Skip to Content

AFBAmerican Foundation®
for the Blind

Expanding possibilities for people with vision loss

Workplace Accommodations for Employees Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired

Employees need varying work tools and environments to do their jobs effectively, and sometimes two people doing the same job may use entirely different tools and work in very different settings. For example, one attorney may choose to dictate all written materials for transcription by a secretary while another attorney may choose to enter her own materials on a computer terminal. Blind or visually impaired employees sometimes accomplish their job tasks by using some nontraditional tools or by working in a modified environment. These modifications to the job or job site are referred to in the Americans with Disabilities Act as "reasonable accommodations."

An accommodation is "any modification or adjustment that allows qualified applicants or employees with disabilities to participate in the application process or to perform the job's essential functions."

There is no set list of accommodations as each situation differs. Some examples of accommodations for blind or visually impaired employees include: alternative formats (braille, large print, or audiotape) for printed materials, labeling files in braille, speech output for computers, braille embossers, and reading machines that translate print into speech or electronic format. Accommodations need not be costly, and sometimes the simplest and least costly modifications to the work environment make a blind employee much more productive. For example, putting braille markings on the controls on a facsimile machine may enable the blind employee to use the machine as fast and effectively as a sighted employee.

Whose Responsibility Is It to Introduce the Need for a Reasonable Accommodation?

The applicant or employee must do so. An employer may not generally inquire about a disability; however, the employer may ask the applicant or employee to describe or demonstrate how he or she will perform essential duties of the job with or without accommodation.

This document is intended to help you as an applicant, employee, or employer take a practical approach to defining appropriate accommodations. In most cases, such accommodations are the result of common-sense thinking and frank discussion between the applicant/employee and the employer.

The following are some basic conditions that are thought to be particularly helpful in making successful accommodations:

  • Workers who are blind or visually impaired need to be involved in their own accommodation process.

  • Top managers, that is, presidents and chief executive officers, need to openly express their commitment to accommodating employees who are blind.

  • Larger organizations may find it helpful to assign a specialist to coordinate accommodations and to provide that individual with adequate training and resources.

  • The centralization of recruiting, intake, and hiring decisions often helps to ensure that all applicants are appropriately accommodated in the selection process.

  • It is sometimes helpful for the employee, supervisor, and co-workers to participate in basic training or orientation about accommodations, particularly if the organization has never before employed a blind person. For example, if several employees will need to format word-processing documents for use with a speech output or braille translation, a training session will help everyone to "do the job right the first time."

  • It is often helpful to find out how other companies and organizations with blind and visually impaired employees in similar positions have made accommodations. AFB CareerConnect™ can often direct one to resources for such information.

  • Continuous re-evaluation of accommodations is a "must." When computer hardware and software are upgraded or office locations change, it is far more cost-effective and efficient to build the accommodations into the initial package rather than to try to "retrofit" what was done with no consideration for the employee who is blind.

services icon Directory of Services

book icon Featured Book

JVIB Special Issue on Critical Issues in Visual Impairment & BlindnessJVIB Special Issue on Critical Issues in Visual Impairment & Blindness

JVIB Special Issue on Critical Issues in Visual Impairment & Blindness

Join Our Mission

Help us expand our resources for people with vision loss.