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AFBAmerican Foundation®
for the Blind

Expanding possibilities for people with vision loss

Are You Looking for a Few Good Workers?

recruit from a pool of WORKERS who are . . .

  • qualified
  • safe
  • dedicated
  • reliable
  • conscientious
  • literate
  • productive

Recruit from a pool of WORKERS who are...visually impaired.

People without sight or with limited sight can perform almost any job you can imagine. There are visually impaired lawyers, artists, accountants, secretaries, customer service representatives, food service workers, factory workers, financial analysts, teachers, medical transcriptionists, day care workers, counselors, computer programmers, cooks, salespeople, clerks, and more.

grantland cartoon

Text description of cartoon

Cartoon has four frames:
Frame 1: Two men are sitting across a table from one another. The first man says, "Here's a riddle for you."
Frame 2: In a different room, we see a man sitting behind a large desk, while still another man peeks around the door jamb. The man in the first room says: "What do you call a blind man sitting in the VP's office on the executive floor?"
Frame 3: Back to the original two men at the table, and the second man says, "I don't know---what?"
Frame 4: The first man says, "A vice president."

Find out more about:

If you'd like more information about how to tap this valuable labor pool, call the American Foundation for the Blind at (800) 232-5463.


How People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired Do Their Jobs

Employees 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 visually impaired employees can accomplish their jobs by using non-traditional tools or by working in a modified environment. These modifications to the job or job site are referred to as 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 e-mail messages can usually be sent, or if neither of these is available, an inexpensive tape recorder can be used.

  • For a job that requires the use of 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 by using electronic travel aids. Some people with low vision use special telescopes to read signs when traveling. Independent travel to a variety of destinations even remote areas without public transportation is usually possible. People who are blind or visually impaired are often experienced at finding creative travel solutions.


The Job Application Process

If you routinely require all applicants to complete an application, there are ways to make it possible for blind or visually impaired applicants to do so as well. The following are some practical solutions for handling application forms.

  • Make the application available electronically. You could e-mail it on request, provide the applicant with a diskette version, or put it on your web site. Often, blind or visually impaired applicants will be able to use computers with braille or speech output (talking computers), or they may use screen magnification to read and complete applications. Electronic access will facilitate the application process for many sighted applicants as well as for applicants with visual impairments.

  • If you prefer that job seekers complete their applications on-site, provide someone in your company to read the application and record responses. Ensure that the recorder notes the applicant's answers without editing or modifying them.

  • Offer to provide blind or visually impaired people with applications to complete in advance of interviews, so they can use low vision devices or readers to help them complete the form in print.

  • If you already have other blind or visually impaired employees who use assistive technology, such as closed-circuit televisions for magnification, screen enlargement programs, or computers with speech or braille output, you can offer to make this equipment available on-site to a job applicant.

  • Consider accepting a standard completed application in lieu of your application form.

Administering Employment Tests

An employment test must measure the essential functions of the job; therefore, any testing needs to assess an applicant's abilities, not disabilities. If you routinely administer tests to applicants, an open discussion with a blind or visually impaired applicant can usually result in recommendations to make your test accessible. Accommodations that would allow applicants to demonstrate their abilities include the following:

  • Ask a member of your staff to read the test to the applicant and record his or her answers. Ensure that the recorder notes the applicant's answers without editing or modifying them.

  • Make the test available electronically on diskette, or put the test on a computer that the applicant can use with appropriate assistive technology.

  • Ask if a state or local agency for the blind can administer the test, or determine if the applicant has already passed a similar test (for example, tests measuring typing speed and accuracy, spelling, grammar, or basic math skills).

Interviewing Applicants Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired

If you know that an applicant is blind or visually impaired, you may be concerned about what questions you are allowed to ask during an interview. Relax, and use the following suggestions to guide you.

  • Remember that a blind or visually impaired person is a "person" first. Lack of vision is just one aspect or characteristic and doesn't define a person any more than hair color does.

  • Visual impairment does not equate to helplessness. When you greet an applicant, you may want to ask if he or she needs assistance. Some people with visual impairments will want to take your arm while others will prefer to follow your verbal directions.

  • When you enter the interview room, it may be helpful to describe the setting to the applicant. For instance, "We are going to sit at a round table. Your chair is on your left, and I will sit across the table from you."

  • Focus on the person's qualifications to do the job that you are seeking to fill. Matters that are not job related such as how or when an applicantlost his or her sight are not relevant to the interview.

  • Never pet a dog guide. A dog guide is a working animal. While some of these dogs are indeed beautiful and friendly, lengthy discussion about the dog during the interview takes time away from discussing the applicant's qualifications.

  • Don't be afraid to use terms like "see you later" or "do you see what I mean?" Blind and visually impaired people use them, too.

Attributes of Blind and Visually Impaired Workers


Safe

There is ample evidence that blind and visually impaired workers are as safe, if not safer, on the job than their sighted co-workers. A national study by pollster Louis Harris reported approximately half of the employers they surveyed believed disabled employees actually had fewer accidents on the job and a quarter were unsure if there was any difference at all. Additional studies report the same positive message that people with visual impairments are at no greater risk of having accidents than sighted workers are. Employers' group health insurance rates will not increase due to hiring a person with a visual impairment, nor will worker compensation rates increase. Insurance rates are based on the company's industry and insurance usage not on employee characteristics.

