Job from a different perspective

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Starting a job is a significant event for everyone. We went to school, then to university, and in between, we did internships. Transitioning into the professional world is a whole different story. For some, the job search happens so quickly that the shift from university to work feels like a breeze. For others, this period takes longer.

I have been visually impaired since birth and recently completed my oral final exam for my master’s degree just a few weeks ago. Like many other graduates, I also did internships; however, the job search, job interviews, and the first days at work are a bit different for visually impaired individuals. In such situations, I always find it practical to have the most important information from the Social Code IX in mind, as it encompasses all special rights for people with disabilities.

Step 1: Job Search and the Application Portfolio

I searched for a job on the usual job portals where many entry-level positions were available. For humanities graduates, job hunting can often be challenging, but it’s always helpful to be open to new opportunities. When you have disabilities, you also need to consider what is feasible. For me, a job transcribing handwritten documents wouldn’t have been my first choice. What I always paid close attention to was the accessibility of public transportation and the commute time between home and work.

Regarding the job application, I would recommend being upfront about your disability. In the cover letter, you can dedicate a portion of a paragraph to the topic, for example, by writing: “I am visually impaired, which doesn’t pose a limitation for me. I can read texts when there is sufficient light, but I encounter difficulties with handwritten documents.” However, the disability should not dominate the cover letter. I would also advise against using words like “unfortunately” and focus more on showcasing your abilities. While briefly mentioning what you cannot do, it’s better to highlight your previous internships or relevant experiences. The disability certificate should be included in the application package and should be sent along with it.

Step 2: Well-Prepared for the Job Interview

Before the actual job interview, it’s essential to not only research the employer but also familiarize yourself with the route in advance. Initially, this may not sound very exciting, but it’s highly important. I usually drove or walked to the interview location a few days beforehand. Since street signs and house numbers aren’t always easy for me to see, I have three recommendations. You could walk the route with a friend, study the route on a map beforehand, or use a navigation app to guide you there. This way, you won’t be surprised on the day of the job interview or on your first day of work by running into signs, lampposts, or other obstacles that you might have overlooked in the stress of the moment. The first impression counts, and a bump surely won’t leave a good impression.

During the job interview itself, your disability will certainly be a topic of discussion. Your prospective employer has reviewed your application and will ask you about your abilities – and even more importantly, what you might not excel at. I’ve been open about my visual impairment during job interviews and shared what I can see. A crucial question during this discussion will be how the workplace should be equipped. The range of accommodations can vary from bright lighting and high-contrast screens (as in my case) to Braille displays and speech output for individuals who are blind.

Step 3: The First Days

The first days in a job or internship are always very exciting. There are so many new impressions and people to get to know. It always takes some time to settle in. For your boss, this time is also exciting, as they will also be learning a lot.

In most cases, the computer may not be set up with the perfect settings you need during those initial days. Many things can be adjusted using Windows built-in features, such as changing the color of the mouse pointer or screen display. This was sufficient for me. However, if you require more specialized tools like a closed-circuit television (CCTV) or a screen reader, you can discuss this with your boss. In my experience, it often takes a bit longer to become familiar with the company’s internal programs and websites. Often, you may not have access to them from home, so I spent a lot of time on it in the office at the beginning. My tip here is to take your time and see if you can accomplish many tasks using keyboard shortcuts. Personally, it takes me too long to locate the mouse pointer, so I eventually learned to navigate websites or programs almost blindly because I knew exactly where everything was located.

Navigating the Paragraph Jungle

While I’m not a fan of throwing around laws, it’s always practical to have a little overview, especially if you have a disability. The Social Code IX covers all topics related to rehabilitation, and I’ll briefly touch on a few important laws here.

One very important section is Paragraph 154, as it states that a five percent clause applies when there are 20 or more employees, requiring the employment of individuals with severe disabilities. This applies to both private and public employers. When I applied for a student position at the university, I thought this might also apply to student jobs. However, the detail here is that according to Paragraph 156, a job is only counted as a job when it involves a weekly working time of at least 18 hours. Paragraph 160 is also significant, as it requires employers who do not meet the quota to make compensation payments. This money, in turn, goes into a fund that finances workplace assistive devices. Another crucial paragraph is Paragraph 208 in the Social Code IX, as it provides for an additional five days of vacation for people with disabilities.

However, I would strongly advise against delving too deeply into these laws during a job interview. The interview is about you and what you can do. In larger companies and institutions, the Equal Opportunities Officer is present and familiar with the legal framework.

If you’re interested in the labor rights of people with disabilities from both the employee and employer perspectives, you can find the Social Code IX on the website of the Federal Ministry of Justice and Consumer Protection in both HTML and PDF versions.