Visually impaired employees still facing hiring wall

NIB calls on Congress to raise awareness about unemployment rates

Visually impaired employees still facing hiring wall

As the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) turns 33, and the Rehabilitation Act (RA) turns 50, advocates for the blind and visually impaired want to make sure they aren’t left behind.

The National Industries for the Blind (NIB), along with representatives from the non-profit sector working with the visually-impaired, spoke to Congress in May to raise awareness around unemployment rates of the blind, a number which refuses to budge even as job markets return to normal after the Great Resignation.

Miconceptions around hiring visually impaired employees

The main problem is the continued lack of knowledge around what hiring blind and visually impaired employees actually entails, according to Jeff Mittman, NIB board member and president of the Board of Directors for the National Association for the Employment of People Who Are Blind (NAEPB).

“I think people don't realize the skill set that's available, they don't understand this is an untapped segment of the labor market that's out there,” Mittman told HRD. “And they don't understand the available tools to assist in transitioning somebody who is blind from not working, to working. All those things add up to people facing barriers to employment.”

Despite the “great resignation,” the employment rate for visually impaired individuals remains low. According to the most recent statistics from the American Community Survey, only 44% of people who are blind are employed, compared to a 77.2% employment rate for those without disabilities.

Biased management and visually impaired employees

Research conducted at Mississippi State University has found there is a direct correlation between the attitudes of employers toward the blind and the rate of hire. Implicit attitudes, as opposed to self-reported, explicit attitudes, have the greatest impact, with researchers concluding that “employers tend to automatically associate competence with sighted people and incompetence with blind people.”

Conversely, “more positive self-reported employer attitudes are associated with a greater likelihood of hiring someone who is blind,” say the researchers.

It is this negative “implicit attitude” towards the blind that NSITE, the talent management enterprise of NIB, addresses in its work connecting companies with blind employees.

“We’re all human,” said Jonathan Lucus, executive director of NSITE. “We all have our own implicit biases that maybe we're not in touch with, and we create our own assumptions.

“That’s the hardest piece to help people with, who are doing the hiring, and doing the managing – that you have to be reflective, and be open to the idea that someone can use adaptive technology and be very successful in your workplace, no matter what the job is.”

A lot of companies think this is either an added expense, or an added path that requires time, effort and resources, Lucus said.

“And they may not want to be fully engaged in bringing on somebody who’s blind or visually impaired. But I think, as humans in an organization, that we need to understand that the biggest barriers come from ourselves.”

Supports for hiring visually impaired employees

The main misconception around hiring visually impaired employees is that it is complicated or costly, says Lucus, but the opposite is true. Supportive technologies for vision impairment can be as simple as installing software, and can sometimes even be free.

Common accommodations or supports for a blind employee might require include assistive technology such as screen magnifiers and readers, narrators and voice-recognition software.

Also, a main barrier to employment for blind individuals is transportation; the National Rehabilitation Center reports that it is directly tied to blind employment rates.

What blind employees bring to the table

“We're seeing younger folks become more and more discriminatory about where they choose to work,” Lucus said. “What is the social dividend that your company creates? It doesn't have to be you go out there and donate billions of dollars, it's how are you treating people? If a company wants the best of the best in their workforce, then inclusion has to be part of that paradigm.”

Because of the many ways blind individuals are required to adapt in every area of their lives, they can be especially creative problem solvers on the job, he says. Plus, they bring this adaptability and creativity to the overall culture of the company, which translates into a more productive environment.

“This isn't just because you put a bunch of different people in a room,” he said. “It's through the process of learning, and being a learning organization, and understanding that people come with different life experiences, perspectives, and unique talents.

“Ultimately, under good management, under authentic transformational leadership, that leads to greater outcomes, from both a business perspective and an organizational, culture perspective.”

Recent articles & video

What's the key to Gen Z and millennial employees' job satisfaction?

Lego ties employee bonuses to annual emissions

Alphabet layoffs later this year to be 'much smaller in scale': reports

Elon Musk: Jobs to be optional in 'benign' AI future

Most Read Articles

Alphabet layoffs later this year to be 'much smaller in scale': reports

PTO requests up 9% year-over-year in April worldwide

HR-related email subjects still tops for phishing attempts: report