WORKING EFFECTIVELY WITH PEOPLE WHO ARE BLIND OR VISUALLY IMPAIRED - JOBS AND CAREER INFORMATION

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WORKING EFFECTIVELY WITH PEOPLE WHO ARE BLIND OR VISUALLY IMPAIRED
 


 

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WORKING EFFECTIVELY WITH PEOPLE WHO ARE BLIND OR VISUALLY IMPAIRED (reprinted with permission)

  • What is Blindness or Visual Impairment? --

When we think of "blind," we think of total darkness. However, a person may be "legally blind" with either...

  • 20/200 vision in both eyes with best correction in the better eye, OR
  • a field of vision restricted to 20 or less.

A person whose vision is 20/70 to 20/200 is often referred to as "visually impaired." Some people are born with no vision or significantly reduced vision. Others lose vision due to accidents or the natural aging process, usually starting in the 40s. For some, vision loss is sudden, while for others, it may be gradual. Some conditions, diabetes, for example, cause vision to fluctuate from day to day. Many people who have lost significant levels of visual functioning take time out from their careers to learn alternative skills which allow them to live and work effectively. If a person who is blind or visually impaired applies for a job in your company, the resume and application will indicate experience and skills.

  • What Types of Jobs Do People Who are Blind Do? --

With appropriate training and equipment, people who are blind or visually impaired have the same range of abilities as anyone else. There are no "jobs for blind people." To broaden your thinking, consider that blind people have been successful as ...

artists machinists

auto mechanics masseuses

boat builders mayors

computer programmers lawyers

musicians fashion models

production workers professional teachers

story tellers word processing specialists

An employer’s perception of inability is often the biggest limitation that people who are blind face.

  • Accommodating the Person who is Blind or Visually Impaired During the Employee Selection Process—

You are trying to determine whether an applicant has the necessary skills, experience, education, or other background to successfully perform the essential functions of the job. This is the same information you need about any applicant to help you make an effective hiring decision.

A person who does not see well enough to read an application form may be discouraged from applying for a job, even if the job itself requires minimal vision. Ask the applicant how he or she would prefer to meet the requirements of the process. For example, if you require applicants to complete an application form, ask the applicant which would be most convenient...

  • Mail the application to the candidate who requests it
  • Offer the walk-in applicant an opportunity to take the form, have someone help complete it, and return it by mail or in person
  • Offer the services of someone in the office to assist in completing the form.

When you invite a person who is blind or visually impaired to an interview...

  • Ask if he or she needs directions if someone is driving
  • If the candidate is taking public transportation, indicate which stop is closest, then give directions from the stop.
  • Offer assistance from the reception area to your office by asking, "Would you like to take my arm?" If the person needs to, he or she will lightly grasp your arm just above your elbow and will follow one step behind you. Don’t insist on helping, and certainly, don’t push the person ahead of you. If the person uses a dog guide, the dog will follow you. Do not pet or distract the dog.
  • When you get to your office, place the persons hand on the back of the chair you are offering. Do not push the person into a chair. When a blind or visually impaired person is in your office...
  • Be yourself. Use normal language. Its OK to say:
  • "Do you see what I mean?"
  • "Would you like to take a look at the work area?"
  • "I hope to see you again."
  • Enhancing Productivity on the Job—

Velcro fasteners on protective clothing, hand trucks, and word processors allow us to do things that would otherwise be difficult. These tools enhance our productivity by reasonably accommodating our humanness.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) asks us to "reasonably accommodate" the limitations imposed by a persons physical or mental disability. Reasonable accommodation is defined as modification or adjustment of a job, employment practice, or the work environment that makes it possible for a qualified person with a disability to be employed. The employer needs to accommodate from the first contact with the person with the disability, during the application process, on the job, in training, on the work site, and when considering promotions and layoffs. If job duties change, new accommodations may need to be made. The ADA requires an employer to accommodate unless doing so would cause an undue hardship. If that cost is an undue burden the employer may offer the person with the disability an opportunity to provide the accommodation or assist in finding resources to pay for it. If we think of accommodations as "productivity enhancements" similar to others in the workplace, they become part of the cost of doing business.

  • Types of Productivity Enhancers—

The employer and employee should brainstorm and research equipment or job restructuring. The person who requests accommodation has lived, and perhaps worked, with the disability and may know what will enhance productivity most effectively.

Low tech

Productivity enhancers do not have to be fancy or expensive.

  • Dot of silicon on a knob, switch, or button permits a person to align controls on a machine.
  • Wide felt-tip marker may make file folder labels readable.
  • Braille labels on the soft drink machine gives the braille user equal access to flavor choice.
  • Different size strips of masking tape identify parts bins for production employees.

Consult your employee who is blind or has low vision for other simple solutions.

High tech

Computers can be modified to provide enlarged screen display, synthesized voice, or braille output.

  • Optical scanners, also known as "reading machines," scan printed material and "read it" into a computer or voice synthesizer. Some scanners require only adding a card and an external monitor.
  • Screen text enlargers use software to enlarge print on a computer screen up to several inches high.
  • A tactile representation board allows a person with vision loss to touch a tablet and a synthesized voice reads the word that is at the corresponding point on the screen. At present, most advanced computer access technology is for DOS-based applications.

