How to Make Your Workplace More Inclusive for Visually Impaired Employees
Oct 08, 2020, How to Make Your Workplace More Inclusive for Visually Impaired Employees

How to Make Your Workplace More Inclusive for Visually Impaired Employees

Making sure your workplace is inclusive for employees and possible employees who are blind or have low vision can seem like a daunting task. But it’s a lot more simple than it seems - it’s all about changing the culture and the way you think.
By Alexander Hauerslev Jensen, CCO
Woman works on a computer with a braille keyboard.

Companies are focusing on diversity and inclusion to create more just, equitable, and effective workplaces that perform better—and it’s working. Diverse teams are smarter and more innovative than groups with similar backgrounds and experience. But while the workplace has become more diverse in terms of race, gender, religion, and sexual orientation, people with disabilities—like blindness or visual impairments—are continually underrepresented.

Daily life for visually impaired individuals has changed considerably thanks to the last four decades of advancement in assistive technologies. And in the last fifteen years, with the dawn of “digital accessibility,” inclusion into mainstream tech has become the new normal. The smartphone was the “biggest assistive aid to come along since Braille was invented in the 1820s” and is enabling blind and low-vision individuals to lead more independent lives. But while time and technology have changed many aspects of life for visually impaired people, some things remain the same. For many, accessing the workforce remains a challenge.

According to the National Federation for the Blind, more than 70% of the country’s four million visually impaired adults are without full-time jobs. While these numbers are more indicative of employer reticence than skill and ability, employers wonder “how will a visually impaired person get the job done, and at what cost?” In reality, 58% of necessary accommodations cost nothing and the rest fall under $500. At Accessibility Partners, a DC-based company which works with organizations to improve accessibility through technology, owner Dana Marlow prioritizes hiring people with disabilities. Marlow tells Workforce it’s not purely about doing the right thing but rather that it “just makes good business sense.”

In an early episode of the Be My Eyes Podcast, “What Blind People Need to Succeed at Work,” we explored this topic in depth with an HR inclusion specialist who specializes in training executives and business leaders in Manila. But hiring visually impaired employees has to be more than just a top-down approach—it needs to be a core piece of workplace culture. What sort of cultural beliefs are you building at your company? Here are some ideas for you to bring to your colleagues: 

Hiring visually impaired people is a rich opportunity for company growth because:

  • They are an untapped talent pool. With a 37% employment rate, people with blindness or low vision represent a capable yet untapped (and often underestimated) talent pool. While visually impaired people can’t fill all job roles, the limitations are very few, like ones that include driving.
  • They are natural problem solvers. The creative mindset and resilient attitude people with blindness or low vision need to manage their disability makes them innovative problem solvers. With proper instruction and clear job duties, visually impaired individuals perform well independently and on teams.
  • Assistive technology is becoming more and more mainstream. Blind New World writes “there has never been a better time to be blind.” That’s because tech has made assistive technologies more accessible and sophisticated than ever before. Leaders in the tech space are having a ripple effect on accessibility worldwide— and when apps are not yet totally usable for blind employees, tools like Be My Eyes are there to help bridge the gap.
  • Visual impairment in the workforce is set to rise. Estimates suggest visual impairment and blindness will rise in the coming years due to an aging population—a population eager to remain employed. Consider that 29% of Boomers ages 65-72 were on the job hunt in 2018. If you want to be relevant as an employer now and in the coming years, creating a culture of inclusivity with visually impaired people makes sense.
Man walking with a white cane and his phone in the other hand.

Making the workplace more inclusive for blind and low-vision individuals

In addition to the reasonable accommodations the Americans with Disability Act (ADA) requires by law, workplaces can foster an inclusive culture for all by taking these steps.

  • Make the application process accessible. Offering an accessible application process sends the message that you’re an equal opportunity employer. Conversely, if blind or low-vision applicants struggle in completing the application due to accessibility, they may become discouraged from applying at all.
  • Move beyond the mental block of “how”. Don’t let your fear of visually impaired individuals’ capabilities rule decision making. Blind and low-vision individuals lead more independent lives than you may think. As a general rule, remember that a person with blindness or low vision wouldn’t apply for a job they didn’t think they could do. Move beyond the mental block of “how” a person with a visual impairment could do the job.
  • Use inclusive communication tools and methods. Use accessible tools for intraoffice messengers and other communications. During presentations, verbally describe charts, graphs, and other visual aids used. Identify yourself as you enter or leave a meeting room and encourage other employees to do the same.
  • Offer support by asking the right questions. Proactively support employees with blindness or low vision by asking about what kind of modifications they need to get the job done. For someone who has never had to ask for workplace accommodations, these inquiries may seem unimportant. Visually impaired individuals may be accustomed to these conversations, but employers can pleasantly surprise employees by asking first. Just make sure you understand what you can and cannot ask according to the ADA. Lastly, ask for feedback.

In some cases, it may seem like there is no accessible solution (for example, the company just spent millions of dollars switching to a new copy machine vendor with inaccessible touch screens and switching back would be an “undue burden” on the company). In those cases, there are tools, including Be My Eyes, that are built to bridge the gap.

Building a diverse and inclusive workplace can feel like a complex endeavor. But increasing the diversity of your workforce by hiring people with blindness or low vision is not as challenging as you think. What’s more, the opportunity for organizational growth may be richer than you expect.