The journey of the visually impaired is rife with challenges, biases and barriers. The onus of enabling the visually impaired in the workforce lies with the employers. As responsible employers we need to consciously make efforts. My third article in this series, elaborates on some steps which can help create a barrier free organization and build an inclusive climate.
A survey conducted by the Danish Blind Society , shows that prejudice is a major reason why a large number of visually impaired people are unemployed. One major reason of unemployment is that public misconceptions affect the hiring managers’ perceptions of potential candidates who are visually impaired. And if a visually impaired person does work, the assumption is that it is probably in a volunteer job, and that there are never any expectations it might result in anything useful. But workplace prejudice might be even more crippling than disability, the survey shows.
Despite their desire to be a part of the labour market, be independent and live a life of dignity, people with visual impairments encounter a twin burden of attitudinal and access barriers, which inhibits their employment inclusion.
How organisations can improve inclusivity?
Prejudices towards the visually impaired workforce are not beyond repair. In addition to a lead-by-example role that managers can take, they can also become more inclusive by reaching out to groups that cater to the visually impaired to recruit for potential new hires. Hiring a visually impaired person for an internship not only gives them job experience but also will encourage others to be more open to considering a person who is visually impaired for a position in the future. If a company is serious about inclusion, then it is also very important that its website and job application portal be accessible.
People with disability are as effective as sighted people, yet they experience exclusion at some level – both in finding jobs and in the workplace itself. An accessible workplace is quite necessary as it provides an environment in which the employees are able to perform their essential job function with all their potential regardless of their disability. Small modifications to the environment will do wonders for the people with disability to bring out the best in them. A workspace that can be easily navigated is a must.
Reasonable accommodation refers to the provision of conditions, equipment, and environment that enable an individual to effectively perform his or her job. A reasonable accommodation is any change in the work environment or in the way a job is performed that enables a person with a disability to enjoy equal employment opportunities. There are three categories of reasonable accommodations:
· Changes to a job application process;
· Changes to the work environment, or to the way a job is usually done;
· Changes that enable an employee with a disability to enjoy equal benefits and privileges of employment (such as access to training).
Every organization must take an initiative to make their facilities inclusive to ensure safety and accessibility to all participants who are on wheelchair, visually impaired or using prosthetics. Accommodations will vary depending on the needs of the individual, but the ones listed below are examples of adjustments or modifications that are often requested by employees who are visually impaired:
Modification of an employment test: When applying for jobs, a potential applicant who is visually impaired should be able to request that elements of the application process that require sight be modified or made accessible.
Assistive technology: Assistive technology is one of the most important accommodations for employees who are visually impaired, allowing them to access computers and other systems in the workplace with ease. Popular examples of assistive technology include:
· Digital recorders
· Screen reading software
· Refreshable braille displays
· Braille embossers
· Telephones with large print keypads and Braille Keypads
Accessible website: Employee portals, message boards and other sites should be accessible to workers without/low vision. If employees cannot access a website or online system that their job requires to use, they should be able to request that it be made accessible.
Guide dogs: Even in offices with no-pet policies, employees who use guide dogs should be able to request an exception to allow them to bring their dog to work.
Modified training: If the workplace is rolling out a new system or upgrading its computer programs, an all-staff training session may not cover keyboard commands or other details specific to assistive technology users. Employees who are visually impaired should be able to request individualized instruction to allow them to learn these systems properly.
Written materials: Employees with a visual impairment should feel comfortable requesting that all written materials required for their job be available in their preferred accessible format—whether that’s braille, large print or audio.
Provide Braille Signs: The addition of Braille lettering to signs and office equipment like the copy machine allows the employee to be self-sufficient for daily work tasks. Braille signs for various offices, washrooms, lifts etc., empowers people with visual disability to move around with minimal assistance.
Provide Tactile Flooring: Tactile tiles are raised tiles with specific patterns used for providing assistance in navigation for people who are visually impaired. This could be included while designing the flooring of a building during construction.
Flexible schedule: Public transportation or other transit services often dictate commuting schedules for people who are visually impaired. Employees should be able to request modified work schedules allowing them to work the requisite number of hours by staying late or coming in early without facing discipline for tardiness caused by transportation.
Work from home: As long as it doesn’t interfere with productivity, employees who are visually impaired or visually impaired should be able to request a work from home arrangement when their disability makes it difficult for them to travel to the office.
Time off: From time to time, employees who are visually impaired may need to take extended time off either for medical treatment or programs related to their disability (e.g. guide dog training). They should be able to request unpaid time off for these events, even if they don’t have the accrued time to accommodate it.
Transportation and assistance costs: If transportation or assistance is required for a visually impaired employee to perform the essential functions of their job, they should be able to ask for a driver or reimbursement for the cost of transportation/services. These should be integrated into the overall travel policy.
Meeting management: Make sure that every individual introduces him/ herself in a meeting so that a person with a visual disability will get to know who is in the attendance and where exactly each and every person is sitting. If someone has to leave the room mid-meeting, acknowledge this with a brief mention so that everybody understands who is still present.
Sensitisation: Train managers, team peers and other employees on best practices for approaching their co-workers with visual impairment. It’s important that employees realize the disability does not define their co-worker. Their co-worker was hired on the merits of his/her skills, so there should be no question of their ability to perform the assigned job.
Increasing chances of getting hired
The reality is that we live in a sighted world, and stereotypes pervade the workplace. People without sight should bring their adaptive equipment along to interviews to demonstrate how they would complete required tasks to give the hiring manager the insight he needs to make a decision.
Visually impaired job applicants should network in their community and get to know people in their line of work. When they know of a visually impaired person doing a job similar to the one they are applying for, they should get advice from him and obtain a reference if possible. Telling a hiring manager about another visually impaired person in a similar role can help land the job.
It’s always best to ask a new employee for help with any necessary accommodations. It will help understand their needs better and make them feel welcomed by the organization. Finally, no one should hesitate to call out if he or she believes discrimination took place.
Educating ourselves on the truth about disabilities is the best way to eliminate outdated stereotypes. It will take time to change the collective consciousness of society and root out wrongful discrimination against people with disabilities. However, people can help by educating themselves about issues facing visually impaired people today, discouraging outdated stereotypes, and working to encourage inclusivity in their workplaces.