National Federation of the Blind
|Hook in Her Head: The Interview|
Fiction By Chris Kuell
Robin detected no response from within the office, but the receptionist told her to go on in.
"Thank you," Robin replied, and then said to her guide dog in a lower voice, "Forward."
A few steps inside the small room, Robin stopped next to a large desk. Taking a deep breath, she smiled and said, "Hello, I'm Robin Simms."
No sound indicated the presence of Mrs. Carlisle. Robin subconsciously checked the top buttons on her blouse. All OK. Then she ran her fingers through her hair, which seemed perfectly in place.
"Hello?" she tried again.
A pensive, two-pack a day voice a few feet in front of her said, "I'm Nancy Carlisle."
Robin stepped forward, hitting her thigh lightly on the wooden desk. She put out her hand and Nancy Carlisle accepted it weakly, as if she was touching a dead fish. An awkward few seconds followed.
Robin said, "Pleasure to meet you." In a lower voice, she said, "Sid, chair." Her dog walked her two feet to the left and stopped. Robin's probing fingertips encountered the rough cloth of an office chair. She sat while commanding Sid to lay down, and pressed her skirt neatly across her lap.
Another painful pause ensued. The tick, tick, tick of a clock was clearly audible.
"Are you blind?" asked Mrs. Carlisle. It seemed to Robin that the woman's voice was on the verge of incredulity.
"Yes, I am," Robin answered matter-of-factly.
"You didn't say in your cover letter or resume that you were blind."
Now the tone was moving towards aggressive. "Less than sixty seconds," Robin thought, "a new world record."
"I didn't mention I was five foot four, or a Methodist either. With only one page, I prefer to just list my skills and qualifications." The words spilled out before Robin could stop them. She clamped her teeth shut to extinguish any more sarcastic comments.
"Well, don't you think it would be appropriate?" Mrs. Carlisle spat back at her. "Not only have you caught me unprepared, I just, ahh, we, ahh, don't have any jobs here that would be appropriate for a, ah, visually handicapped person."
The old human resources training was kicking in, ever careful to be politically correct. Robin unclenched her jaw and said, "I'm blind. Let's just say it like it is. I apologize for catching you off guard, it wasn't my intent to put you off balance. If you have my resume, you can see that I have a perfect background for the financial analyst position you advertised in the paper. My blindness is not an issue; my skills and work ethic are."
Robin took a breath, hoping that had come out all right.
"Is that a guide dog?"
"Oh boy, here we go with the amazing dog questions," Robin thought. "Let's change the topic from my skills to the puppy."
"Yes, this is Sid. He helps me get around."
"Where did you get him --one of them guide dog schools?"
At least the woman was curious. Maybe things would lighten up and then they could proceed.
"Yes, I got him from a school in New York," Robin replied.
"How much did he cost?"
"Well, she scores two points for being direct," Robin thought.
"I didn't have to pay for him. The school has endowments and grants to pay for the dogs and training."
"Tax payers money?" Mrs. Carlisle snorted, followed by a short rumbling cough.
Robin didn't take the bait, saying instead, "I don't know," and leaving it at that.
Another awkward pause filled the room with tension. Robin felt a droplet of perspiration rolling down her back. It was hot in this suit. This wasn't going well, and a part of her just wanted to run away. Yet, she really needed this job, any job at this point. This one was perfect though. The position was for an assistant financial analyst, for which Robin was actually over qualified. She had a bachelors degree in business, with a minor in accounting. Their office was only a block from the bus line, so at least transportation would be manageable. She crossed her fingers, which were folded in her lap, and silently prayed the interview would improve.
A rustling of papers came from Mrs. Carlisle's desk. More silence, tick, tick, tick.
"Who did your resume for you?"
Irritation, like tinder as it first begins to ignite, began to burn inside Robin.
"I did it myself," Robin said.
"How? Shouldn't it be in Braille or something?"
Robin gave a short chuckle, her turn to be amazed. "I have a computer equipped with speech software at home. It allows me to do word processing, surf the internet, use spreadsheet programs-most anything a sighted person could do."
More shuffling of papers. Sid got up, panting and wagging into Robin's leg, indicating that he had to go. "Oh, not now," Robin thought. Softly but firmly she commanded, "Sid, down." The obedient lab complied.
"I'm impressed to see that you graduated college, Ms. Simms, and I'm all in favor of the disadvantaged matriculating into society. I'm sure you are an intelligent woman. But realistically, this is a small firm, and each of our employees is expected to contribute a hundred and ten percent. We don't have the time or the manpower to have people helping you to do whatever amount of work you might be able to accomplish."
