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Closing the Digital Gap for People with a Visual Impairment

As a recruiter at Thoughtworks, I know that finding a job in South Africa can be an uphill task whether you are abled bodied or not. Imagine the pressure that members of the disabled community must be under to find a job, especially in the technology industry. That can sometimes lead to them settling for below-average salaries or a low status job.  Sadly this is often due to ignorance, fear and stereotypes that lead to massive discrimination against people with disabilities.

Often employers set the criteria for the recruitment selection process which includes people with disabilities, knowing that they cannot adequately accommodate them. Their workplaces are inaccessible, training is not suitable and facilities are not readily available.  

There are about 5 million disabled people in South Africa, yet the government and the private sector can’t meet the target of hiring disabled people to level the playing field. We cannot make the excuse that there are insufficient numbers of disabled job seekers with the required skills and qualifications. There is a stereotyping tendency to assume that people with disabilities can’t do certain jobs, however, in my experience, given the right support structures and opportunities, they can thrive.  

In order to be more aware of the employment challenges and barriers facing people with disabilities, I spoke to Brett Strydom who is a senior developer at Thoughtworks Johannesburg. Brett lost his eyesight when he was six years old. He was diagnosed with Fevr, an eye condition that leads to visual impairment and sometimes complete blindness, like in Brett’s case. 

I believe Brett can achieve anything he puts his mind to. It has been truly a humbling experience recruiting and working with Brett. I now have a greater empathy and understanding of the needs of people with visual impairments. It’s made me a better person and recruiter. Read a short Q&A with Brett to learn more about his path to software development and his future plans. 

Lerato: What inspired you to be a software developer?

Brett: I like knowing how things work and I have always wanted to solve problems. Since I was young, I have always wanted to be an engineer, but I knew I couldn't  be an electrical engineer. I have always been inspired to express myself and solve problems and I knew writing code will give me the opportunity to do that.

Lerato:  Was the Thoughtworks recruitment process different from other companies you have interviewed with?

Brett: Many companies don’t test your skills before hand. They get into a room and ask you the hardest question that comes to their head and, with my disabilities, that causes awkwardness. Thoughtworks wasn’t like that.

Lerato: What were your first days in Thoughtworks like?

Brett: It was exciting. I joined the team right away and I got used to how things work at Thoughtworks. It was awesome to contribute right on the first day. My team has adapted the style of our stand up meeting. For example, instead of pointing on the cards like they use to, we now use names for the storyboards and that is so cool.

Lerato: You make technology look so easy. How do you write your code and read emails?

Brett: I use a standard Mac laptop with a voiceover and a special software to read back email and surf the net. I also have a braille terminal that I connect to my laptop to write and read codes. When pairing we use both laptops and we discuss the task that needs to be done first. The other person will write the code and I will read it,  and vice versa.

Lerato: What sort of tools do you use?

Brett: I started programming with with C, C++ and then Java, Oracle tools, p/sql, java script, SAS.

Lerato: What are your future plans?

Brett:   I am keen to work on a project that can make a difference; really anything that has to do with science and education. I also want to climb Mount Kilimanjaro because it is the highest mountain in Africa and I think it is achievable.

For a related discussion, read Thoughtworker Coleman Collin’s blog post The Modern Web is Broken for People with Disabilities.

Disclaimer: The statements and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Thoughtworks.

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