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. 

Advice for Disclosing Your Vision Impairment

This advice sheet provides information and recommendations to job seekers about disclosing vision impairment to employers. 

Latest Article Summary

What Predicts Job Quality of Vocational Rehabilitation Consumers who are Blind or Have Low Vision?

Research Takeaway: A person’s level of education had a big impact on the quality of their job in our study of employment for workers who are blind or have low vision (B/LV). Other personal traits also influenced job quality.

What Were We Trying to Learn?

We wanted to learn about factors that might impact job quality for people with B/LV. We studied personal factors, like age, gender, race, level of education, level of vision loss, and the vocational rehabilitation (VR) services a person received. We also looked at state and agency factors, like per capita income in a person’s state and poverty rates.

How Was This Project Carried Out?

We studied data from 8,723 people who:

  • received VR services and had their cases closed in 2015
  • were B/LV
  • were between the ages of 18-67
  • left VR services competitively employed

We studied job quality for these individuals, breaking them into two groups: people who had a job when they applied for VR services and people who did not have a job when they applied. To measure job quality, we considered three factors: whether a job provided health insurance, how weekly earnings from the job compared to a living wage in the state, and how hourly earnings compared to the median hourly earnings in the state.

What Are the Most Important Things We Learned?

  • A person’s individual characteristics had the biggest impact on job quality. Older age, higher education levels, being legally blind, and having a job at the time of applying to VR services were all linked to higher levels of job quality. On the other hand, being a woman, being African American, having an additional disability, and receiving SSDI or SSI benefits were linked to lower job quality.
  • Two VR services were linked to higher job quality: disability-related skills training and rehabilitation technology. However, these services only led to higher quality jobs for people who already had a job when they started VR services. This may be because employed people who started VR services ask for technology and training to help them keep their job following vision loss. These jobs are likely to be higher quality than a new job just started by someone without a recent work history.
  • On the other hand, receiving job placement assistance from VR was linked to lower job quality. This may be because people who need VR’s help to find a job are more likely to find a lower quality job.
  • Earning a bachelor’s degree or higher had a clear, positive impact on job quality. Higher level of education was one of the strongest predictors of job quality. However, getting an associate’s degree or a certificate was only linked to higher job quality for people who started VR services without a job.

How Do These Findings Relate to Me?

  • Educational advancement has a big impact on job quality for people with B/LV. The most important thing VR counselors can do to help someone find a high-quality job is to help the person advance their education, especially by getting a bachelor’s degree or higher. Associate’s degrees or certifications may also lead to an increase in job quality.
  • VR counselors should be aware of workforce needs in their local area. While our study found that bachelor’s degrees led to higher job quality, getting an associate’s degree in a high-demand field may lead to better job quality than getting a bachelor’s degree in a low-demand field.
  • Benefits counseling is very important for people receiving SSDI or SSI, who our study found are at risk for lower job quality. These people may limit their wage earnings and take lower-quality jobs to avoid losing benefits. They may not be aware of work incentives for SSDI and SSI beneficiaries.
  • Teaching people to be proactive as they look for jobs is important for boosting job quality. People who received job-related services from VR had lower job quality in our study. People who can find their own jobs may be more likely to negotiate better pay and benefits or be more selective in which job they choose.

Learn More

Findings were taken from the following article:

McDonnall, M. C., Cmar, J., & Zhen, S. (2021). What determines job quality of vocational rehabilitation consumers who are blind or have low vision? Rehabilitation Counseling Bulletin.

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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.