Careers for Blind and Visually Impaired Individuals
People who are blind or visually impaired can perform almost any job you can imagine: lawyer, artist, accountant, secretary, customer service representative, food service worker, factory worker, financial analyst, teacher, medical transcriptionist, day care worker, counselor, computer programmer, cook, salesperson, clerk, and more. We cannot count the number of different jobs people who are blind or visually impaired are engaged in today or will be in the future. The possibilities are tremendous.
People who are blind or visually impaired have a wider array of career possibilities than ever before in history because of a combination of events since the passage of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Legislative and societal changes have reduced discrimination toward visually impaired workers as attitudes toward people with disabilities generally have improved. Employers, especially in midsized and large businesses, routinely follow equal employment opportunity practices and have diversity and disability-accommodation processes in place. Available assistive technology makes it easier for people who are visually impaired to perform many jobs that they never could have before. Proper training, appropriate tools, the ability to sell oneself, and a willing attitude on the part of employers constitute a winning formula.
Every Worker is an Individual
No two visually impaired people have the exact same level of functional vision or the same approach to executing work-related tasks. Some use their vision more than others; some may work more efficiently when they can use nonvisual techniques. Many learned to perform the essential functions of their jobs before they became visually impaired and will need to learn adaptive techniques to retain or return to employment. New employees who have been visually impaired for many years will need to use adaptive techniques as they learn to perform their duties effectively. The majority of people who are blind or visually impaired will benefit from accommodations or modifications to their work environment in order to perform competitively at work.
Accommodations in the Workplace
Accommodations are adjustments to the work environment or an individual's work situation that enable a person with disabilities to perform work duties as well as (but not always in the same way) as his or her co-workers without disabilities. Accommodations that have proven effective and affordable for workers with visual impairments include the following:
- Glare reduction and adjusted lighting.
- Voice or e-mail messages instead of handwritten notes.
- Desk or laptop computers adapted with screen-reading (synthesized speech), screen magnification, and/or optical character recognition (OCR) software.
- Scanners, larger-than-average monitors, and/or braille display devices can be added as peripherals.
- Large print, tactile, or talking calipers, scales, tape measures, thermometers, blood pressure cuffs, calculators, money identifiers, and cash registers
Aids to mobility for people who are blind or visually impaired include long canes, dog guides, electronic travel aids, special telescopes to read signs, use of public transit, and carpooling.
For More Information
For further discussion of the jobs that visually impaired people do and tips for employers, explore the CareerConnect database of mentors, which includes more than 1,000 employed visually impaired persons who have agreed to act as mentors to visually impaired people seeking career information. The mentors can also offer advice on the practical aspects of performing their job duties and getting along well in the workplace.
For informative, first-hand accounts written by blind and visually impaired people who have achieved success in a variety of interesting jobs, check out the Success Stories written by CareerConnect mentors.
People who are blind or visually impaired work for themselves as entrepreneurs just the way sighted people do. Two major avenues exist for visually impaired persons to establish their own businesses: the Business Enterprise Program, administered by state vocational rehabilitation agencies, and self-employment. Both require the entrepreneur to be knowledgeable about common business practices and to know about their product or service lines in depth.
Business Enterprise Program
In order to succeed in business, most entrepreneurs work long hours, excel at problem-solving, and have a high tolerance for stress. People who are blind or visually impaired who would like to run their own business can apply to their State vocational rehabilitation agency for entrance into the Business Enterprise Program (BEP), created under the Randolf-Sheppard Act. BEP provides business opportunities for operators to run vending stands in the lobbies of government buildings, in rest areas along State highways, and occasionally on military bases. Vendors typically run one or a combination of the following types of businesses:
- Dry stands: all packaged foods
- Wet stands: some prepared foods such as sandwiches
- Cafeterias: kitchen, hot and cold foods
- Automated vending machines: often in banks of two or more, requiring routine restocking
In most cases vendors pay a percentage of the income from their stands to the BEP. This money is pooled and, along with funds set aside for the BEP under the Randolf-Sheppard Act, is used for the benefit of the vendors (e.g., health insurance, retirement plans, stand refurbishments, purchase of stock, etc.).
Other Self-Employment Options
Independent entrepreneurs outside the BEP need to invest much more of their own resources into starting a business. Their responsibilities include formulating a business concept, initial research, writing a business plan, and securing start-up loans. State vocational rehabilitation agencies, under the Individualized Plan for Employment (IPE) can set up self-employment plans for these entrepreneurs and partially sponsor start-up expenses (e.g., initial stock, first month's rent, time-limited payment of insurance premiums).
Visually impaired entrepreneurs can find support from the National Association of Blind Merchants, an affiliate of the National Federation of the Blind; and the Randolf-Sheppard Vendors of America, an affiliate of the American Council of the Blind.
Other resource lists are provided by the Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Blindness and Low Vision maintained by Mississippi State University.
The Small Business and Self-Employment Service (SBSES) provides information and assistance to people with disabilities who wish to start a small business, including information on starting and managing a business, and issues specifically related to disabilities. The SBSES is staffed by the Office of Disability Employment Policy's Job Accommodation Network (JAN), a valuable resource in disability information services.
The Disabled Businesspersons Association is "dedicated to assisting enterprising individuals with disabilities maximize their potential in the business world, and work[ing] with vocational rehabilitation, government and business to encourage the participation and enhance the performance of the disabled in the workforce."