Workplace Accommodations for Visually Impaired

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In the pursuit of creating an inclusive and equitable workplace, acknowledging the challenges faced by visually impaired employees is crucial.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) stands as a testament to the commitment towards enabling people with disabilities, including those with visual impairments, to participate fully in all aspects of society, particularly in employment.

However, despite the ADA's provisions, accommodating visually impaired employees in the workplace remains a significant challenge.

The ADA mandates reasonable accommodations to ensure that visually impaired employees have equal opportunities in the workplace. These accommodations are not just legal requirements; they are essential steps toward building a diverse and inclusive work environment.

However, studies, such as those conducted by the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB), indicate that there is still a considerable journey ahead. These studies reveal that many visually impaired individuals continue to face barriers in employment and accessibility, highlighting the need for ongoing efforts to bridge these gaps.

It's clear that while progress has been made, much work remains. Employers must continue exploring and implementing effective strategies to accommodate visually impaired employees, fulfilling the ADA's promise and moving towards a truly inclusive workplace.

In this blog, we provide recommendations and suggestions for both employers and employees on visual impairment accommodations, specifically in the area of employment. 

What are reasonable modifications for visually impaired employees?

Understanding the difference between accommodations and modifications is vital when considering support for visually impaired employees in the workplace. While both aim to facilitate accessibility and inclusivity, they serve distinct purposes.

Accommodations are adjustments or changes to the work environment, enabling an employee with a disability to perform the duties of a job. Modifications, on the other hand, involve altering the job responsibilities or the way a job is performed.

In discussing reasonable accommodation for visually impaired employees, we emphasize the importance of personalized solutions that cater to individual needs.

At Hable One, we advocate primarily for accommodations, as they typically allow visually impaired employees to perform their jobs effectively without altering the core responsibilities.

However, in some scenarios, modifications become necessary when accommodating a specific task is not feasible. Modifications should be seen as a secondary option, ensuring that the employee can still contribute meaningfully to the workplace.

Key modifications that can be considered include:

  1. Job Description Revisions: Sometimes, it might be necessary to remove certain parts of a job description, allowing these tasks to be handled by other employees. This step is taken when making a particular task accessible is not possible.
  1. Assistance from Colleagues: For specific tasks, the help of co-workers can be a practical solution. This collaborative approach allows for the completion of tasks that might be challenging for a visually impaired employee.
  1. Alternative Software Systems: In some instances, employees might need to work in separate software systems designed for accessibility, which are later translated into the organization's primary software systems. While not ideal, this method ensures that employees can still perform their duties effectively.
Visually impaired woman talking to a business man

Providing reasonable accommodation for visually impaired individuals is a key aspect of these modifications, ensuring they can fulfill their job roles effectively.

It is crucial to note that these modifications should be tailored to the individual’s needs, taking into account the unique aspects of their visual impairment and the specific requirements of their role.

Implementing these modifications, alongside reasonable accommodations, not only aligns with the ADA's directives but also reinforces the commitment to an inclusive and supportive workplace for all employees, including those with visual impairments.

Our recommendations for visual impairment accommodations go beyond basic compliance, offering innovative and practical solutions for everyday challenges in the workplace.

How do you accommodate a workspace for visual impairment?

Creating an accessible and accommodating workspace for visually impaired employees involves a multifaceted approach.

It's essential to consider general accommodations that can significantly enhance their work experience, alongside specific adaptations for those with low vision or blindness, which we will detail in subsequent subchapters.

