Hiring Someone with Vision Loss

The biggest misconception about hiring a candidate with vision loss is that the process will be difficult or expensive. The truth is, it's neither. All it takes are a few small accommodations, and a bit of flexibility on your part. 

What is vision loss?

Let's start with the basics: what vision loss actually is. "Vision loss" is an inclusive term that covers all people who are blind or partially sighted, including people who have no sight from birth, people who are legally blind (meaning they have a best-corrected visual acuity of 20/200 or worse and/or a visual field of less than 20 degrees in the better eye), as well as people with vision loss below these levels (meaning they have a best-corrected visual acuity of 20/40 or worse in the better eye).

Vision loss can also be characterized by other forms of visual impairment like depth perception or contrast sensitivity, but that doesn't mean that the needs of people within these different groups are the same. The simple answer is, vision loss and blindness are different for everyone.

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Tips for fair recruiting*

The recruiting process is your first opportunity to make sure you open up a job to the best possible range of candidates, including people who are blind or partially sighted. If you're a smaller employer, you might not have a human resources team to handle your recruiting, so getting this right from the outset can save you time and effort in the long run.

Here are a few tips:

  • Advertise jobs where people with vision loss can access them. For example, provide vacancy details to your local disability employment advisor or post the vacancy on an accessible website that works with screen magnifying and screen reading software.
  • Make sure the application form and any accompanying material for candidates is available in an accessible format like large-print or an electronic document. Alternatively, you could offer a reasonable adjustment to the recruitment process, for example allowing someone to complete the form over the phone.
  • You can ask applicants if they need any support at the interview as part of the application process. But remember: the applicant isn't required to disclose if they are blind or partially sighted.
  • Consider including an equal opportunities statement or a disability statement in your job ad, outlining your commitment to equality and diversity.
  • Make sure that all staff involved in selection and interviews understand equality and diversity. This will help ensure they deal with all applications in a fair way and promote equality of opportunity.

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Interviewing tips*

When meeting a blind or partially sighted person for the first time, you may be unsure about how to interact with them.There are some simple things you can do to help everything run smoothly and ensure the process is fair.

  • Once you've shortlisted the candidates, ask applicants if there's anything they need in order to give them a fair interview. If they do need something, they should tell you at this stage so you can make reasonable adjustments. They might ask for extra time if the interview has a written component, such as a test, or for test material to be provided in large-print.
  • Don't make assumptions. For example, not all blind people read braille and not all partially sighted people like a brightly lit room. Needs will vary from person to person, so make sure you ask the candidate if they require any adjustments.
  • Ask if the lighting level is suitable, or if the person wants to move towards or face away from a window.
  • Keep the room free of clutter and obstacles, particularly on the floor.
  • Offer to guide the candidate to the interview room and within the building.
  • Focus on the candidate's abilities, rather than their sight loss. They should be able to explain how they go about completing tasks and getting things done.
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Making simple accommodations

Every person's experience with vision loss is different, so there's no "one-size-fits-all" accommodation that will meet the needs of every blind employee you hire. That being said, often the accommodations you'll need to make are simple things like:

  • Adding a lamp into the employee's workspace
  • Removing the bulb from an overhead light near the employee
  • Making sure hallways and communal spaces are free of obstacles
  • Providing one or more of the accessible technologies listed below

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Technology for employees with vision loss

For many people with vision loss or blindness, accessible technology is a huge factor in allowing them to have an even playing field in the workplace. Here are some of the basic technologies that employees with vision loss might use:

