As Americans prepare to spend a long weekend barbecuing with friends and family or enjoying the neighborhood swimming pool one last time as we celebrate the symbolic end of summer, it’s important to remember the historic significance of Labor Day and what it means to be able to make a living.
Labor Day became a national holiday in 1894 in recognition of the social and economic achievements of the American worker following years of strife surrounding workers’ rights during the Industrial Revolution.
Labor unions formed to protect American workers from unsafe working conditions, long hours and unfair pay.
Work has continued to change dramatically in the 21st century, and we still have a long way to go to ensure equal access to employment for all Americans. Anyone who has ever found themselves out of a job understands the self-doubt, stress and anxiety of wondering how they will support themselves or their family.
Now imagine how difficult such a situation would be for someone who is blind or visually impaired.
Unfortunately, lack of employment opportunities is the norm for people who are blind or visually impaired, a group that faces 70 percent unemployment nationally. According to the National Federation for the Blind, more than 30 percent of adults in the United States who are blind live in poverty. That’s an especially concerning statistic when you consider that by 2030, the rate of blindness is estimated to double along with the country’s aging population.
Right now, there are nearly 160,000 Hoosiers coping with vision loss. At Bosma Enterprises, we have worked tirelessly to help these individuals gain the life skills they need to remain independent and the job skills they need to stay self-sufficient.
More than half of the 208 hard-working men and women employed at all levels of our organization are blind or visually impaired, making us the state’s largest employer of this group of individuals. Spend any time with our employees, and you’ll learn that, like you, all they want is to be able to live independently and support themselves through meaningful work. Nobody’s asking for a handout.
In addition to the people we employ directly, Bosma also has worked to place clients at 21 different companies throughout the state, creating more diverse workforces and changing minds about the abilities of people who are blind. For these people and the many other individuals struggling to find work in the face of blindness or visual impairment, Labor Day holds a particularly significant meaning.
Everyone should be able to spend Labor Day celebrating their ability to support themselves financially and live independently, and Bosma will continue fighting to level the playing field.
But we can’t fix the problem alone. It will take a collective effort on the part of employers, business and community leaders and lawmakers to achieve this goal.
You can help, too. Become a corporate partner. Encourage your company to become more diverse, including employees who have disabilities.
Whoever you are, wherever you work, you can contribute to this mission.
This Labor Day, take a moment to reflect on the victories our nation’s early labor leaders achieved and how far we’ve come. Then remember how far we have yet to go.