woman on the phone By Paul H. Olson, Guest Blogger A major milestone was achieved 25 years ago with the passing of the Americans with Disabilities Act. This legislation created better access and more opportunities for people with disabilities, including visual impairment. Unfortunately, the legislation hasn’t removed all barriers and it’s still very challenging for many people with visual impairments to find work. In this information age there are many professional opportunities for a person with the right skills and tools. And yet, there continues to be a very high rate of underemployment and unemployment for people with visual impairment, even though the opportunities have seemingly never been better. For those of us who work in the field of education and rehabilitation, several barriers can be easily identified.
  1. Employers’ misconceptions – Employers who have little or no experience interacting with people who are blind or visually impaired may fail to realize that these individuals can be very productive employees.
  2. Transportation – Transportation is a huge barrier for many—especially in rural communities in the U.S. where public transportation is non-existent. People with visual impairment often need to rely on others to drive them if they are not within walking distance of a workplace.
  3. Lack of training– Some technologies may be intuitive and require minimal training (like use of video magnifiers). Other technologies, like the screen reading software programs, require sequential lessons and ultimately a fairly high level of ability to access many computer applications in the workplace. Some proprietary software used in business settings is not as accessible with screen reading software as would be ideal .
While these barriers may make it challenging for someone who is vision impaired to find a good job, they can be overcome. With the right tools and preparation you can successfully find a job that’s the right fit for you If you already started preparing for a career while in college, as I discussed in the article The 3 Essential Career Prep Tips for Vision Impaired Students, then you are probably well on your way to finding yourself a good job. Though if you haven’t yet done any preparation, you will want to begin by deciding on what kind of job you want.  

What kind of jobs are suitable for a person with low vision?

You will probably want to pick a job that’s a good match for your skills and interests and which meets your physical, financial and geographical needs. But don’t limit yourself by thinking that people who are blind or vision impaired can only succeed in certain careers. Just take a look at the list of job positions on the EBU website, and read about some of the blind and vision impaired people who are performing them: These include: So keep in mind that if you are interested in a certain career path there is very little reason that you shouldn’t be able to pursue it, if you are determined and willing to overcome the barriers that you will find in your path. Once you decide on a job that interests you, you will want to research the requirements of the position and what kind of tools you may need to fulfill your duties. For example, if you have an OrCam device to help you read company documents, handouts and any other printed material, you’ll be less limited in the kind of position that you can pursue.

Job Search Resources

In a short article focused on a few essential resources one cannot begin to list the hundreds of organizations that might be available in a given state or region. The advice offered in this article has been very broad and is meant to be a starting point. AFB CareerConnect– The American Foundation for the Blind provides a free job search resource on their website that offers a step-by-step guide to finding a job. I recommend that you start here. Some of the tools available on AFB CareerConnect include:
  1. Questionnaires to help you identify your interests and related career or job.
  2. Information about job search tools.
  3. Assistance with creating a resume and cover letter.
  4. Advice on honing your interview skills.
The AFB website will also help connect you with other visually impaired professionals in various job positions who can answer your questions and help you decide in which direction you might want to head. NIB’s Business Leaders Program – Assists blind individuals prepare for careers in business through educational and employment opportunities Job Accommodation Network- Provides free expert guidance on workplace accommodations and disability employment issues. JAN helps people with disabilities enhance their employability, and shows employers how to capitalize on the value and talent that people with disabilities add to the workplace.

Online job listing

On the following websites you will find job listing and employment opportunities: Once you start your job search you will hopefully begin lining up interviews, at which point you will have to make some decisions about the information that you will provide your interviewer about your vision.

Here are a few questions that I often receive from people in the early stages of their job search.

  1. Should I disclose my visual impairment on my application?
The answer to this is NO. The application lists work history, skills and maybe references. The application indicates what you can bring to the work-site and your “disability” is irrelevant. Some then wonder if they should inform an employer before arriving at an interview and the answer to that depends. So let’s say you get called in for an interview. If the employer does not already know about the visual impairment, it depends on the industry and what the applicant knows about the culture of that employment setting. Whether it is right or wrong, surprising the interview team may not be in a person’s best interest. If you have an obvious visual impairment because you use a long cane or a dog guide, it may be good etiquette to nonchalantly inform the employer when you accept the interview appointment.  
  1. When I go to an interview, should I be ready to demonstrate my optical devices or other assistive technology?
Again, this depends. One might bring portable devices and discreetly use them during the interview without drawing undue attention. If asked specific questions about devices one might comment, but it is important to know that some questions are not appropriate for an employer to ask. There are steps that can be taken if an employer is not treating you like anyone else, but it is hard to prove discrimination. Proceed with confidence but with caution.  
  1. Is it appropriate to send a video to introduce myself and demonstrate my skills?
This may work in some circumstances if you are selling yourself to a potential employer, but this is probably not a good approach with most employers. It may work with small, personal companies with whom you have a connection. You might try using a social media tool like LinkedIn instead. This format is gaining an increasing role in helping people network professionally. It could be a good avenue to advertise your skills. Job recruiters, head hunters, and HR personnel are increasingly using LinkedIn as a source for finding employees. LinkedIn can be found on the web at: www.linkedin.com  

Last bit of advice:

Job seekers who are blind or visually impaired will have disappointments. They will face subtle discrimination but more often than not they will be successful if they are persistent. It is very easy to become discouraged and begin doubting oneself. It is a positive attitude and self-talk that often makes the difference between people who give up and those who find meaningful work. It is also important to remember that little failures should be expected. Every experience helps one learn and be better prepared for the next opportunity. Good luck.  
Paul Olson head shot Paul Olson is a Certified Low Vision Therapist-ACVREP and a Certified O&M Specialist–ACVREP. Paul has an M.A. in Special Education with an emphasis in Visual Impairment & Orientation & Mobility. He’s the Superintendent at North Dakota Vision Services/School for the Blind in Grand Forks, ND.  
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