Job Fair generates optimism and interviews for blind job-seekers

A job seeker shakes hands with an employer from WilmerHale.

Brianna Finnegan from WilmerHale shakes hands with Ibrahim Yunis at the 4th Annual Job Fair for Individuals with Visual Impairments.

October 17, 2014

When Ricardo Scarello applies for a job, he always faces a moment of uncertainty – at what point should he tell a potential employer that he is legally blind?

“I’ve had many interviews with different types of organizations and there’s always that struggle,” he said. “I find it hard to say, ‘I’m a great worker and I can do this and this but at the same time I have a disability.’”

At the fourth annual Job Fair for Individuals with Visual Impairments, held at the Radcliffe Institute on October 16, Scarello and about 100 other adults who are blind or visually impaired were able to put that struggle aside.

Recruiters from more than 30 local companies, state agencies and nonprofits came specifically so they could meet qualified candidates with visual impairments. In some cases, they held on-the-spot interviews with applicants.

William Budding, a recent college graduate with an interest in event planning, interviewed for a position with Hyatt Hotels. Attending a job fair for people with visual impairments was a relief, he said, because it removed blindness from the hiring equation, allowing job-seekers and employers to focus on skills and qualifications.

“My goal is to not let my blindness become a barrier,” he said. “But one of my biggest fears is that a company won’t even consider me once they know I’m blind. Here, everyone knows this already – it’s not about blindness, it’s about whether you’re a good candidate for the job.”

The fair, which was co-sponsored by Perkins, took place in the Radcliffe Institute’s gymnasium, where former Perkins student Helen Keller participated in calisthenics while attending college. Volunteers were on hand to help job-seekers navigate the maze of tables, where company representatives handed out pamphlets and braille business cards.

At the end of one row, Richard Curtis, vice president of talent acquisition for State Street Corporation, shook hands with potential applicants. In previous years, State Street has hired employees who are blind or visually impaired after meeting them at the job fair, he said.

“They’ve done very well with very limited (workplace) accommodation,” he said. “I think that’s what scares some managers. But the technology has changed so much — a lot of the individuals who come on board with us already have technology that is portable and they just plug it into our systems. It’s a win-win.”

As Scarello exited the job fair, following an interview with Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary and another hour of networking, he spoke with cautious optimism about his prospects.

“Being able to speak with so many people all at once is definitely a plus,” he said. “I’m looking forward to hearing back from them.”

Other job fair sponsors included The Massachusetts Commission for the Blind, The Carroll Center for the Blind, National Braille Press, Spaulding Rehabilitation Network and Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University.