Specialized Services to Enhance Employment Opportunities for People Who Are Visually Impaired
Who Needs Specialized Employment Services?
For a working-age adult seeking meaningful employment, blindness or low vision can be a major obstacle—but it doesn't have to be.
Specialized services that provide specific employment-related skills make a critical difference in the ability of an adult who is blind or visually impaired to compete successfully for a job, remain employed, and advance in the workplace.
What specialized services do working-age adults with visual impairments need?
Specialized employment services teach individuals who are blind or visually impaired how to access print material or information on a computer monitor, use accessible mainstream technology, safely navigate around a workplace, use public transportation to get to and from work, and perform tasks associated with their job responsibilities.
People who are blind or visually impaired acquire the skills necessary for successful employment from specially trained rehabilitation professionals. These specialists may include rehabilitation counselors, teachers, and therapists; orientation and mobility specialists; low-vision specialists; and assistive technology experts who can address specifics related to vision loss and navigating the employment process.
The services these specialists provide include:
- Independent living skills—using both mainstream and specialized devices and techniques for self-management at home and at work
- Communication skills—using computer equipment, such as a screen reader, to access information on computers or in print, and using braille and other methods to take notes and maintain files
- Mobility skills—using specific orientation and mobility techniques, long white canes, and other mobility tools for safe and independent travel
- Low-vision services—using special low-vision optical and adaptive devices that maximize effective use of remaining vision
Where and how are specialized employment services provided?
State vocational rehabilitation agencies and private organizations have been established to counsel people who are visually impaired and to teach the skills needed to compete in the workplace. Unfortunately, in some states, people who are blind or visually impaired only have access to general rehabilitation agencies intended for people with a variety of disabilities. In these cases, specialized services for people with visual impairments are frequently unavailable or are insufficient. General rehabilitation agencies simply do not provide the quality of service needed for people with vision loss to be successful in employment situations, highlighting the need for separate vocational rehabilitation agencies for people who are blind or visually impaired in every state.
Specialized employment services provide a wide range of training and job development options. This affords people who are blind or visually impaired the opportunity to make informed choices regarding their career goals, the type and location of vocational training they seek, and the equipment they might need for successful employment. These options include:
- Training and placement in “mainstream” employment settings
- Specialized employment provided by organizations serving people who are blind
- Training and ownership of independently operated retail and vending facilities in private and government offices
What are the challenges facing specialized employment services?
To cut costs, more and more states are threatening to dissolve, or already have dissolved, their separate agencies for people who are blind or visually impaired. This short-term budget decision results in a “one-size-fits-all” approach to employment services that overlooks or ignores the proven benefits of specialized programs and services for people with vision loss. Although all-purpose disability and health service organizations claim to serve blind people as successfully as blindness agencies, too many people with visual impairments slip through the cracks when they don’t have access to specialized services.
Specialized employment programs operated by blindness organizations have also been criticized as a vocational alternative. Ending these programs would deny consumers a right as assured by the U.S. Congress in the Rehabilitation Act of 1973) as amended 34 CFR 361.52, The State Vocational Rehabilitation Services Program; Final Rule).
Specialized services that provide assistive technology, such as computers with speech or braille output and large print displays, are consistently underfunded, yet these services clearly provide a positive impact on employment for those with vision loss.
What can you do to protect specialized employment services?
- Support funding for separate state or private rehabilitation agencies for people who are blind or visually impaired in your state.
- Provide sufficient funding for university-level programs in rehabilitation teaching, orientation and mobility, and low-vision services to ensure adequate numbers of specially trained professionals.
- Ensure adequate funding for both assistive and mainstream (e.g., iPad) technology and training.
- Support specialized employment programs operated by blindness organizations for people with vision loss who are not interested in or do not have access to "mainstream" employment settings.
- If you're a business owner, consider hiring a qualified candidate who is blind or visually impaired.
- Use AFB's Directory of Services to find local providers of employment-related services for people who are blind or visually impaired
- Sign up for AFB's DirectConnect newsletter to stay informed about public policy issues relating to blindness and visual impairment
- Learn more about Independent Living Skills on VisionAware
- Join CareerConnect for job-seeking tips, tools, resources, mentorship, and support