How People Who Are Blind or Low Vision Do Their Jobs, and Common Myths
Qualified employees who are blind or low vision are capable. They simply need tools to do their jobs effectively and environments conducive to their efforts. Two people doing the same job may use different tools and work in very different settings. Blind or low-vision employees can accomplish their jobs using non-traditional tools or working in a modified environment. These modifications to the job or job site are considered reasonable accommodations.
An accommodation is a modification or adjustment that allows a qualified applicant or employee with a disability to participate in an application process or to perform a job’s essential functions. No specific accommodation list exists since each job situation differs. However, the following are examples of accommodations that have proven effective and affordable:
- Reduce glare or adjust lighting by removing or replacing bulbs; adding portable lamps; installing rheostats; or adjusting drapes, blinds, or shades.
- Rather than sending handwritten notes between supervisors and employees or among colleagues, voice or email messages can usually be sent, or if neither of these is available, an inexpensive tape recorder can be used.
- For a job that requires a computer, affordable software programs are readily available that convert the text on the screen to speech, large print, or braille, depending on the user’s specific needs and preferences. Computers can also be equipped with scanners that convert printed materials to speech or braille.
- For a job that requires measuring, weighing, or calculations, many different kinds of measuring and calculating devices are available that “talk.” These include calipers, scales, tape measures, thermometers, blood pressure cuffs, watches, calculators, money identifiers, and cash registers.
- For a job that requires travel, a person who is blind may travel with a long cane, a dog guide, or electronic travel aids. Some people with low vision use special telescopes to read signs when traveling. Independent travel to various destinations, even remote areas, without public transportation is usually possible. People who are blind or low vision are often experienced in finding creative travel solutions.
Most blind or low-vision new hires will already know a great deal about the accommodations they will require and will be skilled at using them.
Access to Information
Assistive technology, particularly computers, has made access to most written information very accessible. The exception is some handwritten information, which can, in most cases, be replaced by voice or email.
What Will This Cost?
Typical accommodation costs are very low. In most cases of low vision, only improved lighting and magnification are required. In addition, determining which accommodations are needed can be easy since, in many cases, blind or low-vision employees can tell you the accommodations they need.
Myths About Employing Individuals Who Are Blind or Low Vision
So yes, individuals who are blind or low vision can perform almost any job. If you’ve thought otherwise, it’s likely a myth…
Myth #1: People who are blind or low vision are limited in the jobs they can perform and the careers they can pursue.
Reality: Contrary to the myth that blind people can only hold low-wage jobs, people who are blind or low vision can perform many of the same jobs and pursue the same careers as those who are sighted.
Myth #2: An employer is responsible for providing all of the accommodations an employee who is blind or low vision requests, according to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Reality: The ultimate decision of which accommodations to provide is up to the employer, as long as the section effectively removes necessary barriers for the employee. Learn more about reasonable accommodations.
Myth #3: Accommodations are expensive for an employer to provide for an employee who is blind or low vision.
Reality: According to the Job Accommodation Network, 15 percent of job accommodations cost nothing. The typical one-time expenditure by employers to provide accommodation is approximately $500, and employers reported the accommodations are effective in increasing an employee’s productivity.
Myth #4: Employees who are blind or low vision need more supervision than other employees.
Reality: Employees who are blind or low vision do not need more supervision. With proper training on completing the functions of a job and the provision of accommodations, individuals with vision loss will perform competitively and successfully in the workforce.
Myth #5: People who are blind or low vision can’t read printed or handwritten material.
Reality: The availability of assistive technology has made nearly any kind of printed document accessible to people who are blind or low vision. Learn more about assistive technology.
Myth #6: If an employee experiences a sudden or gradual loss of vision while working, the employee will not be able to continue to perform the functions and duties of his job.
Reality: State Vocational Rehabilitation Agencies and private organizations are available to provide orientation and mobility training, career counseling, and skill development to help clients continue performing their current job duties or to qualify for other employment opportunities.
Myth #7: An employee who is blind or has low vision will have a higher absentee rate than employees without a disability.
Reality: People with vision loss usually have better attendance rates than their non-disabled coworkers and are often loyal workers to the company resulting in longevity with the company.
Myth #8: If an employer hires an employee who is blind or low vision, their insurance rates will increase.
Reality: Insurance premiums are based on overall actuarial events. A single individual, even with blind/ low vision, does not make an impact. Many states have passed regulations prohibiting differentiation in premiums on the basis of blindness without full actuarial evidence to support the distinction.
Myth #9: The ADA shields an employee who is blind/ low vision from disciplinary action at work.
Reality: An employer is always at liberty to discipline an employee who does not follow company policies or adhere to standards. The employee who is blind or low vision should be held to the same standards in the same way as all other employees.
Myth #10: Blind people have special gifts such as a “sixth sense.”
Reality: Although a very common and popular myth, people who are blind/ low vision are not endowed with a sharper sense of touch, hearing, taste, or smell. To compensate for their loss of vision, many blind people learn to listen more carefully or develop skills to increase their directional acumen.
Myth #11: An employee who is blind/ low vision will need materials in braille at work.
Reality: Some employees, especially those who were born blind, will be excellent braille readers and may use braille when they determine it is the most efficient way to complete a task at work. However, only a small percentage of blind or low-vision people read braille. Many know enough braille to be functional, such as making notes and labels for themselves, but they may not need any materials transcribed. Learn more about braille in the workplace.