High unemployment affecting those with disabilities

February 26, 2009 10:16:28 AM PST
Black History Month is a remembrance of important people and events in American history. It is also a time to explore significant issues as it pertains to African-Americans with disabilities. Americans with disabilities are the largest and fastest growing minority population. They represent every race, religion and ethnic group.

Seventy-five percent of those served at Chicago Lighthouse for People Who are Blind and Visually Impaired are African-American, with a high-unemployment rate.

"I'm gonna say it's harder for African Americans who are blind and visually impaired and deaf to find jobs than it is for African-Americans," said Sheila Perkins.

Perkins is the director of employment at Chicago Lighthouse.

"I think a lot of African-Americans do not know the resources that's here at the Lighthouse," Perkins said. "They don't know that we can help people with jobs. I think some, the skill level is low. We have people that still do not know how to use a computer."

Elbert Ford works as a job placement counselor. He is also visually impaired. He feels it's the disability that's a barrier, not race.

"Because a lot of employees are not knowledgeable of working and hiring people with visual impairment. It's not that they can't do the job, it's just the disability," said Ford.

Albert is lucky he has a job. He is a clockmaker at Lighthouse. He was shot in 1971 in a robbery attempt.

"When I lost my sight I was in high school, Marshall, then I went to the Harper, then they told me to come out to the Lighthouse," Albert said.

Looking toward the future, African-Americans have high hopes, especially with President Obama.

"For African-Americans with disabilities I think this will just open the doors so that they can realize they can do whatever they want to do, they have to be good at it, they have to understand themselves and they have to be able to deal with whatever their disability is," said Perkins.

"It's gonna take time, that's number one thing, but I do believe that he's very aware of the importance of people with disabilities having to come here at Lighthouse, so he has first hand experience," said Ford.

"He's for all the peoples. He's for all races," Albert said.

For more information on employment opportunities for people who are blind or visually impaired go to www.chicagolighthouse.org.