By Shari Roeseler, Executive Director, Society for the Blind
We hear on a near daily basis that employers are struggling to find qualified staff. No sector is unaffected, and that is certainly true for organizations and businesses serving older adults.
One of the most common misconceptions about people who are blind or have low vision is that they have an intellectual disability, when the vast majority do not. Many also report being treated as though they are not capable of caring for themselves or making decisions. These assumptions often limit the opportunity for people with vision loss to demonstrate their skills and abilities. Social and interpersonal communication challenges may also impede employment. Limitations in communicating nonverbally have led to blind or visually impaired individuals being perceived as not fitting into the workplace.
Employer attitudes can also limit opportunities for blind or low vision job seekers. Both human resources managers and business owners frequently say that there are few jobs within their company that blind or low vision individuals could do. Yet, when asked, none of these employers had actually evaluated the positions and the available assistive technology that could make them accessible.
Thankfully, a recent survey by the National Industries for the Blind (NIB) found that calls for workplace diversity are starting to shift these attitudes. “For companies to realize the full value of workforce diversity, they must include people who are blind or visually impaired in their recruitment and professional development strategies,” said Kevin Lynch, president and CEO of NIB. He added, “These survey findings solidify two important facts: people want more accessible workplaces, but many don’t know where to start.”
This is the intersection where agencies like Society for the Blind in Sacramento can be a valuable resource to businesses, organizations and those with vision loss seeking employment.
If accessible technology is needed, such as a Closed Circuit TV (CCTV), video magnifiers, or even wearable technology, agencies that serve the blind can help identify which device will be most useful. Use of screen readers like JAWS (Jobs Access With Speech) can be incorporated into the operating systems and software programs used by employers. Accessible Technology instructors go onsite and work with IT departments. Instructors also provide on the job training for the person using the accessible technology.
“Wayfinding” at a new job – known as the process of learning how to navigate an office or public space – can be challenging even for sighted individuals. Tactile maps, braille signage and other wayfinding guides will help the new employee with vision loss find the restrooms, break room and offices on their own. Society for the Blind provides assessments and recommendations so businesses can offer wayfinding guides.
Finally, helping all employees learn how to interact with their colleague with vision loss will make for a smoother entry for the new hire. Workshops on learning how to interact with someone who is blind are something that a local blindness agency can provide for businesses.
There is often a concern both for the employer and the employee who is blind that expectations regarding their work performance will be lower than for sighted staff. This should not be the case. Employees with vision loss can be held to the same standards of performance, professionalism, and conduct. Reasonable accommodations may need to be made, for example, allowing more time to complete a task due to the use of assistive technology. However, the end product should be held to the same standards as those who are sighted.
When employment opportunities at senior living facilities and ancillary businesses become available, consider reaching out to your local blindness agency. Society for the Blind has a dedicated employment program, CareersPLUS, where we work with our clients to hone their assistive technology skills, practice interviewing skills, and apply for work. Many of the blindness agencies in California have employment programs. We also provide job retention services for area businesses so they can keep long-term valuable employees experiencing vision loss.
As Helen Keller said, “The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision.” Working together, we can fill job openings at senior care facilities and businesses with experienced professionals and new hires with vision loss. We can make the vision of a truly diverse workforce a reality.
Learn more about Society for the Blind: societyfortheblind.org