More On Employment

For people who are blind or have low vision, finding and maintaining employment can be a major challenge. Research from the NRTC provides guidance on how service providers can help people with blindness or low vision find and maintain employment, including strategies to use when meeting with potential employers and insight into what employers think about hiring people with blindness or low vision. Our research also touches on employment for particular groups of individuals, such as those with traumatic brain injuries and those who are SSDI recipients. Our research can also inform strategies to help currently employed workers who are blind or have low vision keep and advance in their careers.

Follow the links below to find article summaries and other free resources about employment for people who are blind or have low vision.

Employment Resources

Practice Guide: Working with Businesses to Improve Employment Outcomes

A recent five-year research project consisting of four separate studies focused on how vocational rehabilitation (VR) agencies and their staff interact with businesses and how these interactions impact consumer employment outcomes. This evidence-based practice guide presents key findings from these studies and recommendations for working with businesses.

Practice Guide: Recommendations for VR Professionals Regarding a First Meeting with an Employer

This practice guide summarizes the findings of a research study about the impact of a first meeting between a VR professional and an employer and provides recommendations based on the study’s results.

Understanding Employer Knowledge and Attitudes

We’ve all heard that employer attitudes are one of the biggest barriers to employment for people who are blind or have low vision. But how much do we really know about what employers think and understand about how blind people can perform jobs? Learn about a survey we conducted with 197 employers across four states to find out what they know and think about blind people as employees. 

Latest Article Summary

Comorbid Traumatic Brain Injury and Low Vision: Vocational Rehabilitation Service Provision and Agency-Level Outcomes

Research Takeaway: Some people with a traumatic brain injury (TBI) also experience low vision (LV). We wanted to know how many consumers with both TBI and VI are served by vocational rehabilitation (VR) agencies, how agencies provide services to these consumers, and how likely consumers are to find employment.

What Were We Trying to Learn?

A TBI is an injury to the head that damages the brain. People who experience a TBI may also experience some level of VI, and some people with a pre-existing VI experience a TBI. Rehabilitation can be hard for these individuals due to issues like short-term memory loss or physical limitations.

Almost no research exists on the experiences and outcomes of VR consumers with combined TBI and VI. This study looked at how many consumers with combined TBI and VI are served by VR agencies, how agencies provide services to them, and their employment outcomes. We wanted to know if any VR agency service-provision factors are linked to the number of consumers with combined TBI and VI served and their employment outcomes.

What Are the Most Important Things We Learned?

Most VR agencies serve very few people with combined TBI and VI. The average percentage of consumers with combined TBI and VI served by an agency was just 2%. The average employment rate for these consumers was 43%. The proportion of consumers with combined TBI and VI who were served and their competitive employment rates varied a lot by agency.

When working with consumers with combined TBI and VI, VR agencies reported using the following strategies:

  • Collaboration between counselors: Administrators at 45% of agencies said they used either between-agency or within-agency collaboration to serve consumers with combined TBI and VI. Separate agencies for the blind collaborated with their state’s general VR agency. Combined agencies that serve all disability types used within-agency collaboration. In both types of collaboration, a counselor with expertise in TBI and one with expertise in VI worked together to provide services.
  • Involvement of external organizations: Use of external organizations, like hospitals or rehabilitation centers, was reported by 45% of VR agencies. Some VR agencies used these outside organizations as vendors or contractors, while other agencies reported a deeper level of partnership with outside groups to help them serve consumers with TBI and VI.
  • Specialized TBI units or caseloads: Some combined agencies (18%) said their agencies had specialized TBI units, programs, or service providers. In some agencies, these personnel worked directly with consumers. In others, they served as resources for direct-service staff.
  • Staff training in TBI: Twelve percent of administrators said that staff members who served consumers with VI also received training about TBI.
  • Personnel with experience in both TBI and VI: Just 6% of administrators (representing three agencies) reported having a person on staff with expertise in both TBI and VI.

Over one-third of VR agency administrators (35%) said they did not do anything special or different to serve consumers with combined TBI and VI. No agencies reported having a unique service-delivery program to serve this population.

Only one service approach was linked to both serving more consumers with combined TBI and VI and better employment outcomes for these individuals. Employing staff with dual expertise in TBI and VI was associated with serving more of these consumers and closing a higher percentage of them as competitively employed.

How Do These Findings Relate to Me?

