"In the midst of daily struggles, it’s easy to forget how lucky we are to have the technology and opportunity we have today as blind people. I often remind myself to be grateful for that. However, we as blind people have to function in a workplace and compete with sighted peers using tools that are designed specifically for them and not us. This is every tool, every day, all the time, from the coffee maker to the calendar app to the very architecture of the building." —White male in his 40s who became visually impaired in childhood
The Technology and Accommodations: Employment Experiences of U.S. Adults Who Are Blind, Have Low Vision, or Are Deafblind study gathered data to answer the question:
How does technology and the need for accommodations shape the employment experiences of U.S. adults who are blind or have low vision?
Across the board, participants expressed significant variability in whether their employer prioritized technology accessibility in the workplace; provided effective, timely accommodations; and facilitated access to new technology tools, trainings, and company procedures for their employees with disabilities. Approximately one in five participants expressed reluctance to request needed accommodations because of the attitudes of others in the workplace and the culture toward disability and accommodations. As a result, some participants were left without tools that would improve their productivity and performance. At the same time, there were employees who rarely experienced barriers related to their disability or other health conditions. If there were barriers, they found their employer, supervisor, and/or coworkers were supportive and collaborated with them to find solutions.
The research findings suggest a need for both employers and employees to better understand their rights and responsibilities under the law. While each person’s case differs in some way, the law requires most employers to provide reasonable accommodations upon the request of an employee with a qualifying disability. Yet the law allows employers some flexibility in determining which accommodations will be provided. Moreover, accommodations, whether provided during the application process, for employees performing essential job functions, or during an employer-provided training, should be expeditious and effective. That many study participants were not aware of processes for requesting accommodations is troubling. Equally troubling is that some employers were reported to not incorporate the needs of employees with disabilities within their corporate decision-making and policy development, suggesting a need for improved policies, communication, and knowledge about the employers’ obligations. The findings suggest a need for improving the inclusion of people with disabilities during the hiring process as well as to retain and advance employees throughout their career.
Participants also frequently reported that they faced accessibility barriers in many of the corporate functions that ought to support employee productivity. They experienced numerous accessibility barriers accessing hiring and onboarding documents, could not fully participate in trainings and meetings, and did not believe their employers considered accessibility when procuring new technology tools, requiring new procedures, or adopting new company processes. Leadership, human resources, finance, information technology, and operations staff all play a role in ensuring the workplace is not only accessible but also equitable and inclusive. When they had provided support, these staff had reduced stress and frustration and created a more positive working relationship with impacts on the quality and efficiency of the work completed.
In the recommendations section of this report, the authors strived to offer ways in which staff can incorporate effective communication and accessibility practices and policies to improve employee inclusion, productivity, retention, and well-being. These actions will reduce discrimination, intentional or otherwise, that employees with disabilities face in the workplace. There are also numerous areas for further exploration. With this research and report, we hope to shed light on progress toward inclusive employment, identify areas for additional work, and continue the journey toward equal employment opportunities for people who are blind, have low vision, and are deafblind.
Thanks to the generosity of our funders, AFB is able to share this research report in print and accessible digital formats free of charge as a public service.
James H. and Alice Teubert Foundation
Thank you to Vision Loss Alliance of NJ (VLANJ) for contributing photographs.
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