  • Screen readers are software programs that read information on a computer aloud to a person who is blind or partially sighted so that they can do all the same things on a computer that a sighted person can do. JAWS (Job Access With Speech) is the most commonly used screen reader program on the market. It allows users to read the screen either with a text-to-speech output or by a refreshable braille display. An average home computer user might use the free, open source screen reader called NVDA, but it's not currently adequate for many corporate environments.
  • Screen magnifiers are software programs that enlarge the visual display of a computer to various degrees depending on the needs of the user. Screen readers are used by people who are not completely blind, but may instead have reduced vision and trouble seeing small print or low-contrast text and images (the software also allows users to change the on-screen contrast). One of the most commonly used screen magnifiers is called ZoomText.
  • Refreshable braille displays are physical devices that can be connected to a computer or an SD (memory) card to allow the user to read the content of their screen or a file in braille format. A refreshable braille display makes proofreading documents easier as users can quickly find spelling mistakes and tell the difference between words that sound alike but have different meaning (like their, there and they're). CNIB is one of 10 organizations that partnered to create a new portable, refreshable braille display, the Orbit Braille Reader 20, which will be available for purchase in the fall of 2016.
  • Mobile devices often have built-in accessibility features that allow someone who is blind or partially sighted to use them right out of the box. The iPhone, for example, has the option for users to enable its built-in screen reading program called Voiceover. Meanwhile, there are now many apps (application software) available that are designed to help people who are blind or partially sighted perform professional and personal tasks more easily. These include apps like KNFB Reader, which allows the user to take a photo of something with text on it, and the app reads the text out audibly.
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Myths and facts about hiring a person with vision loss

Myth: If I hire someone who's blind, someone else will always have to be with them and/or help them.

Fact: This is absolutely not the case. With the help of a few accommodations and (in some cases) technologies, people who are blind or partially sighted can and do work 100% independently. Remember, the majority of people with vision loss have learned to do everything in their daily lives unaided – from navigating busy intersections, to shopping, travelling, cooking and doing household chores. They just do it all a little differently than someone who's sighted. The same goes for their employment. They can do basically anything any other employee can do; they just do it a little differently. 

Myth: Hiring someone who's blind costs a lot of money.

Fact: The truth is, the cost of hiring a blind employee is generally about the same as the cost of hiring a sighted one. The accommodations needed for a blind employee to thrive in the work environment differ from person to person, but they're usually easy to achieve and inexpensive. More often than not, job accommodations are not monetary, but practical. For instance, you might need to ensure the hallways and common areas in your workplace are kept clear. And in meetings, you might need to say your name before you start speaking so the employee with vision loss knows who's talking.

Myth: I can't discipline an employee who's blind or partially sighted. 

Fact: In terms of job performance, employees who are blind or partially sighted face the same expectations as any other staff members. And if the individual is not living up to their responsibilities, you can deal with that in the same way you would if the employee were sighted.

Myth: Employees who are blind are likely to injure themselves at work, and I might get into legal or financial trouble as a result.

Fact: As an employer, you need to follow the same health and safety rules with blind employees as you would with sighted employees. You wouldn't allow health and safety standards to be violated in your workplace if you only had sighted employees, so don't allow them with a blind employee on staff either. Whether your employees are blind or not, health and safety violations like tripping hazards and exposed wires aren't legal or acceptable in any work environment, and the same goes for ones that employ people who are blind. What's more, the vast majority of employees with vision loss have learned to skillfully and safely navigate the world around them with a white cane or guide dog; they wouldn't be likely to apply for a job if they didn't already have those skills.

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The question of disclosure

A lot of employers aren't sure whether or not job candidates have to inform them about a disability like vision loss from the start. The short answer is, they aren't required to. Candidates with vision loss (or any other disability) are not legally obligated to disclose that they have a disability.

The question of when and how to disclose a disability to a prospective employer is a personal one for every individual. Many people with disabilities have had bad experiences with this – like being high in the running for a job, then being immediately rejected after disclosing their vision loss to the potential employer. Stories like this happen all the time, so it can be a sensitive situation for many people who are living with a disability.

As an employer, it's your job to:

  • Judge the merits, experience and qualifications of each candidate equally, whether or not you feel they might have a disability.
  • Not ask them if they have a disability. It's their right to inform you if they choose, but it's not your right to ask.
  • Trust that the individual will inform you of their disability if and when it becomes necessary for them to do so.
  • Support the individual with any necessary workplace accommodations if and when they choose to disclose their disability to you. Be willing to have a talk about what they need and how best to include them in the workplace.

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*Areas of information marked with an asterisk were created by RNIB (copyright RNIB 2013) and altered slightly by CNIB. By way of this statement, CNIB affirms that RNIB was the originator of this material, but does not necessarily endorse CNIB's use of the material.