Incorporating these general accommodations not only aligns with the principles of the Americans with Disabilities Act but also reflects a commitment to inclusivity in the workplace. Some key general accommodations include:

  1. Work from Home Option: Providing the flexibility to work from home can be a significant accommodation, offering visually impaired employees the comfort and familiarity of their own space, where they may have personalized accessibility setups.
  1. Modification of Employment Tests: Adjusting employment tests to be accessible for visually impaired candidates ensures a fair assessment of their skills and capabilities.
  1. Flexible Schedule: Allowing for flexible working hours accommodates unique needs such as transportation challenges or medical appointments.
  1. Transportation Cost Assistance: Offering support with transportation costs can be a crucial aid for visually impaired employees, making commuting more feasible and less burdensome.
  1. Assistive Technology: Implementing assistive technologies is vital and will be specified in the following chapters. This includes software and hardware adaptations that enable efficient and effective work. These visually impaired accommodations, including assistive technology and adaptable workspaces, are crucial for an inclusive environment.
  1. Accessible Internal Software Systems: Ensuring that all internal systems, from ERP to CRM, are accessible is critical. This means these systems are compatible with assistive technologies like screen readers and Braille displays.
  1. Guide Dog & Wheelchair Friendly Offices: Accommodating guide dogs and ensuring the office is wheelchair accessible are essential aspects of creating an inclusive environment.
man and a guide dog.

These general accommodations serve as the foundation for creating a supportive workspace.

They demonstrate a proactive approach to addressing the diverse needs of visually impaired employees, setting the stage for more specific accommodations that cater to individuals with low vision and blindness, as we will explore in the next sections.

It's important for employers to stay informed about the latest in visual impairment accommodations to ensure their workplace remains accessible and inclusive. To further understand the impact of workplace accommodations for visually impaired individuals, we will delve into specific case studies in future articles.

Accommodations for visually impaired employees

For employees with visual impairments, specific workplace accommodations can significantly improve their work experience and productivity.

These accommodations are designed to address the unique challenges faced by visually impaired individuals, ensuring they have equal access to workplace opportunities and can perform their job roles effectively.

Key accommodations include:

  1. CCTVs and Other Assistive Devices: Closed-circuit televisions (CCTVs) and similar assistive devices are instrumental in magnifying written materials and objects, making them more accessible for visually impaired employees. Implementing these visually impaired accommodations effectively can significantly enhance workplace productivity and accessibility.
  1. Enhancement Software or Enlarged Print: Software that enhances visual output, along with providing documents in enlarged print, are essential accommodations. This aids in reading and comprehension, catering to the varying degrees of visual impairment.
  1. Adjusted Lighting and Seating: Customizing the workspace with optimal lighting and strategic seating arrangements can greatly reduce glare and eye strain, accommodating the specific visual needs of each employee.

Accommodations for blind employees

Accommodating blind employees in the workplace involves providing specialized tools and services that cater to their specific needs. These accommodations are crucial for enabling blind individuals to perform their job roles effectively and independently.

Essential accommodations include:

  1. Braille Devices: Devices such as Braille displays and Braille embossers are indispensable for blind employees. They allow for the conversion of digital text into Braille, enabling effective communication and information access. One of the more affordable and easy-to-implement Braille devices would be the Hable One. This tiny Braille device makes using the phone or tablet easier for any individual with blindness. These blind accommodations are essential for creating an equitable workspace where blind employees can thrive
  1. Orientation and Mobility Training: This training is vital for blind employees to navigate the workplace safely and confidently. It includes skills for moving through both familiar and unfamiliar environments.
  1. Aira Service: Aira offers a unique service where blind individuals can receive real-time assistance from trained professionals through a mobile app. This service can be invaluable in a workplace setting, providing immediate support for various tasks and challenges. Such blind accommodations, including Aira and Braille devices, are crucial in supporting the independence and productivity of blind employees.

By focusing on effective blind accommodations, we ensure that our workplace is truly accessible and inclusive for all employees, regardless of their visual abilities.

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Additional steps you can take

Beyond the specific accommodations for visually impaired and blind employees, there are additional, proactive steps that organizations can take to foster a more inclusive and supportive workplace.

These steps are not only about meeting legal requirements under the Americans with Disabilities Act but also about nurturing an environment where every employee, regardless of their visual abilities, feels valued and supported.

