Survey: Employer Awareness of Blind Workers' Capabilities Grows

However, there are misperceptions that still need to be corrected

Kathy Gurchiek By Kathy Gurchiek October 22, 2018
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Employers are more aware today than they were six years ago of the many jobs that can be performed by employees who are blind, according to a recent survey for the National Industries for the Blind (NIB).

In 2012, 53 percent of hiring managers didn't think there were many jobs at their company those workers could do. In 2018, that figure dropped to 47 percent. Findings are from online interviews conducted in May and June with 165 HR directors and managers and 236 hiring managers in other departments. The survey found that the likelihood of employers hiring someone who is blind remained unchanged at 58 percent. 

The NIB is the nation's largest employment resource for people who are blind. The 80-year-old organization and the nonprofit agencies it is associated with create employment opportunities for this population in most of the nation's job sectors. 

"The survey findings show that our efforts have raised awareness and understanding among employers across the country about the capabilities of people who are blind," said Kevin Lynch, NIB president and CEO. 

Nearly three-fourths of survey respondents think their organizations can accommodate employees who are blind. 




Many also assume that accommodating these individuals is expensive. Sixty-six percent think accommodation is costlier for an employee who is blind than for one who is deaf or paraplegic, up from 54 percent in 2012. 

Lynch called that perception disappointing. Many accessibility tools are low-cost apps or affordable software programs, he said, and are "the primary investment for employers to make their workplaces accessible for employees who are blind." 

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Accommodating Employees' Disabilities

NIB can counsel employers about workplace technologies for people who are blind. Employers also can partner with vocational rehabilitation agencies and other organizations to better understand a job seeker's or employee's accommodation needs. 

It's important for organizations to realize that accommodation needs vary by individual, said Janet LaBreck. She is former commissioner at the Rehabilitation Services Administration for the U.S. Department of Education under President Barack Obama. She also served as commissioner for the Massachusetts Commission of the Blind in Boston.

A job candidate or employee may only need a minor accommodation. One example on the Job Accommodation Network website told of a job applicant who was unable to complete a pre-employment typing test because the employer's software did not work with the applicant's assistive software. The job seeker was able to take a proctored typing test at a vocational rehabilitation agency using an accessible typing program.

Another example: A social service employee who is blind requested reader services—an assistive technology accommodation—to help with accessing documents and other information. The services were provided for half of every workday.

Recruiting 

Lynch said HR managers can take a few simple steps to make their organizations more welcoming to job seekers who are blind.

One is making sure recruiting and job application sites are accessible

The American Foundation for the Blind offers tips for creating accessible sites and recommends the Web Access Initiative as a resource with guidelines for creating user-friendly webpages. 

Also, employers can proactively recruit job seekers who are blind. 

LaBreck recommended vocational rehabilitation programs, found in most states, as a primary recruitment resource. They partner with various recruiting organizations and have counselors who keep caseloads of individuals training for specific career paths. 

Other recruitment sources:

  • Schools for the blind. They provide educational and job training and often partner with vocational programs around the country to offer job fairs and to support students participating in internships and apprenticeships. Schools also may support partnerships with businesses and industries across the country.
"These partnerships are designed to support the talent sourcing needs of employers, as well as providing early work experience opportunities" for people who are blind and visually impaired,
LaBreck said.

  • National organizations that offer specialized training programs. The survey found that employers considered customer service roles the best fit for employees who are blind.  However, the Alexandria, Va.-based NIB has placed job candidates in contact center operations, contract management support, supply chain mangaement and administrative support. Its Business Leaders Program has graduates, Lynch said, "who are now CEOs—not just at agencies within our network, but at other public- and private-sector organizations." 

The Interview 

It's important that recruiters and hiring managers treat job seekers who are blind the same way they treat other candidates when talking to them about their qualifications, LaBreck said. Instead of inquiring how the visual impairment may present a workplace difficulty, ask the person to talk about how he or she has dealt with a challenge on the job.

The American Foundation for the Blind offers the following interviewing tips:

  • Upon entering the interview room, consider describing the setting to the candidate: "We are going to sit at a round table. Your chair is on your left, and I will sit across the table from you."
  • Ask the candidate if he or she needs assistance; some may want to take your arm, while others might prefer verbal directions.
  • Do not be self-conscious about using phrases such as "nice to see you."
  • Do not pet a guide dog accompanying a candidate. Also, a lengthy discussion about the dog takes time away from discussing the applicant's qualifications.
  • Focus on the candidate's job qualifications. Matters that are not related to the job, such as how or when an applicant lost his or her sight, are not relevant. 

"Businesses recognize the importance of having a diverse workforce," Lynch said, "but people who are blind are often overlooked in that equation. A comprehensive diversity program recognizes that people who are blind or have other disabilities bring important perspectives to the workplace."

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