three photos of people using technology at work -- a woman using a laptop, a man wearing a suit and glasses, using a traditional keyboard and a large monitor, and a woman using a high-contrast keyboard and magnified screen

“When I cannot read materials [at work trainings], I can't participate. Sometimes people assume I can't participate because I'm blind, when the real issue is that the materials either were not provided or aren't accessible. All of this hinders my career advancement and my ability to learn new skills and technology. I have to constantly find new ways of obtaining the information everyone else already has either by advocating for the materials to be made accessible or by finding another course that might be accessible. This causes stress and frustration, I feel like I'm behind in my work and that I can't measure up due to a lack of information. I know I've done my best and this isn't my fault, and I have had to ask supervisors and other officials to address the issues several times. It has been years, sometimes, before anything has changed, and some courses still aren't accessible as of this writing.”

Since October 2020, AFB Research staff have been engaged in focus groups, a survey, and interviews to gather data to identify the workplace technology barriers faced by blind and low vision individuals, the consequences of them, and solutions that will lead to positive employment outcomes. Using a multi-pronged research approach to gather both quantitative and qualitative data, we will be able to support HR professionals, IT personnel, supervisors, and co-workers to better understand how people with vision loss can do their jobs when needed accommodations are in place throughout one’s work experience.

What Are Our Research Questions?

  • What are the technology experiences (training, tools used, required job tasks, barriers, wishes) of workers with visual impairments who are in the workforce, seeking to join the workforce, or employed in the workforce within the last 5 years?
  • How do a company’s policies and practices as they relate to HR and IT impact a potential or current employee’s opportunities and experiences?
  • What mainstream and assistive technology tools allow workers with visual impairments to be successful and productive in their work tasks?
  • How do workers use assistive technology in all aspects of employment?
  • How has telework impacted employment opportunities?
  • How do individuals with visual impairments learn to use assistive technology and other accommodations?

How Are We Going to Answer Our Research Questions?

To answer our questions, we took a multi-pronged approach:

  1. We reviewed the literature to learn about effective practices and barriers for people with visual impairments when it comes to employment. We examined the responsibilities that employees have in the workforce and the tools they use, both mainstream and assistive, to get their work done.
  2. We conducted focus groups to hear from employees who are blind and who have low vision to identify patterns of experience and common challenges. We also checked in with some sighted employees because we wanted to know how the experiences of those with vision loss differ from the experiences of those who are sighted. Listen to our Inform & Connect podcast where Dr. Rosenblum and Ms. Bolander share what we learned.
  3. We collected data through a survey of individuals who are blind or have low vision, are employed, seeking employment, or have worked in the last 5 years. In order to gather data from a broad cross-section of individuals, our accessible survey collected data on a wide range of topics—including experiences in the interviewing and onboarding process, requesting and obtaining needed accommodations, working collaboratively with supervisors and co-workers, experiences with company provided training, learning to use assistive technology, and troubleshooting technology challenges. With more than 470 responses, our data is rich both quantitatively and qualitatively.
  4. We conducted 30 interviews with a sample of workers who are visually impaired and took part in our survey. We explored with them the barriers, consequences, and solutions that are part of their work experience.

What’s the Timeframe for the Research?

We anticipate releasing our report in late October or early November. Through our four-pronged approach we will be able to present a robust report that will summarize our study findings and contain recommendations for a wide range of individuals including HR professionals, IT personnel, supervisors, technology companies, individuals with visual impairments, and rehabilitation staff.

Who Can I Reach Out to For More Information?

Dr. L. Penny Rosenblum, AFB’s Director of Research, is heading up this study. Please email her at prosenblum@afb.org.

Who Is Financing This Research?

AFB appreciates the generosity of the donors who have made contributions to fund this research. The donors have no access to the study data. They will receive the same report that will be available on the AFB website for anyone to read and will be sent to participants who request a copy at the end of the survey.

The donors are:

eSight
Google
Hadley
JP Morgan Chase
LCI Foundation
Microsoft
James H. and Alice Teubert Foundation
Vispero

“Universal design - don't treat assistive technology as something "special" that is only targeted for users with disabilities. Accessibility should be the standard which can benefit everyone.”