Dealing with Workplace Bullying When You Are Visually Impaired

Editor’s note: It’s National Disability Employment Month. Neva Fairchild, AFB’s National Employment and Independent Living Specialist, and Empish Thomas, VisionAware Peer Advisor and Career Connect Mentor have teamed up on a post on bullying in the workplace.

by Empish J. Thomas

When I hear the word “bullying” I tend to envision a big size kid physically and verbally harassing a smaller size kid on the playground at school. Although this vision of bullying is not incorrect it is not the only kind of bullying that occurs. Bullying can also occur on the Internet via social media like Facebook. Additionally, I am coming to understand that bullying does not only happen to children at school but to adults as well. When bullying happens to adults a popular location is at work. You can experience bullying in the workplace and not have the tools to protect yourself. Or you can be bullied and not even know it because it can be subtle and not very obvious. But for those that are reading this blog post take courage. Below we will share useful tips, suggestions, and what the law says about protecting yourself as a person with a disability from workplace bullying.

Two employees who are visually impaired, hard at work at their desks.

Definition of Bullying

First let’s define what is bullying so that you are clear on exactly what it is. According to the Texas Council on Developmental Disabilities, “bullying in the workplace occurs when one or more people are hostile or mean toward another person on an ongoing basis. Bullying is not typically considered acceptable adult conduct. Workplace bullying is an effort to undermine and harm another person by threatening that person’s professional status, self-confidence, and/or ability to perform. Bullying is harassment and in severe cases can even be verbal or physical abuse and/or assault. Harassment involves annoying and continued actions, which can include threats and demands, as well as uninvited and unwelcome verbal or physical conduct. Verbal or physical bullying that is abusive is considered assault and there are criminal laws that can lead to the arrest and prosecution of a bully.”

How Do You Know that You Are Being Bullied?

Now that you have the definition of workplace bullying; the next step is to figure out if it is happening to you or not. Sometimes it is hard to accept that bullying is taking place. A person might think they are over reacting or blame themselves for what is happening to them. People might mistakenly think that bullying comes only from their supervisor; but it can also come from co-workers, customers and clients. Here are some examples of what bullying actually looks like:

  • Uses abusive, insulting, or offensive language toward you. For example talking about your visual impairment in a negative or derogatory way.
  • Leaves you out of important work meetings.
  • Leaves you out of social circles or functions at work.
  • Gives you amounts of work that are not realistic.
  • Gives you jobs that are impossible to be performed in the time given.
  • Does not give you information you need to do your job.
  • Changes your hours or schedules your hours so that they are difficult to meet.
  • Gives you pointless tasks that have nothing to do with your job.
  • Unfairly denies personal leave or training.
  • Regularly threatens to reprimand or fire you.
  • Yells at you or criticizes you in front of others.
  • Uses or threatens physical violence toward you.
  • Pushes, shoves, trips, or grabs you in the workplace.
  • Requires you to do humiliating or inappropriate things.

by Neva Fairchild

What Can a Person Who Is Visually Impaired Do to Combat Bullying?

Don’t be silent. Bullies control through intimidation, and they count on you to stay quiet. Talk to someone you trust about what is happening. This may or may not be your supervisor. Most employers have an Employee Assistance Program that you can contact confidentially when you need help or advice.

Be honest, don’t exaggerate and keep talking until the bullying stops and you are comfortable with the situation.

Bullies look for people who are not confident, who appear weak and who seem vulnerable. Talk to your friends and family about how others perceive you and make changes as needed. It’s essential that you work toward feeling comfortable about who you are as a person with a visual impairment. Sometimes talking with a counselor is necessary, but not always. Being around others who have low or no vision can also help you to discover that you are not alone, that others struggle with what you struggle with and yet they and you are okay. A confident reaction to a situation just might put a stop to the bullying. It is often helpful to talk to other people who are blind or visually impaired about how they have dealt with bullies in their past.

Bullies are counting on you to feel like you are a second class citizen. You are not! You are just as entitled to walk down the hall, go to lunch and enjoy the rights and privileges of every other employee. Hold your head high, be proud to be you and take your rightful place. Help stop bullying where ever you are!