Carola is a disability advocate with many years of experience working in the disability community. She is also a freelance writer.
As a freelance writer who monitors news regarding people with disabilities, I have observed that people with vision loss face significant barriers to employment. When people with visual impairments try to find work, they must overcome the stigma, misconceptions, and assumptions made by potential employers that they will not be not capable of doing the job.
Many employers lack knowledge of the supports that are available from service organizations, specialized employment agencies, and the government, and they do not know how these applicants can be accommodated in the workplace.
According to surveys by the National Foundation of the Blind, there are nearly 4 million blind people in the U.S. between the ages of 18 to 64. Only 40.4 percent of this population was employed. Some disability advocates speculate that unemployment rates may be much higher because many visually impaired people have given up looking for work.
A survey by the CNIB, a Canadian charitable organization serving people with visual impairment, found that seven out of ten Canadian employers would choose a sighted job applicant over a blind or partially sighted applicant. Over half of the visually impaired people reported that they felt employers viewed them as being disadvantaged and incapable of working. Many people with vision loss think that they were refused job interviews, a position, or a promotion because of their disability.
Common Myths About Vision Loss
Here are some common myths about people with vision loss:
- Visually impaired people will have more problems on the job than sighted people
- Blind people need to be led around the workplace
- Staff need to read print documents or computer screens for blind individuals
- It is unsafe to have people with vision loss in the workplace
- Accommodating workers with vision loss would be too expensive
These myths play a big part in how some employers view people with visual impairments. They contribute to many of the barriers to employment these people face.
Barriers to Employment
Employer ignorance about how blind people function
Workers and employers have outdated ideas in the workplace about the capabilities of people with vision loss and limit them to more traditional roles. Employers do not understand how someone with vision loss can fulfill their work duties and what types of accommodation are available. Surprisingly, the CNIB survey showed that millennials by far are the least likely to be positive about the capabilities of blind and partially sighted people to perform a job.
Many administrators and workers lack experience in working with people who are blind or partially sighted. According to the CNIB survey, part of the problem is that up to eight out of ten Canadians have never worked with a partially sighted or blind person. Two out of three people reported that they did not know a visually impaired person personally.
A lack of knowledge about supports for people with vision loss
Many employers are unaware of the many organizations who can offer training, counseling, and support for them and potential candidates with low vision. Many of these organizations (see the resource section) and some government departments provide useful information for employers at their offices or on the web.
Some organizations also offer employment supports and job boards for blind or partially sighted applicants. There are also agencies specializing in providing workplace supports to people with disabilities in general or focus specifically on people with vision loss. Some governments also have financial incentives for the hiring of blind or partially sighted individuals.
A lack of transportation as a major barrier to employment, especially in rural areas. Access to public services has improved through verbal stop announcements, large-print signs, braille signs, and bumpy yellow strips to warn of curbs and subway platform edges, but many light rapid transit systems, trains, buses, and subway systems are still not accessible to the blind and partially sighted.
Employers think accommodations for blind people are expensive
Many sighted employers are not aware of workplace accommodations such as:
- Special text to voice readers (synthesized speech)
- Large print
- Using voicemail or emails instead of printed or handwritten notes
- Computer screen magnifiers
- Software that converts words on the screen into braille
- Braille display devices
Each worker is different and functions in unique ways at work. Some use their vision more than others, while others may use various adaptive techniques. Potential employers may assume that these tools and adjustments are expensive but many accommodations are relatively inexpensive. Some countries, however, provide various types of funding through service organizations or government sources, tax breaks, and other incentives. Countries such as the U.S. mandate accommodations for people with disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Although people with vision loss say that employers are more open to hiring them today than they were in the past, they still face significant barriers to getting a job. Employers need to be educated about the blind and people with low vision, and learn more about the many supports available for them and people with vision loss.
More information about employing people with vision loss is available at:
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
- The National Federation of the Blind
- American Council of the Blind
- American Foundation for the Blind
- CNIB (Canada)
Accommodations for Workers with Vision Loss, American Federation for the Blind
Many Canadians blind to talents and abilities of job seekers with vision loss, CNIB
How to Start Your Job Search: Advice for Vision Impaired Job Seekers, Orcam, Paul H. Olson
This content is for informational purposes only and does not substitute for formal and individualized diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed medical professional. Do not stop or alter your current course of treatment. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
Tim Truzy from U.S.A. on May 06, 2018:
Informative article on visual impairments. I am unsure about Canada, but in the U.S. most states have state agencies focused on employing people with vision loss in accordance with the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. However, I understand rehabilitation is becoming a global profession and Canada may have similar services.
You hit upon an important fact: societal attitudes, including those held by employers, offer the biggest challenge for employing people with disabilities.
Interestingly enough, many options for using computer technology are free. Also, any job can be modified. For example, it may be required to turn in any particular type of form daily at a given office as part of a job. A modification may be for the form to be emailed until the person with vision loss learns the travel "route" with his/her orientation & mobility specialist. Finally, accommodations can be flexible; an accommodation may simply be to use darker lined paper for forms. Modifications, accommodations, and accessibility can be flexible and encompass a wide range of options when considering extensive variables.
Having placed people with visual impairments in suitable and adequate employment, the most essential aspect of the process was to make sure the choices were individualized and working closely with employers to make sure the person with a visual impairment was able to maintain or obtain employment.
Here's one important point: once a person with a disability (visual impairment, hearing loss, etc.) is hired, they tend to stay with that company or organization. Research suggests these individuals are grateful for an opportunity to succeed. Therefore, people with disabilities tend to be loyal to their employers.
Thank you for an article on a very important topic which will become more and more relevant with the aging population of Western democracies and finding qualified workers.