Reliable

Employers can rest assured that their visually impaired employees will come to work and be productive. Employees with visual impairments will handle their own transportation to and from work. They may ride with colleagues, friends, or family members; use buses or trains; make arrangements with taxis or hired drivers; or walk to get to work on time. The same Louis Harris poll indicated that 39% of employers felt their employees with disabilities were more reliable than employees without disabilities, and 42% felt their reliability was comparable to their peers without disabilities.

Literate

Many visually impaired workers are able to read regular print and write with the help of reading glasses, magnifiers, or screen enlargement programs on their computers. Likewise, many blind workers are able to read and write using braille, reading machines, and computers with speech or braille output. Employers will find that on the whole, blind and visually impaired workers are able to access most written materials and produce print materials for their sighted colleagues and customers.

Affordable

The equipment used by workers with low vision to do their jobs is comparable to that used by most other workers. Although workers who have visual impairments may need some adapted tools and equipment, often the rehabilitation agency in your state will help offset the initial expense of assistive devices that will help the worker maintain productivity. In addition, many visually impaired workers have tools of their own that they can use to get started on the job while special devices are on order. The expense of providing accommodations is easily recouped by having workers who are consistently in attendance, diligent, and loyal.


Tax Incentives for Business

Three federal tax incentives are available that may help employers cover the cost of accommodations for employees with disabilities and make places of business accessible for employees and customers with disabilities. Your state vocational rehabilitation agency personnel may be able to help you explore these tax incentives.

The following three tax incentives are available:

The Work Opportunity Tax Credit provides a tax credit for employers who hire certain targeted low-income groups, including vocational rehabilitation referrals and summer youth employees with disabilities. Applicants who are vocational rehabilitation referrals are eligible if certified by the State Employment Security Agency. The employer may take a tax credit of up to 35% of the first $6,000, or up to $2,400 in wages paid during the first 12 months for each new hire. Eligible employees must work 180 days or 400 hours; summer youth must work 20 days or 120 hours.

The Small Business Tax Credit, IRS Code 44, Disabled Access Credit, allows small businesses to take an annual tax credit for making their businesses accessible to people with disabilities. Only small businesses who in the previous year earned a maximum of $1 million in revenue or had fewer than 30 employees are eligible. The credit is available every year, and can be used for a variety of costs, including:

  • readers for employees who are visually impaired,

  • the purchase of adaptive equipment or the modification of equipment,

  • the production of print materials in alternate formats (e.g., brailled, audiotaped, or enlarged print).

The Architectural/Transportation Tax Deduction, IRS Code, Section 190, Barrier Removal, is often viewed as being specific to making businesses wheelchair-accessible. However, the credit can help businesses to remove physical barriers for people who are blind, for example, by adding braille and large print signage.

It is important to remember that all businesses may not qualify for all three tax incentives and that specific information should be requested from your accountant or the Internal Revenue Service before trying to benefit.


Sources of Free Assistance Available to Employers

There are many publicly and privately funded resources available to assist employers in recruiting candidates for employment who are blind or visually impaired. There are also sources to assist in making recommendations on accommodations or work-site modifications.

American Foundation for the Blind (AFB)
11 Penn Plaza, Suite 300
New York, NY 10001
(800/232-5463)

AFB's national office can refer employers to free recruitment services in their communities. In addition to the national office, AFB has offices in Atlanta, GA; San Francisco, CA; Chicago, IL; Dallas, TX; and a governmental relations office in Washington, DC.

Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)
1800 L Street, NW
Washington, DC 20507
(800/669-3362)

The EEOC provides regulations, technical manuals, and other information relating to employment requirements under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Job Accommodation Network (JAN)
P.O. Box 6123,
Morgantown, WV 26505
(800/526-7234)

A service of the President's Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities, JAN is a consulting service/network providing information about job accommodations.

National Industries for the Blind (NIB)
1310 Braddox Place
Alexandria, VA 22314
(703/310-0500)

NIB coordinates production of industries with a majority of workers who are blind or visually impaired in 36 states. They also provide recruitment services in many states.

In addition to the national sources for information listed above, there are regional Disability and Business Technical Assistance Centers throughout the country. Call 800/949-4232 to locate the center closest to you. Each state provides vocational rehabilitation services for people who are visually impaired or have other disabilities. Rehabilitation services can help an employee who becomes disabled remain productive or provide support to a new employee through on-the-job training, technical assistance, or specialized equipment. Rehabilitation agencies can also refer qualified applicants with disabilities to prospective employers. In addition to state rehabilitation agencies, more than one thousand private organizations throughout the country provide disability-specific employment-related services. Assistance in locating such agencies can often be found in local telephone directories, or you may contact AFB's toll-free information line at 800/232-5463.

There is no fee for services provided through these recruitment and information resources.

If you'd like more information about how to tap this valuable labor pool, call the American Foundation for the Blind at (800) 232-5463.

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