Because of working remotely, I'm using [Microsoft] Teams extensively, and have begun to use Slack. If anything, all the other tech I've used has allowed me to carry on a somewhat normal life.
—Congenitally VI Hispanic male, aged 35 to 44 years, with no additional disabilities
There were 1,801 participants who reported their employment status with 523 (29%) participants employed full time and 182 (10%) employed part time when completing the survey. As a result of workplace closures or layoffs due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there were 57 (3%) participants who were employed full time and 102 (6%) employed part time prior to the pandemic who were now unemployed.
Of the 718 employed participants, 338 (47%) had concerns about employment due to COVID-19 and answered questions, 46 (6%) had concerns about this topic but did not choose to answer questions, and 334 (47%) did not have any concerns about employment.
Most of the participants who reported they were employed noted that the shift to working at home had some effect on their work, including those related to accommodations provided by the employer, accessibility, training, and productivity.
Accommodations, Accessibility, and Productivity
Of 252 participants, 63 (25%) requested accommodations that would allow them to be more productive working at home, whereas 189 (75%) did not make any requests. Some requests were granted; other accommodations were not.
[I was n]ot able to bring my large screen monitor home and not able to use my employer's ZoomText license from home. [I h]ad to purchase both.
—Congenitally VI White male, aged 55 to 64 years, with additional disabilities
My employer instituted work at home prior to state requirements, [and] permitted extended leave for people who are ill or are a caregiver. [These were] excellent, reasonable accommodations, including accessible online software and other virtual tools.
—Child-onset VI Multiracial female, aged 55 to 64 years, with additional disabilities
Of 253 participants, there were 96 (38%) who reported experiencing an accessibility problem with at least one of the technology tools needed to do their job, whereas 157 (62%) did not report any accessibility issues.
I use Microsoft Teams, Skype for Business, and WebEx for meetings throughout the day. They all have accessibility problems that range from irritating to serious barriers. In addition, I struggle to hear audio from both my screen reader and my colleagues on the video conference.
—Child-onset VI White male, aged 45 to 54 years, with no additional disabilities
There were 56 (22%) of 253 participants who reported they were not able to access technology at home that was essential for their ability to do their job, and 197 (78%) who had access to all needed technology.
I could not bring [home] my desktop Windows computer with the JAWS screen reader. ... I use a Mac laptop for my personal use, and it has slowed down my ability to get everything done. ... VoiceOver screen reader works on the Mac but takes twice as long as it does with JAWS. This is because the Mac with VoiceOver uses two-handed commands and has a different layout than my work Windows computer.
—Congenitally VI White female, aged 25–34 years, with no additional disabilities
Some participants reported that their visual impairment affected their productivity. For those participants with low vision, visual fatigue was a factor leading to reduced productivity.
Everything takes longer and is harder to do on my tablet and my slow Wi-Fi. My eyes wear out much faster.
—Congenitally VI White female, aged 35 to 44 years, with additional disabilities
Participants were asked to rate their level of agreement with the statement: "I am concerned that I will lose my job because there are work tasks, I am having difficulty/no longer able to perform." Of the participants who rated this statement more females (12%) than males (7%) expressed they agreed or strongly agreed, and those 35–54 years had the highest concern (9%) among the three age categories. Participants with a congenital vision loss (9%) had greater concern than those with a childhood vision loss (3%) or vision loss during adulthood (6%). This statement was of higher concern to those with low vision (9%) compared with those who were blind (8%). There was a slightly higher level of concern for participants who did not have an additional disability (10%) compared with those who did have an additional disability (9%).
Training to Use Software
With the shift to working from home, many Americans found themselves having to use new technology tools. For 173 (69%) of 251 participants no training was provided on how to use new technology tools their employer introduced, whereas 78 (31%) participants were provided with training. To learn how to use the new technology tools, most participants taught themselves (n=32), took part in employer training (n=14), or received instruction from another employee (n=10). Other participants used an app or sought assistance from a family member or another person with a visual impairment. Not surprisingly, some participants reported accessibility issues with the training provided by employers.
