Are you or someone you know experiencing vision loss? Here are steps you can take to address this change in your life:
See a Doctor
First, you should 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.
Contact Your Local Vocational Rehabilitation Agency
If you have vision loss that can’t be corrected with glasses or contact lenses (for example, you are no longer eligible for a driver’s license in your state), get in touch with your local vocational rehabilitation (VR) agency. VR is a federal/state program that helps people who are blind or have low vision (B/LV) find and keep a job. Eligibility requirements vary, but if you are legally blind, you will qualify for services in any state.
If you qualify for VR services, you will work with a VR counselor who will 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 keep a job, and they can help you get skills, training, or technology you need.
If you are not interested in working and are 55 or older, you may qualify for your state’s Older Individuals who are Blind program, which provides independent living services.
Ask your VR or OIB 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 transit or a white cane, that will allow you to move around independently and with confidence.
- Vision rehabilitation therapy: A vision rehabilitation therapist can teach you skills to increase your independence in everyday activities, like tasks around the home and activities you enjoy.
- Low vision services: These services can help you make use of any remaining functional vision.
- Assistive technology training: This training can help you use a computer and smartphone and introduce you to other technology that can help you in everyday life.
Take Steps to Keep Your Current Job
Don’t assume that your career is over or that you must quit your job. There are steps you can take to stay on the job and get what you need to be productive at work. As you walk through this process, your VR counselor can be a helpful ally.
Step 1: Research What You Need to Keep Working
Some job accommodations are simple. You may just need more light, or a different kind of light. Maybe you can reduce glare from a window with a curtain. But some people may need more. There are many products that can help B/LV people do workplace tasks.
Try talking about your needs with someone who knows a lot about accommodations for B/LV people. If you have a VR counselor, start with them. Many VR programs also have assistive technology specialists who can help you figure out your needs. Other B/LV individuals or a private agency serving people who are B/LV are other good resources.
To decide which devices you need, list work tasks that are hard for you to do and think about what would make them easier. For example, if you need to read a spreadsheet with small print, you might need larger print or a software program that can read the spreadsheet out loud to you. A bigger computer monitor might do what you need, but you may also need a computer access program that creates large print or speech output.
Step 2: Disclose Your Vision Loss
Before you can ask your employer for an accommodation, you need to make it clear why you need one. 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 vision loss may cause you to work more slowly, and your boss may think you are unable to do your job. Knowing about your vision loss can help clear up things. However, if you wait too long to disclose your disability and struggle in your job, your boss may no longer think you are a good employee, making them less willing to help you stay on the job. Having an honest talk with your boss is a good place to start.
Step 3: Ask Your Employer for Accommodations
You can ask for accommodations at different times: when you apply for a job, if your job tasks 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 hard, ask for the accommodations you need to succeed.
Your relationship with your boss can impact his or her response to your request. Aim to have a good understanding of what you need and how it will help you do your job. Try to keep an optimistic, respectful attitude when you ask 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 an 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 boss from forgetting or ignoring your request. Clearly explain how the accommodations you have requested will make you a better employee. Some other things you may want to include in your request are:
- A description of tasks you have a hard time doing
- The devices that could help you do these tasks more easily
- 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, if it does not place an undue hardship on the business. This right to accommodation is for both the hiring process and employment and must be related to your disability.
Step 4: Get Training
If you are experiencing vision loss for the first time, adjustment training can help you learn skills to cope with your vision loss. 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 training. Sometimes the best way to get the skills you need is to attend a residential program outside your local area.
Training can last from a few weeks to a year. The length of time you will need depends on the severity of your vision loss, the skills you need to learn, and the approach of the program. During your training, you will also get an evaluation of your needs and learn how to use 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).
If You Prefer, Plan to Find a New Job
If you would like to look for a new job, our Finding a Job webpage has research-based tips and resources to make your job search a success.
Build a Support System
Look for places where you can talk about the stresses of vision loss. An Employee Assistance Program at your job, a religious leader, or a counselor can help you process your changing situation.
Find a friend who can listen and give you honest feedback as you work on each of the steps described above. A new disability is stressful. Role-playing and talking through your approach to workplace accommodations will help you tackle the process with confidence.
Connect with other B/LV people. Join a support group for people with B/LV. Support groups may be run by VR; a private program; or a group of B/LV persons, like the American Council of the Blind or the National Federation of the Blind. These groups also have divisions for workers of all types, including teachers, lawyers, journalists, writers, entrepreneurs, and social workers. Your VR agency can help you find the support network that is right for you.
Remember: You are Valuable
People with B/LV have productive, satisfying lives and many hold careers in a wide variety of fields. You are a valuable member of society!
The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) is a free service of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy. Over the years, JAN consultants have developed practical ideas to help employees understand the ADA and request and negotiate reasonable accommodations in the workplace.
Every job seeker with a disability is faced with the same decision: "Should I or shouldn't I disclose my disability?" This decision may be framed differently depending upon whether you have a visible disability or a non-visible disability. Ultimately, the decision of whether to disclose is entirely up to you. The Office of Disability Employment Policy has information to help you make this decision.