This is a response to an article titled Nystagmus, Curse or Blessing? by Felicia Brown-Grinstead. I am using an excerpt. I encourage you to read the article in its entirety either at the above link or re-posted in this blog here.
The following is an account of one woman’s experience with having nystagmus and how it is affecting her job search.
“I am a college graduate holding a Bachelor of Science Degree in Business Administration with an Accounting Concentration. I also have an Associate of Arts Degree in General Education, both earned. I thought that accomplishing these goals ( with no special programs or help ) would demonstrate my ability to start and complete goals, would show that I am capable of handling challenges and if given a chance would make a good employee. However, I guess I was wrong.. I know that accounting would be a hard sell because of my eyes so I had a plan B that also failed. I took and passed CBEST ( California Basic Educational Skills Test ) so that I could work as a substitute teacher if unable to find employment in my degree field. However, I have not had luck in that area either.
As an African American woman, which I feel isn’t as much of a barrier as it used to be, I have had to endure not only the barrier of being Black but of being vision impaired which is the biggest barrier. Standing before perspective employers with my eyes moving back and forth has been a humiliating experience, which usually results in no employment.”
Ok, there’s a lot going on in these passages. First of all, I’ve never heard any dialogue on race and nystagmus before, and I think it’s a really interesting topic. To all my racially diverse, shifty-eyed friends, have you had to overcome prejudice with both your nystagmus and your race? Do you feel like both work against you? For you? Bravo to Felicia for raising this topic.
Now, as far as employment, I’m going to be a little bit critical. I believe there are two ways that nystagmus can get in the way of getting a job. The first is the obvious one; employers (and people in general) can be uncomfortable with the eye movement. If they choose not to hire someone based on their eye movement, if it doesn’t affect their ability to do the job, it may be illegal. It certainly isn’t right, and people with nystagmus have a right to be unhappy with this kind of behavior.
The second reason is perhaps the most common, and one that we don’t like to admit: the social difficulties of living with nystagmus can psychologically affect us to the point where we really lack any sort of self-confidence. I have found that generally this is more crippling than the actual condition itself. Even looking people directly in the eye is difficult, which doesn’t bode well for interviews. People with nystagmus are held to the same standards as anyone else interviewing for a job. If you can’t look someone in the eye, they won’t want to hire you.
The good news is, unlike the actual nystagmus, lack of self-confidence can be temporary. Social skills are learned. Interviewing, practicing maintaining eye contact (or for those with whom focusing is more difficult, at least looking someone straight in the face), and even just having multiple interviews all help overcome this particular obstacle. I’m not saying it’s easy to get a job, I’m just saying it’s possible.
And Felicia does touch on the fact that nystagmus can in fact make someone a GREAT employee. It gives them a determination and focus that perhaps others do not have. It’s so important to remember that if you put the work in and are qualified, not only do you deserve the job, but you could be better at it than someone else because of your nystagmus.
Now I don’t know Felicia’s situation, so I can’t comment on why she is having trouble finding employment. It definitely could be the nystagmus. It could be that the people she has been interviewing are prejudice. It could also be California’s incredibly large unemployment rate, or the competitiveness of finding good accounting jobs. Who knows? All I’m saying is there is no reason to be fatalistic about finding a job when you have nystagmus.
The trick to living successfully with nystagmus is to not let it be your excuse for not doing what you want to do. Now, there are things like driving that we will continue to struggle with, but something like getting through college or finding a job is COMPLETELY in your capacity. Look at Helen Keller. Completely blind and deaf, yet she earned a bachelors degree, which in her time, was incredibly rare just for the fact that she was a woman, let alone visually (and audibly) impaired. She continued on to build a very successful career and supported herself and her retinue of helpmates. If you have the intelligence and the drive, you can do most anything you want. Will it take more work and effort than a normal-sighted person? You bet. But it will also be much more satisfying when you get there.
The time after college is just a difficult one for everybody. So many people I know are struggling to find a place in the world where a bachelors is becoming more and more common and jobs are harder to get in general. So if you have nystagmus and you struggle to find a job, know that you are not alone, and that group includes those who don’t have nystagmus.
What do you guys think? Have you had a hard time finding a job because of your nystagmus? Do you worry that your kids will run into this obstacle? Do you think I’m dead wrong and Helen Keller was a rare case? Do tell…