The training (live and recorded online) would be accessible if there was audio description for the layout of the application, navigation through areas of the application, verbal explanation of what is being done on the screen and if key stroke equivalents are also available. Stating 'click here' or 'see what I just did' are useless comments for a person who cannot see what is being done on the screen.
—Congenitally VI White female, aged 55–54, with no additional disabilities
Participants were given the following two statements. 16 The training I received to use new technology tools my employer introduced was accessible to me (n=76, M=3.70, SD=1.26). I am concerned that I will lose my job because there are work tasks I am having difficulty/no longer able to perform (n=300, M=2.35, SD=1.20)
Returning to the Worksite
A few participants shared concerns about making the shift from working at home back to the worksite. Some factors that are unique to employees with visual impairments that might affect the transition include the need to find safe and available transportation to get to the worksite, the need to maintain social distance, and the potential change in working relationships with other employees who may no longer be comfortable with providing sighted assistance.
I am concerned my employer will expect me to be back at work before it will be safe for me to be there. I have to ride public door-to-door transit, where people are often sneezing and coughing without covering their mouths.
—Congenitally VI Multiracial female, aged 55 to 64 years, with additional disabilities
Unemployment and Future Employment
There were 154 participants who reported on unemployment. Fifty (33%) participants who were laid off from their part-time or full-time jobs were considering applying for unemployment, 37 (24%) had applied to collect unemployment, and 10 (6%) were already collecting unemployment. Fifty-seven (37%) participants were not planning to apply for unemployment.
Of 158 participants, there were 127 (80%) who anticipated they would seek employment after the pandemic ended, whereas 20 (13%) were unsure if they would seek employment, and 11 (7%) did not believe they would seek employment. One participant did not provide a response.
My job requires me to sign a new contract every year. My skill set is strongest in working with my students and specific to working at my place of employment. I feel that working from home, my skills will not be as sharp, and I am worried that this will cause my employer to not consider offering me a new contract for next year. —Congenitally VI Hispanic female, aged 25 to 34 years, with no additional disabilities
[We need to make] sure that job search sites such as Indeed and Glass Door are accessible and understand that individuals that are blind may use their sites to search for jobs.
—Adult-onset VI Black or African American female, aged 55 to 64 years, with additional disabilities
Many of the employment concerns that participants identified highlighted issues with the need for accommodations, access to technology, and best practices for remote training and meetings. Employers have a responsibility to ensure that their practices do not create barriers for employment or advancement. 17
- Job matching, recruitment, and application platforms must be fully accessible and usable to people who are visually impaired, so that those applying for jobs have full access to employment opportunities.
- Web-conferencing software, such as Microsoft Teams, Zoom and WebEx, must ensure that users, both attendees and presenters, have access to the full array of features in these products. By labeling all buttons and providing key commands to all features, including in-program features such as increasing font size in the chat window, manufacturers can ensure all individuals can use their platforms. Additionally, platforms should incorporate usability practices, such as ensuring that screen reader software does not interfere with communication through the video or audio service.
- Technology training for education and employment needs to be accessible. Developing a text-based version of training videos that clearly outlines steps for users, including short-cut keys for those using screen reader technology and a description of where to find icons, buttons, and other visual aspects of the tool for those with low vision, will allow greater ease of use and higher productivity. Presenters should be aware that not all attendees will access the tools in the same way and should provide alternative access methods.
- Employers should make available support desk tools for company products, including support from the product manufacturer. Workplace technology developers should incorporate a commitment to accessibility into each product, including accessibility support and training.
- Employers should ensure that employees have access to comparable accommodations whether working from home or in the office, including checking in with staff receiving accommodations prior to a shift in work location. Employers may need to consider additional or new accommodations when requiring new work practices or locations and may consider work from home as an accommodation for challenges beyond the employee's control.
- When procuring new technologies, employers should consider both the customer-facing and employee-facing accessibility features and usability.
- Employers should establish accessible virtual meeting policies that may include providing accessible materials to attendees in advance, use of captioning or interpreters where appropriate, nonvisual communication techniques, and having individuals identify themselves before speaking.
16. The mean (M) is derived by averaging the participants' ratings, strongly disagree (1) to strongly agree (5). The larger the standard deviation (SD) the greater the spread from the mean of the participants' ratings.