Most young people living with vision loss say low self-esteem and a lack of potential are stopping them from finding a job, according to a new national survey.

More than 180,000 New Zealanders currently live with vision loss and 60% of them are unemployed. 

New research by Blind Low Vision NZ (BLVNZ) and Blind Low Vision Education Network NZ (BLENNZ) shows young people face many hurdles when it comes to finding work.

Sixty-nine per cent of those surveyed saw the lack of their own potential, combined with low self-esteem, as a barrier to getting a job. 

Nearly 45% also said society’s bias and assumptions about their abilities was a problem.

Nearly three-quarters (74%) of those surveyed had never had any form of paid work experience, while 61% were unsure of their career pathway.

Practical elements, like transportation (32%) and the availability of technology to assist them with work and study (49%), were also noted as barriers.

‘I think employers need to have an open mind’

Milton Paul, a 32-year-old IT worker who has lived with low vision his whole life, agrees that societal bias is a big issue.

“Personally, I know a lot of blind youth who are qualified for a lot of jobs that they just fall short of because of their disability,” he says. “I think employers just need to have an open mind.”

 Paul says finding work was hard for him.

“I knew that I wasn't going to be able to operate heavy machinery and I wasn’t going to be able to be a doctor or a nurse, but the one thing I knew was that I was able to see computer screens really well,” he says.

Paul decided to study IT and completed a Diploma in Server Administration and Network Security. 

This led to a part-time job at a tattoo studio before a full-time job with BLVNZ in digital support. He says his goal is to have a team leadership role in the digital space.

He’s urging other employers to give young people with vision loss more opportunities.

“Just don’t be so closed off,” he says.

Breaking down barriers and building up confidence

BLVNZ’s Head of Youth and Employment, Sarah Mitchell, who has lived with low vision since birth, says work needs to be done to educate society about these young people’s abilities – and in building the confidence of the young people themselves.

“It's about teaching our youth the importance of [being aspirational], so not thinking about what they can't do, [but instead] what they can do,” she says.

“It's about them tapping into their networks and understanding that confidence and being a problem solver and being resilient and all those kinds of key attributes that employers are looking for now in 2022 are as important as anything.”

She says there also needs to be a focus on educating employers.

“We're sitting in a time right now, an unprecedented time of desperation in every sector and every level of employment, and we've got this untapped talent pool of youth and working age people who employers could be tapping into.”

Then there are the more practical issues to tackle, such as inaccessible recruitment processes.

“A lot of businesses don't have recruitment processes that are compatible with online technology and that's eliminating people before they even get a chance,” Mitchell says.

“Transportation is a significant one as well, so if you are maybe not living in such a well-connected part of the country, transportation can be a really significant barrier for employment.”

But most of all, she says New Zealand’s businesses need to stop making assumptions when it comes to young people with vision loss. 

Mitchell says most people know what they are capable of and that businesses should have more trust.

“None of us really want to put ourselves into too much of a risk situation, right? So if a person doesn't think they're going to be able to do [a job], [they’re] probably not going to apply.

“So, it's about actually trusting that individual and also recognising that if you don't employ a diverse workforce, if it's a homogeneous workforce, how can you understand or how can you reflect what your customers or client base want if everyone in your workforce looks the same?”

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