Lack of Knowledge Affects People with Visual Impairments

Computer screen seen through the glasses of a man looking at the screen. Most of it is out of focus except the small part seen through the glasses.

Chhabra is conducting research on conditions for the functionally impaired in Oslo and New Delhi.

A survey conducted by Ipsos (MMI) shows that a blind person with a guide dog has little chance of getting an interview, and even less of a chance getting the job, even if he or she has the required qualifications. Some employers would rather take on a person with a criminal background than a visually impaired person.

Oslo Compared to New Delhi

Research fellow Gagan Chhabra at OsloMet, who is originally from India, has carried out a comparative study no other researchers have done before him. How do people with functional impairments fare in Oslo compared to New Delhi?

"I discovered that, as regards conditions for people with functional impairments, Norway is only compared to other OECD countries, countries that we resemble," says Chhabra.

"I chose to compare Norway and India, even though they are very different in most areas. I think the two countries can learn something from each other."

The Same Conditions

Perhaps you think that Oslo is miles ahead of New Delhi when it comes to inclusion in the workplace?

The conditions are actually surprisingly similar when we compare the two countries.

"I was expecting the Norwegian labour market to be more open, inclusive, accessible and enlightened, and that young people with functional impairments would face fewer obstacles compared to a big city in India. But I was very surprised about how similar the policies and the experiences of young people with visual impairments were in the two cities," Chhabra says.

As a welfare state, Norway has a long history of focusing on redistribution and inclusion. Nonetheless, some groups appear to be more included than others.

In his studies, Chhabra notes, for instance, that the Norwegian Labour and Welfare Administration (Nav) recommends visually impaired young people to apply for disability benefits as a solution to their problems. This is a symptom of low expectations of this group.

Ignorance Among Employers 

"How do you get to the toilet if you can’t see?"

The quote is from a job interview in Oslo in 2017.

Grim stories emerged in a qualitative study by Ipsos (MMI) carried out among young, visually impaired job applicants in Oslo. It turns out that they don't expect to encounter much understanding or knowledge on the part of employers.

The young applicants are asked questions that are irrelevant to their ability to do the job they have applied for, indicating that employers know too little about their conditions.

"Are you able to use a computer?" "How do you get to the toilet?" "How do you get to work?" Several applicants felt discriminated and that they were not given the real explanation for why they were not invited to an interview or hired at all.

Several applicants were rejected when the employer discovered that they were visually impaired. "Sorry, we have just hired another applicant."

"Employers either know very little about young people with functional impairments, or they believe it is the state’s responsibility to help them through various support schemes," says Chhabra.

Lack of Awareness

Both experts and young people Chhabra has talked to in the study note that employers often believe that equality only means equality between the sexes and in relation to people's cultural background. Equality for people with functional impairments is often something that employers in Oslo and New Delhi do not think about.

The young applicants refer to public statements that people with functional impairments can do as good a job as a person who is not functionally impaired. The truth is different.

"Norway has come a long way when it comes to making things easier for people with functional impairments and creating a universally designed society. However, we have little to boast about in the labour market," says Chhabra.

Through his comparative studies, he hopes to contribute to a more open and honest public conversation about the issue.

"The present lack of awareness leads to harmful attitudes and, in the long run, it will be expensive for society not to let these young people participate in the labour market," he concludes.

Reference

Report produced for the National Centre for Documentation on Disability by Erik Dalen, MMI, 14 March 2006.

This article was first published on hioa.no 25/9/2018.

About Chhabra

Gagan Chhabra is currently conducting research at the University of California, Berkeley. As part of his doctoral degree, Chhabra interviewed 25 policy experts, 11 from Oslo and 14 from New Delhi, to obtain an overview of anti-discrimination and accessibility legislation in the two countries.

He has also interviewed 30 young people with visual impairments, 13 from Oslo and 17 from New Delhi, to gain insight into how the laws actually work.

The project was scheduled for completion in October 2019.

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