Because of an editing error, the Martin Snapp column had an incorrect quote about the percentage of unemployed blind people in the United States. The correct percentage is 70 percent.
Belo Cipriani, the popular Writer In Residence at Holy Names University in Oakland, is an immigrant, a person of color and gay. So which one gets him the most discrimination?
"None of the above," he says. "I get the most discrimination because I'm blind."
"Look at the numbers. The unemployment rate for blind people in this country is 70 percent. And most of the other 30 percent who do have jobs work for blind organizations," he says.
Cipriani knows what he's talking about; he was a recruiting manager for Apple and Google before he lost his sight six years ago. He says employers don't realize that the blind can do pretty much any job sighted people can, especially if it involves a computer.
"There are a slew of adaptive tech toys that make most jobs accessible, such as a portable scanner to read print. And most of them cost less than $1,000, a negligible amount for a serious business."
Anti-blind bias even infects the language we use, such as "the blind leading the blind," which implies they have poor navigation skills.
"Actually, we have better workplace safety records than our sighted colleagues because we have an attention to detail that most sighted people lack," he says.
"For instance, when I cross the street I can feel the arch of the sewer system as I approach the other side, and then when I feel the ground dip slightly I know the curb is coming up."
But that doesn't stop well-meaning people from trying to "help" him. Once, a guy even picked him up, slung him over his shoulder and carried him across the street!
"Sometimes all you can do is laugh," he says.
But the petty insults and trivializations just keep coming.
"People slow their speech down and explain things as if I were a child," he says. "When I go into department stores, the clerks tell me they don't have Braille clothing. When I go to a restaurant with a friend, the servers invariably ask, 'What does he want?' instead of addressing me directly. And when I showed up at a bar for speed dating night, they said, 'I'm sorry, but we don't have enough blind people for you to date.' "
The visually impaired also face discrimination in housing, although there are laws on the books against it.
"I've been discriminated against by 10 different landlords. They're afraid a blind tenant will fall down and get hurt, as if we can't walk or climb stairs."
And some of the worst problems occur when he travels with his guide dog, a friendly black Lab named Oslow.
"Cabdrivers are notorious for flying away if someone has a service dog," he says.
Once, when he was flying to the East Coast, the plane's bathroom was too small for both him and the dog, so he left the pooch outside and went in by himself.
"When I emerged, the whole cabin erupted in applause. Several people said, 'You're so inspirational!' They think it's amazing that I can tie my shoelaces."
And I'll bet people with other disabilities have similar stories to tell. As October is National Disability Awareness Month, it's a good time for all of us to wonder: how many Helen Kellers and Franklin D. Roosevelts are being wasted because of our ignorance?
Reach Martin Snapp at email@example.com.