Hi, I am Blaise Bryant. I was born completely blind, grew up in a small town in the Adirondack Mountains, and have both a high school diploma and bachelor’s degree. After graduating from The College of Saint Rose in Albany with my BA in Journalism, I quickly found out that jobs in radio were extremely difficult to find. The added layer of the onion was employers being unwilling to take a chance on me because I only had slightly more experience than eyesight. To use a baseball analogy, I stepped into the batter’s box with two strikes on the scoreboard. This was and continues to be, the unacceptable norm for people with disabilities looking for employment.
Thankfully, I was only without a job for three months which gave me time to somewhat figure out life. My high school friend Kevin graciously offered me a bedroom in his house so I could live in Albany without needing to go back home where the resources were minimal. During this time, I actively searched for jobs with little success. I re-recorded newscasts I taped for the College radio station several times with the result being insanity.
Like most students with disabilities, I utilized vocational rehabilitation services, for example, the New York State Commission for the Blind. My counselor sent me a posting for a Peer Advocate/Youth Transition Coordinator position at the Independent Living Center of the Hudson Valley across the Hudson River in Troy. My knowledge of Independent Living Centers was zero. This was completely different than my degree and dreams. I applied for the job because hey…something was better than nothing. Long story short I had an eye-opening interview because two of the three interviewers were disabled.
August 18, 2014, was an unforgettable day. Shortly after arriving at The Seeing Eye in Morristown, NJ to be matched with my first guide dog, I accepted the job offer. All I had was my experience as a young person with a disability. Two days later, a black lab named Flash bounded into my lap with kisses on my face as if to say: “The independence and life you want are here with me.” With my left-hand man and a job on the horizon, everything I needed to succeed was in my hands.
I quickly learned my employment journey was sadly typical because of society’s ableist view emphasizing the “dis” of disability. This realization has led me to help people with disabilities foster self-advocacy skills, and employment, obtain homecare, and overall make the world a better place. These experiences and my life story led me to help Our Ability with business engagement Through a person-centered approach. People with disabilities are the most underutilized sector of the workforce; we need to highlight both the importance of employing people with disabilities and the skills they bring to the table. Through Abli.ai, Jobs Ability, and our partnerships, we will bridge the unemployment gap paving the road for true equity.
Why do these attitudinal barriers exist? The ableist view society has is because the systems designed by those to supposedly help people make it nearly impossible to succeed. The result being too many people in the disability community are not working because they have been brainwashed the social service systems will take care of them. For example, I willingly sacrificed $500 less per month to work full-time instead of being employed part-time and receiving Social Security Disability. I was sick of the government dictating how much I could make without being subject to overpayments.
What has gainful employment done for me? I am an engaged homeowner with the resources to pay bills, live a quality life, and the ability to create podcasts to live out my dream of being on the radio. My promise to every single person I interact with here at Our Ability is to collaborate with you so my peers with disabilities can live their definition of the American Dream.