However, first-generation graphical user interface access shows great promise. Costs vary considerably, depending on whether the employee can benefit most from text enlargement, voice, or braille output. Software for text enlargement runs around $500 - 600, braille printers cost between $2,000 - 5,000. Speech output devices range widely, depending on sophistication, from $800 - 1,800. Braille scanners and printers run from $500 - 15,000.

Machines which magnify printed materials (closed circuit televisions) permit a person who has some usable vision to read memos and books and fill out forms. They cost around $2,500.

When considering costs of accommodations, review the cost of the company’s entire computer system overall, the "overall financial resources of the facility..." and the "overall financial resources of the covered entity...." before deciding that the equipment needed to enhance a blind workers productivity is too expensive. Appropriately setting up any employees work station helps guarantee maximum productivity.

  • Tips for On-The-Job Training—

Employees who are blind or visually impaired need the same introduction to a job and initial training as sighted colleagues. Provide orientation to the company and the job. Ask the employee whether he or she learns best from verbal instruction or a combination of hands-on, written, and verbal learning. Allow the person to organize the work area for greatest efficiency, even if it means organizing it differently than in the past. You may find that the new design would make other employees more productive as well.

Make sure that the work station is adequately equipped and that the employee knows where to get replacement supplies. If an outside organization has provided equipment, determine who is responsible for ownership, upkeep, upgrading, or replacement of the equipment.

  • Performance Management—

A supervisors responsibility is to establish an atmosphere of quality and productivity. Appropriate on-going training is crucial. Assume that an employee who is blind or visually impaired has the same career aspirations as other employees and provide training, ensuring that materials are accessible to the persons visual limitations. Supervise as you would for any other employee. Be sure that all employees understand performance expectations. Provide praise and constructive feedback. If a performance problem arises, deal with it openly. Do not automatically assume that it is disability-related. Do not avoid giving feedback. Employees who are blind or visually impaired, as all employees, want to know when they are performing well and when they need to do things differently. Occasionally, a supervisor will not provide feedback until a major problem arises, then dismiss the employee. No employee should be surprised with such actions!

Conduct performance appraisals, using the same criteria as with other employees. If a supervisor has provided feedback throughout the year, an annual performance appraisal should contain no surprises. Review any adaptive equipment to ensure that it is still working well. Determine if it needs upgrading to keep the employee competitive.

  • Training and Promotion—

As an employee grows in the job, provide the same opportunities for learning and taking on new challenges as for other employees. If this means attending out-of-town training, speaking at professional conferences, or training new workers, encourage these activities. Check with the employee to identify any needed accommodations. Assist the person to plan the next steps in a successful career. Promote qualified people who are blind or visually impaired using the same criteria as promotion for others.

  • Resources—

There are a number of resources that can assist employers and people who are blind or visually impaired with job adaptation. Begin all discussion of accommodation with the employee. If additional information is needed, consult the following organizations:

ADA Regional Disability and Business Technical Assistance Center Hotline - (800)

949-4232.

Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, 1801 L Street, NW, Washington, DC 20507, (800) 669-4000 (voice); (800) 800-3302 (TTY); or (800) 666-EEOC (publications). Services (or Commission) for the Blind (look in local telephone book under state agencies or vocational rehabilitation). Some of these agencies have technology centers where employers can view adaptive equipment.

Vocational Rehabilitation Division (in states that do not have a separate agency for blind people).

American Foundation for the Blind, National Technology Center, 15 West 16th Street, New York, NY 10011, (212) 620-2080 (Mon-Fri, 8:30 AM - 4:30 PM). The Center has a database of 1,200 blind and visually impaired people who use adaptive equipment in various jobs. Employers are welcome to call for information. The Center also evaluates high-tech products.

Job Accommodation Network (JAN). Call 1-800-526-7234. Employers talk with Human Factors Consultants about an individual with a disability (not limited to blindness or low vision). The consultant will search JAN’s database for information related to the functional requirements of the job, the functional limitations of the employee, environmental factors, etc. The search will provide information about similar situations, names and addresses of appropriate resources.

For specific computer adaptations, contact:

Apple Computer, Inc.

Office of Special Education Programs

20525 Mariani Avenue

Cupertino, CA 95014 (408) 996-1010

 

This publication was developed by Mary B. Dickson, President of Creative Compliance Management, a human resource consulting and training firm whose mission is to maximize human potential in the workplace. She is the author of Supervising Employees with Disabilities: Beyond ADA Compliance, published in 1993 by Crisp Publications, Inc. For further information, write to 13629 SE Grant Court, Portland, OR 97233, or call (503) 255-9318.

Significant assistance was provided by:

  • Pam Maxon, Employment Specialist, and Mark Nelson, Technology Specialist, Oregon Commission for the Blind, 535 SE 12th Avenue, Portland, OR 97214, (503) 731-3221.
  • Thomas Ciesielski, consultant on blindness and low vision issues, 5225 NE Couch Street, Portland, OR 97213, (503) 236-8479.
  • Funding Source—

This material was produced by the Program on Employment and Disability, School of Industrial and Labor Relations - Extension Division, Cornell University, and funded by a grant from the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (grant #H133D10155). It has been reviewed for accuracy by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. However, opinions about the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) expressed in this material are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or the publisher. The Commission’s interpretations of the ADA are reflected in its ADA regulations (29 CFR Part 1630) and its Technical Assistance Manual for Title I of the Act.


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