Experiencing Vision Loss?
Are you or someone you know experiencing signs of vision loss? Here are some steps you can take to address this change in your life:
1. The first thing you should do is see your eye doctor as soon as possible. If you do not have an eye doctor, this is a good time to choose one, either an optometrist or an ophthalmologist. Some communities have vision clinics or vision centers, so that may be a good place to start. If you do not know how to find an eye doctor, start by asking your primary care physician for a recommendation or a referral to someone who can see you right away . Most importantly, do not delay. Do not take vision change for granted. Early detection can make a big difference.
2. 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 with an eligibility exam.
3. 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 the skills, training, or technology you may need to be a productive employee.
4. Ask your VR counselor about the types of assistance you may qualify for:
- Orientation and Mobility (O&M) training : An O&M specialist can help you adjust to moving through your community. They can teach you skills such as using public transportation or using 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, including communication skills, home management skills, and personal management skills.
- Low Vision Services : These services can assist you in enhancing your functional vision as much as possible.
5. Keep in mind that many individuals with blindness and low vision maintain productive, satisfying lives and hold careers in a wide variety of fields. You are still a valuable member of society! This guide introduces you to services, resources, and tools that can help you maintain or gain employment.
Tips for Requesting Workplace Accommodations
Are you or someone you know experiencing vision loss? While this process can be filled with uncertainties, don’t assume that your career is over, or that you have to quit your job. Here are some tips for approaching the organization you work for about your vision loss and what you need to remain a productive member of the team.
Vision loss can take on many different forms. If you are experiencing any loss of vision that is interfering with your performance on the job, you should first visit an eye doctor to determine the nature of your difficulty. Some eye conditions can be treated or completely resolved. If vision loss persists, the following strategies can help you maintain your place in the workforce.
Whether you have just begun to experience vision loss, or job changes have made it difficult for you to do your job because of an existing vision impairment, you might consider getting some help. VR is a federal/state program designed to assist people who are blind or visually impaired obtain and maintain employment. Visual eligibility requirements vary from state to state, but if you are legally blind you will qualify for services in any state.
VR can provide a variety of services free of cost, including counseling, assistance with assistive technology, and training in areas such as travelling safely and communication. They can also teach you a variety of skills that will help you live independently with vision loss. You can begin a relationship with VR at any point in your vision loss process, but involving VR early on will ensure that you have support when you need it.
After reaching out to your local VR agency, you will be assigned to a VR counselor. This VR counselor can advise you about the next steps to take. In many cases, they can pay for technology assessments or evaluations which can help you discover the specific devices that will help you do your work and stay on the job. In addition, they can:
- Work with you and your employer to develop a plan to acquire the workplace accommodations you require
- Provide financial assistance to purchase items you need to make your workplace accessible
- Provide you with training on how to use assistive technology devices
- Assist you in deciding whether to stay in your current position or move to a related or different career area
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 choose to disclose your disability. This is very important if you are currently employed. For example, your employer may not realize that you are suddenly slower because you are having difficulty seeing, and may think instead that you are losing your edge or ability to do the job. Knowing you have a visual impairment provides clarification, and if you have been a valuable employee, they may want to do whatever it takes to keep you on the job. However, if you wait too long to disclose your disability and have difficulty performing on the job, they may no longer consider you a valuable employee, making them less willing to assist you in maintaining employment. Having an open, honest discussion with your supervisor is a good place to start.
Some accommodations are very 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 on the market that can help people who are visually impaired complete tasks at work.
In order to decide which devices you might need, make a list of work tasks that are difficult for you to accomplish, and consider the features you need a device to have. For example, if you have to read a spreadsheet, but the print is too small, you might want larger print, or you might want a program that can read the spreadsheet out loud to you. You may find that a larger monitor will do what you need, but you may also need a computer access program that creates either large print or speech output.
It is helpful to discuss your needs with someone who has knowledge of and experience with accommodations for people who are blind or visually impaired. Many VR programs have an assistive technology program to help you determine your needs. Other resources might include other individuals with vision loss, your VR counselor, or a private agency serving people who are blind.
People can ask for accommodations in many stages of the employment process: when they are applying for a job, when the job requirements change, when the environment changes, when they acquire a new disability, or when they have a change in their disability. It is important that you be able to perform the essential functions of your job. If your vision makes that difficult, then you need to ask for an accommodation that allows you to be successful.
Your relationship with your employer will often impact their 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 have completed your research and know which products or accommodations you need, put your request in writing. You can do this with the assistance of your VR counselor, or if you are comfortable, on your own. A written request is required by many larger companies and sometimes requires a doctor’s signature to verify that there is a medical need for accommodation. Keep in mind that while your doctor can document the existence of a disability, he or she is unlikely to know the best accommodations to 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 device(s) you’ve requested will make you a better employee. Some things you may want to include in your request:
- A description of tasks you have difficulty completing
- The device, or class of devices, which could help you more efficiently complete these tasks
- A product description with price comparisons for similar devices
If an employer has more than 15 employees, he/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 proper adaptive skills to overcome a visual impairment. This training can be completed in a variety of ways. An instructor can come to your home or worksite on a weekly or monthly basis, or you can travel to a center-based program. Depending upon the severity of your vision loss, and your home and work circumstances, you may want to attend a rehabilitation training center for intensive adjustment training. Training may 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.
Programs vary widely on how they approach this training, and you should be aware that you have choices. Sometimes the best way to get the skills you need may require going to a residential program not in your local area. Adjustment training is another way to get an evaluation of your needs and receive training on assistive technology. See if your employer will hold your position open for you, and for how long. Can you take a leave of absence? You may be covered under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) for leave without pay and continuation of medical benefits for up to a year.
- Find a friend or confidant who can listen and give you honest feedback about how you plan to complete each of these steps. A newly acquired disability is stressful, and role-playing and discussing your approach to each step of the workplace accommodation process will help you be prepared to discuss your needs with confidence. It’s important that you can discuss your needs calmly and clearly, since you don’t want your employer to think you are unstable or making excuses.
- 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.
- Make sure you have 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 counselor to help you keep the situation in perspective.
- Connect with other people with vision loss through a support group. Support groups may be run by VR, a private program serving people who are blind, or by a group of persons who are blind themselves, such as the American Council of the Blind or the National Federation of the Blind. These consumer groups have special divisions for professionals and business people of all types, including teachers, lawyers, journalists, writers, entrepreneurs, and social workers. You can also meet fellow visually impaired professionals through an online program such as Career Connect, which links seasoned professionals who are blind with persons who are seeking information about how an individual with blindness or low vision can perform in that career. Working with your local VR agency can also be a valuable part of finding a support network.