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Ask HN: Would you hire a blind software engineer?
18 points by kolanos on Jan 7, 2016 | hide | past | favorite | 15 comments
This question might sound strange at first. Who wouldn't hire a software engineer who was skilled regardless of their disability, right?

But it's a little more tricky than that. Or so it seems, as I'm a blind software engineer.

Some quick background...I've been working as a software engineer for ten years now. I'm blind in my right eye and only have central vision in my left eye. I was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa when I was 16, I'm now 33.

It hasn't been easy to find work as a software engineer. I started noticing a trend a few years ago. As my sight got worse, the fewer job interviews resulted in a hire. Prior to this trend I was very good at job interviews, for a while I got a job offer for every one I interviewed for. So when it started to become more difficult to turn a job interview into a job I started to get a bit self-conscious. For a while I tried to hide my blindness from the interviewer -- the fake it until you make it approach. Which didn't work very well to say the least. Then I would only bring up my blindness in person, so at least if they gave me a chance I could prove myself. But even that is starting to wear thin.

I now find myself looking for work again. And it's as daunting as ever. So I'm here looking for advice. Are there any blind engineers out there that have found a way to break through the stigma? If you're in a position to hire software engineers/developers, what would you expect from a candidate who happens to be blind? What would help or hurt their chances?

Thanks in advance.

There's a lot of prejudice in the world. Keep your head up! Have you tried looking for telecommuting options? In my mind, it shouldn't matter if you're blind if you can produce quality work.

That's good advice. For the past year and a half I've been fortunate to have a telecommuting position. It definitely helped.

I think trying to fake being sighted is a losing proposition, whether initially successful or not.

What tools and devices are available now that help mitigate blindness (in a productivity sense)? Are there certain areas of engineering where being blind is less of a productivity hit (vs. being fully sighted) than others?

There's a lot of prejudice, sure, but there is also a desire on the part of large employers to demonstrate inclusiveness and diversity.

Are there blind peer groups or networks that can help in your search?

I didn't mean to come off as railing against the prejudices of the world. I don't even know if I'm running up against a prejudice in every interview. That's what I'm trying to figure out and hopefully solve.

As far as tools, I use a screen reader. I kind of have tunnel vision in my left eye, so I don't always see notifications or pop-ups, so I use a screen reader to alert me to those. OSX's Voiceover is generally quite good, although I've found it getting increasingly buggy since Yosemite. I hear JAWS is quite good on Windows as well.

I lean heavily on the command line, preferring CLI tools to GUI ones whenever they're available. I'm a Vim user and have pretty much customized every aspect to help me. I do primarily Python development, which most people would consider quite difficult given the white space but with the right Vim plugins this can easily be managed. If there's any blind engineers out there who need advice when it comes to dev tools I'm more than happy to help.

As for blind peer groups, I don't know. If there are any out there I'd very much be interested. And if not, maybe I should start one.

I'd be quite biased against you, honestly. Most engineers have huge monitors to take in a large amount of code in their head at once. How do you catch up? Text to speech seems like a slow way to input information, especially if people were nesting brackets and such.

On the other hand, that challenge would make it extra tough for you start in the first place and there'd be some positive bias as well. So I'd wonder if we got a superhero here.

I guess there's no point in interviewing. What would I look for? Passion? Most blind people would give up and find another job, so there's more than enough passion. Problem solving? Why not solve a real problem?

What I'd do is stop interviewing and give you some really tough code. It would be the actual job, take about three days on average, and even pay three days salary upon completion. Maybe something shorter might take 1 day, but it's not big enough to cover the question of whether you can modify other people's code.

Yes. In fact I have.

I have also tried to program like the blind[1] because I have often worried what would happen if I went blind.

The reason a manager might not want to hire a blind person is if they do not think they have good verbal communication, e.g. they want to diagram and whiteboard and are worried you won't be able to keep up.

However I think strong verbal communication is essential for software engineer management, so you probably don't want to work for anyone who cares whether you're blind or not for more than just the obvious reason.

You might also consider remote work and/or contracting because you can rely more on your written communication instead of face-to-face.

[1]: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=9284567

I absolutely would. When I studied CS at university one of my coursemates was blind and he managed to work very well with his limitation.

I would make it clear right from the start of the application process. Anyone who turns you down (frustrating though it may be) at the start of the process would be pointless to interview with.

As long as I had no reason to think their ability to work was less than a non blind programmer, then probably yes. My first assumption given all other indicators were in line would be that you were better at programming than people with sight because your condition forces you to think through your code more carefully. On the other hand, I guess I would want to understand more about the way you work on other people's code. Finally, I would have some concerns about legal risks I'd be exposing myself to, should things not work out.

I think that there's some good inspiration to be found in this article/the comments.


Have you considered working on projects specifically for vision impaired people? I've become increasingly interested in iOS accessibility support, and last I heard their accessibility team was hiring.

Thanks for the tip, will look into it.

I'd imagine there are plenty of companies who would be accommodating; especially if you were working on backend or infrastructure services. I would primarily look for companies that are already inclusive and would be excited to find a way to support you.

Have you considered speaking about the challenges you've faced as a blind software engineer? That may be a way to get noticed in your community and help others in a similar situation.

I've found identifying such companies to be somewhat difficult. They all claim to be inclusive. But I'm starting to think you're right, being open and upfront about my sight may help me more than it hurts me.

People sometimes are prejudiced. They will think you are no good if you can't see. You should prove them wrong with quality work. You are an inspiration for all of humans if you are good with programming even with the condition you've got. That shows you are strong willed. I say keep it up. I am a software dev from kerala,India. Wish you the best.

Sure, I would hire an egg if it would be a great fit for a specific role and a good addition to the team.

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