  1. Provide more training for VR counselors about combined TBI and VI. All counselors and staff who work with consumers with VI can benefit from TBI-related training and certification. Certifications are offered by the Brain Injury Association of America and the Academy of Certified Brain Injury Specialists. In addition, the National Technical Assistance Center on Blindness and Low Vision offers a free, online continuing education course about combined TBI and VI.
  2. Seek out staff with expertise in both TBI and VI. Employing staff with this dual expertise was linked to serving more consumers with combined TBI and VI and with better employment outcomes for these consumers. Staff with dual expertise may better understand the needs of this population and encourage the appropriate provision of services.
  3. Plan for the unique challenges of serving consumers with combined TBI and VI. More than a third of agencies reported that service provision for this population was the same as service provision for all other consumers with VI. However, TBI can require specialized intervention, and VR agencies should have a plan for serving these unique consumers.

How Was This Project Carried Out?

We analyzed data on 914 consumers with combined TBI and VI from the Rehabilitation Services Administration Case Service Report (RSA-911) from fiscal years 2013-2015.

We also interviewed administrators at 51 VR agencies, representing all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. Twenty-seven of these states had one VR agency that served all consumers with disabilities (combined), while 24 had two VR agencies, one for consumers who are blind (separate) and one for consumers with all other disabilities (general).

Learn More

Findings taken from the following article: McDonnall, M. C., Cmar, J. L., & Lund, E. M. (In press). Comorbid traumatic brain injury and visual impairment: Vocational rehabilitation service provision and agency-level outcomesJournal of Visual Impairment & Blindness116(1), 6-17.

For more information about this project, visit the project overview page: Exploration of Secondary Data to Increase Our Knowledge About Subpopulations of Individuals who are Blind or Visually Impaired and WIOA Impac

Employment Article Summaries

Our article summaries are downloadable PDFs that describe findings from NRTC research in clear language using a simple format that makes it easy to view practical takeaways at a glance. Other resources include a guide to accessible office technology and resources for using mentors to help people who are blind or have low vision successfully find and maintain jobs.

Article Summary: Comorbid Traumatic Brain Injury and Visual Impairment: Vocational Rehabilitation Service Provision and Agency-Level Outcomes

Research Takeaway: Some people with a traumatic brain injury (TBI) also experience low vision(LV). We wanted to know how many consumers with both TBI and VI are served by VR agencies, how agencies provide services to these consumers, and how likely consumers are to find employment.

Article Summary: Losing Employment: At-Risk Employed Vocational Rehabilitation Applicants With Vision Loss

Research Takeaway: Many applicants for VR services who are blind or have low vision are already employed. Our study explored the risk factors that make these consumers more likely to lose their jobs.

Article Summary: How Do VR Services Received by Consumers who are SSDI Recipients Impact Their Employment Outcomes?

Research Takeaway: The VR services received by SSDI recipients who are blind or have low vision can have a significant impact on the likelihood that these individuals will secure competitive employment. Receipt of some VR services increases the odds of finding employment, while others are associated with decreased odds. The services needed and received by an individual may serve as a signal to their VR counselors about where they are in the process of becoming job-ready and the level of effort that may be required to help that consumer successfully re-enter the workforce.

Article Summary: Study of Employment Outcomes for SSDI Beneficiaries

Employment outcomes were similar across all races and ethnicities for individuals with blindness or low vision who also receive Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits. This suggests that prior work experience (which an individual must have in order to receive SSDI benefits) has a positive influence on the chances of getting a job. In addition, some individuals from specific groups were more likely to have competitive employment outcomes when they were served by a blind (rather than a combined) Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) agency. Thus, services oriented specifically for consumers who are blind or visually impaired seem to be most effective for this population.

Article Summary: Exploring the Most Effective Strategies for Working with Employers to Improve Employment for Consumers with Blindness and Low Vision

The way Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) counselors and business relations (BR) staff interact with employers matters. Employment outcomes for individuals who are blind or visually impaired (BVI) are improved when VR counselors treat employers like customers and when BR staff use blindness-specific techniques when working with employers.

Article Summary: The Impact of a Brief Meeting on Employer Attitudes, Knowledge, and Intent to Hire

Meetings between employers and vocational rehabilitation (VR) professionals positively impacted employers attitudes toward, knowledge about, and intent to hire people who are blind or visually impaired (B/VI). During these meetings, VR counselors should use the approach that is most comfortable for them.

Article Summary: Improving Employment Outcomes by Connecting with Businesses

Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) agencies are increasingly focused on building and maintaining employer relationships in order to support employment of individuals with disabilities. Employers were surveyed about their interactions with VR and their hiring of people who are blind or visually impaired (BVI). Employers who reported contact with VR agencies were more likely to have hired an individual with BVI and to intend to hire from among this population in the future. These results provide empirical support for the importance of VR professionals making and maintaining relationships with employers.

