Are you or someone you know experiencing vision loss? Here are some steps you can take to address this change:
Step 1: See a Doctor
The first thing you should do is see an eye doctor as soon as possible. If you do not have an eye doctor, look for either an optometrist or an ophthalmologist. Vision clinics or vision centers are good places to start. If you do not know how to find an eye doctor, ask your primary care doctor for a recommendation. Most importantly, do not delay. Do not take vision change for granted. Early detection can make a big difference.
Step 2: Contact Local Vocational Rehabilitation Agency
If you have significant vision loss (for example, you are no longer eligible for a driver’s license in your state) that cannot be corrected with glasses or contact lenses, get in touch with your local vocational rehabilitation (VR) agency. If you cannot afford to go to the doctor, VR may be able to help you.
Step 3: Do You Qualify for VR Services?
If you qualify for VR services, you will be assigned a VR counselor who will personally manage your case. VR programs can connect you with resources to help you adapt to your change in vision. Your counselor will work with you to either find or maintain employment, and they can help you obtain any skills, training, or technology you need to be a productive employee.
Ask your VR counselor if you qualify for any of the following services:
- Orientation and mobility (O&M) training: An O&M specialist can help you adjust to moving through your community following vision loss. They can teach you skills, like using public transportation or a white cane, that will allow you to navigate the world independently and with confidence.
- Vision rehabilitation therapy: A vision rehabilitation therapist can teach you skills to help you function with independence and dignity in areas such as communication, home management, and personal management.
- Low vision services: These services can help you enhance the use of your functional vision.
Step 4: Keep Your Job or Find a New One
If you wish to keep your current job or find a new one, our guide to employment introduces you to many helpful services, resources, and tools.
Remember that many B/LV people have productive, satisfying lives and hold careers in a wide variety of fields. You are a valuable member of society!
Are you experiencing blindness or low vision (B/LV)? Don’t assume that your career is over or that you have to quit your job! Here are some tips for discussing your B/LV with your employer and obtaining what you need to remain productive at work.
Understand Your Visual Impairment
Vision loss takes many different forms. If you are experiencing any loss of vision that interferes with your job performance, it is a good idea to visit an eye doctor to better understand what is happening. Some eye conditions can be treated or cured. If vision loss persists, the following strategies can help you keep working.
Connect with Your Local Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) Agency
If you have just begun to experience vision loss, or if it has become difficult for you to do your job because of existing B/LV, consider getting help. VR is a federal/state program that helps B/LV people find and keep employment. Eligibility requirements vary, but if you are legally blind you will qualify for services in any state.
VR can provide many services for free, including counseling, help with assistive technology, and training in areas like safe travel and communication. They can also teach you skills to help you live independently. You reach out to VR at any point in your vision loss process, but involving VR early on will ensure you have support when you need it.
After contacting your local VR agency, you will be assigned a counselor who will advise you. In many cases, they can pay for technology evaluations to help you find devices that will help you do your work and stay on the job. Your VR counselor can also:
- Work with you and your employer to make a plan to acquire the workplace accommodations you need
- Provide financial help to buy items you need to make your workplace accessible
- Provide you with training on how to use assistive technology devices
- Help you decide whether to stay in your current job or move to a different one
Disclose Your Disability
Before you can ask your employer for an accommodation, you need to establish why you need an accommodation in the first place. In other words, you need to disclose your disability. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects you from discrimination if you disclose your disability. This is very important if you are currently employed.
For example, your employer may not realize you are working more slowly due to B/LV. Instead, he or she may think you are losing your ability to do the job. Knowing you have a visual impairment provides clarification, and if you have been a valuable employee, your employer may want to help you stay on the job. However, if you wait too long to disclose your disability and struggle to perform your job, your employer may no longer consider you a valuable employee, making them less willing to help you stay on the job. Having an open, honest discussion with your supervisor is a good place to start.
Research What You Need to Keep Working
Some job accommodations are simple. You may just need more light, or a different kind of light, or you may need to reduce the glare from a window with a curtain. But sometimes you need something more. There are many products that can help B/LV people complete tasks at work.
In order to decide which devices you might need, make a list of work tasks that are hard for you to complete and think about what would make those tasks easier. For example, if you need to read a spreadsheet with small print, you might want larger print or a software program that can read the spreadsheet out loud to you. You may find that a larger computer monitor will do what you need, but you may also need a computer access program that creates large print or speech output.
It is helpful to talk about your needs with someone who has experience with accommodations for B/LV people. Many VR programs have an assistive technology program to help you determine your needs. Other resources might include other B/LV individuals, your VR counselor, or a private agency serving people who are B/LV.
Ask Your Employer for Accommodations
You can ask for accommodations in different stages of employment: when you apply for a job, if your job requirements change, if the job environment changes, if you acquire a new disability, or if your disability changes. It is important for you to be able to perform the essential functions of your job. If your vision makes that difficult, ask for the accommodations you need to be successful.
Your relationship with your employer can impact his or her response to your request. In addition to being knowledgeable and well-informed, it is important to have an upbeat, optimistic, and respectful attitude when asking for an accommodation.
Once you know which accommodations you need, put your request in writing. Your VR counselor can help you write your request if you wish. Many companies require requests for accommodations to be in writing, and they sometimes also require a doctor’s signature to verify you have a medical need for accommodation. Keep in mind that while your doctor can document your disability, he or she is unlikely to know which accommodations will help you on the job (your VR counselor can help you with that).
Putting your request in writing will give you a record of the request and will prevent your supervisor from forgetting or ignoring your request. Explain clearly why and how the accommodations you have requested will make you a better employee. Some other things you may want to include in your request include:
- A description of tasks you have difficulty completing
- The devices that could help you more effectively complete these tasks
- A product description with price comparisons for similar devices
If your employer has more than 15 employees, he or she can be required by law to provide you with a reasonable accommodation, provided it does not place an undue hardship on the business. This right to accommodation applies to all phases of the hiring and employment process and must be related to your disability.
If you are experiencing vision loss for the first time, consider participating in adjustment training to learn adaptive skills to cope with your visual impairment. This training can be done at your home or worksite with an instructor who visits on a weekly or monthly basis. Another option is to travel to a center-based program for intensive training. Sometimes the best way to get the skills you need is to attend a residential program outside your local area.
Training can last anywhere from a few weeks to a year. The length of time you’ll need depends on the severity of your vision loss, the skills you need to learn, and the philosophy of the program you participate in. During your training, you will also get an evaluation of your needs and receive instruction on assistive technology.
If you decide to attend residential training, see if your employer will hold your job open for you, and for how long. You may be able to take a leave of absence without pay and continuation of medical benefits for up to a year under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).
Other Things to Think About
Find a friend who can listen and give you honest feedback about how you plan to complete each of these steps. A newly acquired disability is stressful. Role-playing and discussing your approach to each step of the workplace accommodation process will help you discuss your needs with confidence.
Look at the situation from your employer’s point of view. They want to make sure the work gets done. Details about your feelings will not be as important to them as learning how you can continue to be a productive member of the team.
Find an outlet for discussing any stress you experience related to your visual impairment. Consider using your organization’s Employee Assistance Program, a religious leader, or a counselor to help you keep the situation in perspective.
Connect with other B/LV people. You may wish to join a support group run by VR, a private program serving people who are B/LV, or a group of B/LV persons, such as the American Council of the Blind or the National Federation of the Blind. These groups also have special divisions for professionals of all types, including teachers, lawyers, journalists, writers, entrepreneurs, and social workers. Your local VR agency can help you find the support network that’s right for you.