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Vision Accessibility in the Workplace

When someone who is non-disabled (or otherwise unfamiliar with visual impairments) thinks of the topic, it's easy to refer to the concept of being legally or completely blind. However, vision-related disabilities comprise a wide range that may be different for each individual. It's estimated that vision impairment affects around 10,000,000 people in the U.S. (with some estimates nearing or exceeding 20,000,000) with 1,300,000 of those considered legally blind.

As the EEOC says, individuals with visual impairments or disabilities are able to successfully work in a wide variety of careers! However, according to a survey report from 2011 -- only 36.8% of non-institutionalized working-age adults with significant vision loss were employed.

Here's some examples of what you can do to help create an accessible, inclusive workplace.

Reasonable accommodations during the application and hiring process

Right away, businesses can make a difference by ensuring that their website is accessible to those who have blindness or vision impairments. There are guidelines published by the W3C to help companies create accessible websites, which includes things such as including proper code elements for use by screen readers. Additionally, you can be accommodating with your application and interview process in several ways, including modifications to the application process itself.

Onboarding and training accommodations

Documents for the newly-hired can become more accessible by the vision impaired by being available as audio recordings or large-print versions. The same goes for company-wide or department training sessions. Companies can add topics such as navigating company software via keyboard, or other usage specific to those using screen readers or other assistive tools. Each individual will have different needs!

Sensible policy modifications or exceptions

Many offices have a strict "no pets" rule, for example. For employees with vision-related disabilities, however, it would be very reasonable to allow them to bring their approved guide dogs to the workplace! There's other things to consider too, such as allowing employees flexible schedules or work-from-home options.

Office layout

As we've discussed before as it relates to individuals with hearing disabilities, reasonable accommodations can be made for those with vision-related disabilities. Remember, not all visual imparments that qualify as a disability refer to "total blindness." The definition may not always be 100% clear or consistent,  but as a general rule an individual who is not totally blind may be considered to have a vision-related disability if they are "substantially limited in seeing or another life activity," according to the ADA and the EEOC.

Keeping this in mind, accommodations such as Braille lettering on signs and equipment, or the use of bright/contrasting colors to highlight specific areas in the office, can help those with a vision-related disability!

Assistive technology

Modern accessibility technology has made a huge impact in the lives of those with visual impairments. It's very likely your company is already using software or devices that have vision accessibility features built right in! Employing technology can help your employees accomplish their duties whether they are working from home, in a meeting at the office, or on the go.

Microsoft is a perfect example of a company that puts visual accessibility tools at the forefront, in Windows 10 and Office 365. Here's some examples:

  • Color filters: These can be used to boost contrast, or remove color completely, from the display. This can help those with color blindness, light sensitivity, or simply a personal preference.
  • Tell Me: This helps users navigate Office 365 functions and quickly get to the commands they need, simply by typing in natural language.
  • Narrator: Narrator can be used to read aloud what is displayed on the screen, and Scan Mode helps users move through this even faster.
  • Windows Hello: This can help users log in quickly with biometrics rather than typing in a password.
  • Magnifier: Quickly make things on the screen much easier to see!
  • Request accessible content: We mentioned earlier that employers can help by making hiring, onboarding, and other employee resources and documents accessible to the visually impaired. Office 365 specifically addresses this by notifying employees of another's preference for accessible content, and by providing tools in Office to check the accessibility of a document before it's sent.

There are many other types of accessibility technology for the visually impaired as well:

  • Dedicated screen reader software
  • OCR
  • Braille displays
  • Video and portable magnifiers
  • Accessible softphones
  • and more

AI and voice-assisted technologies

Artificial intelligence (AI) has ushered in another new wave of technologies that help the visually impaired. Microsoft, Google, Facebook, and other large players in the digital world are leveraging AI with new features and apps, such as Microsoft's Seeing AI and Google's Lookout.

Plus, hardware such as Amazon's Echo and Google Home, and software such as Apple's Siri and Microsoft's Cortana, enable users to search the Internet and perform a wide variety of tasks using only their voice, from start to finish.