  1. Internal Education for Other Employees: Conducting workshops and training sessions to educate staff about visual impairments is crucial. This education aims to remove biases and misconceptions, promoting an inclusive culture. It's important to highlight the capabilities and contributions of visually impaired and blind employees, rather than focusing solely on their limitations. In addition to education, implementing specific visually impaired accommodations tailored to individual needs is a key component of our commitment to inclusivity.
  1. Customization Per Employee: Accommodations should be tailored to meet the specific needs of each employee. This approach recognizes that visual impairment encompasses a spectrum of conditions, each requiring a unique set of accommodations. Regular check-ins with employees can ensure that their needs are being met and adjustments are made as required. Ensuring reasonable accommodation for visually impaired employees is a continuous process that requires regular updates and adaptations to their evolving needs.
  1. Dedicated HR Focus on Accessibility: Allocating resources within the HR department specifically for accessibility ensures ongoing attention to these needs. HR personnel focused on accessibility can stay abreast of the latest developments in assistive technologies and best practices in workplace accommodation. They can also serve as a point of contact for visually impaired and blind employees, ensuring their concerns and suggestions are heard and addressed.

By taking these steps, organizations can go beyond mere compliance with the ADA. This additionally benefits the overall workplace environment, fostering a sense of community and empathy among all staff members.

Interesting Facts & Estimates

From the American Foundation for the Blind’s Workplace Technology Study, we uncover some intriguing insights into the challenges and accommodations in the workplace for people with visual impairments:

  1. Accessibility Challenges During Hiring and Onboarding: A significant portion of participants faced difficulties with accessibility during the hiring process and onboarding. About one-third reported issues with automated tests or screenings during hiring, and over half encountered obstacles with onboarding forms, both paper and electronic.
  1. Impact on Productivity and Inclusion: Approximately 25% of participants in the study could not fully access jobs-required training, adversely affecting their productivity and sense of inclusion in the workplace.

Additionally, the study highlighted the importance of accommodating technology in the workplace for visually impaired employees:

  1. Technology Usage and Accessibility Challenges: Participants reported using a range of mainstream and assistive technologies for their job responsibilities. However, they also faced accessibility challenges with common tools like video conferencing and instant messaging, impacting their work efficiency.
  1. Accommodations Request Process: While a majority found the process of requesting accommodations relatively straightforward, a significant minority still experienced difficulties, indicating variability in the ease of accessing necessary workplace adjustments.

These findings from the AFB study reveal the critical need for more accessible workplace practices and a better understanding of technology-related challenges faced by employees with visual impairments.

magnifier device

FAQ

Can an employer refuse reasonable adjustments? 

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities, including visual impairments, unless doing so would cause undue hardship to the business. Refusal without this justification may be considered discrimination.

Which techniques and methods are used? 

Techniques and methods for accommodating visually impaired employees include the use of assistive technology (like screen readers and Braille devices), modifying work schedules, adapting workspaces for accessibility, and providing orientation and mobility training.

What is the employer’s duty to make reasonable adjustments?

Employers are obligated to make reasonable adjustments to accommodate employees with disabilities. This includes modifying work environments and practices, providing necessary equipment or technology, and ensuring accessibility in all aspects of employment.

How can visually impaired employees contribute effectively in the workplace?

Visually impaired employees can contribute effectively through their unique skills and perspectives. With appropriate accommodations like assistive technology and an inclusive work culture, they can perform their job duties efficiently and innovatively.

What are common misconceptions about employing visually impaired individuals?

Common misconceptions include the belief that visually impaired individuals are less productive or require expensive accommodations. In reality, many visually impaired employees are highly skilled and can work effectively with reasonable and often low-cost accommodations.

In conclusion, accommodating visually impaired employees in the workplace is a collaborative and ongoing process, involving not just the individual and HR, but the entire organization.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution; accommodations must be personalized and flexible to effectively support each employee's unique needs. Awareness and understanding of these needs are the first crucial steps.

We hope this article has provided valuable insights and guidance. If you like it don't forget to share it and if you also have further questions or need specific advice, our team of experts at Hable One is ready to assist and support you on this journey to an inclusive workplace.

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Freek van Welsenis
CEO | Co-Founder

Hable comes from a personal inspiration. With siblings with a disability and my parents working in this space, this is my area of interest. I have a huge passion for applying tech so people with disabilities can participate.

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