Additional Resources

Top 10 Features of an Accessible VoIP phone

Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) phones are found in many offices but are often inaccessible to individuals with blindness or low vision (BLV). If you’re assisting a consumer who is BVI to acquire an accessible VoIP system for their office, and want to make sure that it’s fully accessible, here are the top 10 features to keep in mind.

Discernable Physical Keys

Keys on VoIP phones that are uniform in shape and texture and are placed close together can be difficult to use for individuals with BVI. A VoIP phone that has well-spaced, prominent keys that are different shapes and textures can make the interface of a physical VoIP phone accessible. Keys with unique textures or shapes provide a point of orientation and make memorizing key locations easier when navigating a phone by touch.

Accessible Caller ID

Like most physical phones, VoIP phones usually display caller ID on a digital display that is difficult for someone with BVI to use. A VoIP phone that can connect to an external talking caller ID or has some other way of non-visually communicating caller ID can be used successfully by someone with BVI.

Accessible Voicemail Indicator

VoIP phones have visual indicators to alert users to new voicemail. Look for systems that present this information in an accessible manner. For example, sending an email to the user upon receipt of a voicemail is an accessible alternative for people with BVI.

Accessible Call Log

The call log of a physical VoIP phone is available on the digital display without an accessible alternative. Currently, an accessible call log can be acquired by connecting a software based VoIP phone (softphone) to the same line as the physical phone so that it can be accessed by a person with BVI using computer access software.

Accessible Address Book

Like the call log, the address book is presented visually on the digital display of a physical VoIP phone. The most accessible way to use the address book is to use a softphone that can make calls on the same line as the physical phone so that the user can use the address book using screen access software on the softphone.

Accessible Softkeys

softkey is a physical button that changes function depending on circumstances. The current function of a softkey is presented visually on a digital display just above the key so that a user knows what the key will do if pressed. Softkeys that have audible or tactile indications that their status has changed are accessible to people with BVI.

Large Font/High Contrast Display

In many cases VoIP displays are not backlit and have small fonts and low contrast, making the display very difficult to read for someone with low vision. A VoIP phone is more accessible if the display has high contrast between foreground and background. Large font also makes the display easier to read.

Accessible Documentation

Printed documentation that uses a small font is inaccessible to someone with BVI. The most universally accessible style of documentation will be digital formats such as DOCX or HTML. Digital documents can be enlarged by screen magnifiers, read with screen readers, or printed in braille. (NOTE: PDF documents that contain only images of text are not accessible to screen readers or braille displays.)

Accessible Indication of Status Changes

In order to be accessible, status changes, such as phone muting and display navigation, should have sounds to signal these changes. Such sounds, commonly called earcons, make navigating VoIP systems easier for a person with BVI. For example, a different tone playing for mute and unmute allows a person with BVI to determine the status of their device.

Accessible Alternative for Display Information

The display on a physical phone can be used for many functions, from caller ID to settings. Communicating this information using synthetic speech makes a VoIP system more accessible. Currently, the only method for presenting VoIP functions in a completely accessible manner is to use a softphone, because there are no physical VoIP phones that present their information in an accessible manner from the device itself.

Utilizing Mentors in the Job Placement Process

Mentors can help students with low vision develop skills, knowledge, and motivation as they transition from college to employment.

Approximately 40% of high school students who are blind or have low vision attend a 4-year college—the highest rate of post-secondary school attendance among students with disabilities.* Unfortunately for many of these students, a college degree does not always lead to a rewarding career in their chosen profession. College students with low vision may lack a clear understanding of what specific careers require on a day-to-day basis. Students may also lack understanding about how their blindness could impact job-seeking activities and on-the-job performance. Students will often graduate from college without having had the chance to get on-the-job experiences. Graduates may have difficulty finding employment or be underemployed.

Learn how to assist consumers transitioning to employment by exploring our resources below.

Download and read our Mentoring Manual to learn:

  • About the mentoring relationship
  • How job seekers can benefit from a mentoring relationship
  • How to set up a mentoring relationship
  • Tips for making a mentoring relationship successful

If you’re working with a consumer with blindness or low vision who is looking for employment, our Job Seeker’s Resource Sheet can provide them with information such as:

  • Information on the Americans with Disabilities Act, disclosing a disability, and asking for an accommodation at work
  • Websites to connect with local job openings and job search tools
  • Self-paced classes to improve soft skills and knowledge of job-seeking activities

*Newman, L., Wagner, M., Cameto, R., & Knokey, A. (2009). The post-high school outcomes of youth with disabilities up to 4 years after high school: A report from the National Longitudinal Transition Study-2 (NLTS2). Menlo Park, CA: SRI International.