the word ‘can’t’ any respect. I find a way.

About the expert

Rhonda Partain is a Public Speaker who evangelizes on a myriad of topics from diversity and inclusion to advocacy for the differently-abled of every skillset. In addition to being an integral part of the Serotek Corporation as a Customer Service Specialist and a Tier One Technical Support Specialist Rhonda is CEO of Inspiravate Enterprises LLC, a company founded by her and her husband to represent her in her public endeavors. She has been featured as an Essayist with Pop-Up Magazine, a multi-media theater presentation from San Francisco, California and has toured all over the United States during the past three years, recounting her life in an essay entitled Blind Date. Rhonda lives in Bremen, Georgia with her husband of thirty-five years, Ben, has two daughters and five grandchildren.

Rhonda holds a BA in Psychology and Sociology from Liberty University in Virginia and a MA in Vocational Rehabilitation from University of Kentucky.