Determined to work

Marisa Sposaro
There are many barriers for people with a disability to get employment. I am a blind person. I have worked in many jobs. I often found it hard to get the technology I needed to help me do a good job. I use Braille to read and write. Braille uses raised dots to represent letters and numbers. It has not been easy to get access to Braille material and Braille displays at work. I think it is very important for people with a disability to get access to the assistive technology they need.
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Marisa Sposaro on 11/05/2011
A man using a wheelchair is working in a factory making a blue metal frame of another wheelchair.

I have fought hard to get employment

There are many barriers for people with a disability to get employment. I am a blind person and have worked in many jobs. They have been jobs I felt passionate about. I have fought hard to get employment.

People often assume I work in the disability field or in a sheltered workshop just because I am blind. But I was determined to make my own choices. I have worked as a social worker and radio broadcaster. I have also worked in caf├ęs, in telemarketing and picked fruit. Most of the work has been paid. I have also done some voluntary work.

The one constant during my working career has been that assistive technology was difficult to access. I have been a Braille user since the age of five. But it has not been easy to get access to Braille material and Braille displays at work.

Information access

I worked as a social worker in the 1990s. I helped young people and their families. I needed to update files every day. There were reports to write for court. The material had to look good. There was also lots of information to read.

I had a desktop computer and a screen reader. I also had a Braille typewriter and a second-hand scanner that didn't work. Fortunately, I had a team of volunteer readers. But audio tapes frustrated me. I also had a lot of difficulty working with voice synthesisers on the computer. I really wanted information in Braille.

Work suffered

My work suffered because of the lack of access Braille information. I was young and inexperienced. I particularly had trouble writing reports. I tried so hard but it was very difficult. Other workers sniggered behind my back. Managers demanded that I repeat computer training again and again. But they did not understand that the computer was not the problem. The problem was my inability to cope without reading. It was my own resistance to being illiterate. I could not listen to a document. I wanted to read. But there were no services to convert information into Braille for me.

I also forgot appointments because I did not have a diary. I had binders filled with Braille sheets of appointments. But I got confused by this.

Skills improved

In time I adjusted to working with speech on the computer. My report writing skills improved. I put Braille labels on my social work files. The receptionist and I worked out a system on my computer with all the files. I became proficient at listening to documents and books on the computer. But I refused to use audio tapes. It was trial and error. Finally, I got to a stage where I was told that I was a great writer. My work had improved and other staff were helpful.

Things should have been better for me at work. But they were not. I had a growing anger about the lack of access to Braille information. I tried buying a second-hand Braille embosser with my limited income. But the embosser broke after only a month.

Happiest moments

My happiest moments of my working career were spent tutoring aboriginal children in far north Queensland. I also enjoyed home visits to abused children and young people as a social worker in Victoria. And advocating for women in Victorian prisons was very satisfying. I only had a Braille typewriter for taking notes. But I made do.

By the time I was in my 30's I was able to purchase a BrailleNote computer. I gained renewed confidence. Being in a job was so much easier. Although I refused to go back to social work I landed a job. It was in a telemarketing firm selling hotel memberships. It was so much fun! I laughed my way through the day. I also had drinks with the team every Friday night. I was in my element selling the hotel packages. I wasn't tied to a headphone listening to documents. I could read with speed and efficiency on my BrailleNote.

After travelling around Australia I then decided to study. I completed a diploma of herbal medicine. It was in preparation for a new career as a natural therapist. I enjoy my work. And I will continue to fight for blind workers to gain access to the assistive technology that benefits us.

Readers comments (3)

Good article Marisa. I am in the process of returning to work after an improvement in my health. I know its going to be hard at times. But i am sure i will learn new skills. I hope my new carrer will bring me rewarding, and interesting experiences like the ones you have had during your years of work.

Great story. We need access to technology for work readiness before we work. I don't know how we are expected to turn up to potential employers empty handed with no technology. If we already have access to the latest technology while we are looking for work, we are better prepared to start on day one. Rather than wait for the complicated assessment application process for adaptive equipment To get started in a new role. The whole idea is to be attractive to employers. A decent braille computer can cost $10,000. This type of investment is beyond unemployed people. Is there any monye in the May federal budget to address this issue?

See my article from the Wednesday before last. It refers to a government fund for providing equipment/accessibility in the workplace for people with disabilities. Of course not all employers know about this though!

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