With those words, despair settled in on the young blind woman. That was it, she had no hope. She was being dismissed, without an ounce of consideration. This whole trip was going to be a waste of time.
"Listen, Mrs. Carlisle. I graduated from college with a 3.6 GPA. All regular classes, I didn't get any breaks. I've interned in the Finance Department at Shultz and Sons for six months, and they will give me a glowing recommendation. I have great computer skills, I won't need anyone to help me. If I get this job, I can get adaptive computer software and some training in where things and how things are done. It won't take much, I can learn everything in no time." Robin felt like her voice was a little more pleading toward the end than she would have wished.
"Who's going to take you to the bathroom?" Mrs. Carlisle asked.
Robin sat, completely dumbfounded. Mrs. Carlisle couldn't have shocked her any more if she said she was the love child of Elvis. Was this for real? Do people like this really exist in the world? Unfortunately, Robin knew they did, and worse.
"I've been going to the bathroom without any help since I was three. Who helps you?"
Robin wished she could see the agitation that she could sense in Mrs. Carlisle's face. Mrs. Carlisle, however, was a trained professional and wasn't about to let this blind woman get the better of her. She moved on.
"We have our own computers here, with special software. What makes you think your computer will work with it?" Her tone was as flat and cold as a parking lot in winter.
"I would use your computers, equipped with speech software either provided by the state, your company or me. The software might have to be customized to work with your programs, but if you are using either Axapta or Navision, I already have the scripts and could be working in a few hours."
These were the programs Robin used at Shultz. Amy Lopez, the woman that installed JAWS and updated the appropriate scripts on her computer for her internship could also do it here.
Without losing a stride, the interviewer came in with her next question. "How are you going to read mail and paperwork?"
Robin couldn't tell for sure, but she imagined Mrs. Carlisle was sneering.
Sid was up again, rubbing against her and wiggling his backside. Robin patted him on the head, saying, "Sit for a little while longer boy, good boy." Then she focused her attention on the hopeless Mrs. Carlisle.
"That depends. Of course, e-mail is a great medium for a blind person, and as an added benefit it saves paper."
A noticeable exhale came from Mrs. Carlisle, but Robin continued.
"Printed text can usually be scanned, and then I can use the computer to read it. I have a PDA with speech for my personal notes, and I can use Braille for a variety of other note taking tasks."
"I suppose that is all well and good," Mrs. Carlisle interrupted, " but what about a handwritten memo? What if I write you a note to redo the Smith calculations for 1994? How could you read it?"
"This witch was just being confrontational," Robin thought.
"You wouldn't have to leave me a note. You could send me an e mail, or better yet, just leave me a phone mail. It's not a problem that is insurmountable."
Mrs. Carlisle made some sort of exasperated sound, which was followed by three light knocks on the closed office door. It opened, and a cheery voice said, "Mrs. Carlisle, Mr. Pastor needs to see you in the managers meeting. He said it was important."
Without excusing herself or even acknowledging the existence of Robin, Mrs. Carlisle got up from her desk and scurried out the door.
Robin was overcome with a feeling of depression and insignificance. This was painful and there was really no point in continuing with the charade. Robin got out of her chair, and on an impulse reached out and felt the cool, smooth surface of Nancy Carlisle's desk. She tapped it, a heavy, solid sound. Feeling like a kid with their hand in the cookie jar, Robin walked around the desk and sat in the comfy leather, high backed chair. She leaned forward and ran her fingertips over the blotter, keyboard, Rolodex and flat screen monitor. How could an idiot like Nancy Carlisle ever get such a magnificent desk? What could she possibly do any better than Robin could do, except see? And what gave her the right to treat Robin with such disrespect, like she was a turd on the sidewalk.
Slowly, a smile crept across Robin's face. She called out for the dog to come behind the desk, "Sid, come."
A minute later, Robin bid the friendly receptionist a good day as she left the front of the building. What she had hoped would be her first real job wasn't going to be happening here. "Oh, well," she thought. "Maybe next time."
As Robin walked with Sid towards the parking lot, they were met by her friend Steve.
"Hey Rob, how'd it go?" Steve said as he approached them.
"Don't ask," Robin said.
"Sorry pal. Don't let it get you down." Steve put a comforting arm over her shoulder. "Listen, there is a nice grassy area over by the side of the parking lot. Does Sid need to relieve himself? I know it has been a while since we left this morning."
Robin smiled brightly for the first time since she had entered Nancy Carlisle's office.
"Nope," she said. "We found a nice place to go inside."
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|Updated March 14, 2003|