It takes an employer with foresight to see the value in an employee with a vision condition.
People who are blind or have low vision are, much like sighted peers, efficient and effective employees, yet their adaptability and value are often overlooked in Australian workplaces.
“Employers see blindness and low vision as a limitation in their employees when in fact it is the complete opposite,” said Vision Australia chief executive officer, Ron Hooton.
“I assure you that, as a leader, I have found the performance of my colleagues who are blind or have low vision to be inseparable from that of my sighted colleagues.”
Half of the recruiters surveyed for a 2021 Vision Australia employment report said they had never thought about hiring a person who was blind or had low vision. Let’s open their eyes. It’s time to see what’s possible.
1. Are you hiring for the most able, or able-bodied?
While three in 10 businesses said they would adapt job requirements to support a worker with disability, four out of five were reluctant to hire a person who was blind or had low vision.
People with lived experience of blindness or low vision are more likely to apply for jobs that align with their skills and qualifications, and highly value work as a means of social inclusion.
Yet it is challenging for them to secure employment, even when they are the best candidate for the job, because of a lack of opportunity to demonstrate both their productivity and positivity.
Conor has computer and communication competencies, yet was applying for about five jobs a week over five years before securing one as a project officer with a non-profit workplace.
Apart from employer hesitancy, Conor also found the application process was designed for the sighted. “I felt like I was being told again and again that I was not of value to society,” he said.
2. You use tools to get the job done, so do they
Impressive technologies enable employees who are blind or have low vision to get the job done. Once these supports are set up, you can expect employees to have strong attention to detail and equal focus.
These technologies can be subsidised through Job Access, a government funding scheme that covers workplace modifications, equipment and services to support staff with a disability.
For instance, just as a smartphone puts the world-wide-web’s power and reach in your hand, so too do those who are blind or have low vision use talk-to-text and text-to-talk functionality.
“My smartphone is everything,” said Brittnee, who lost some sight with Type 1 diabetes and now trains customer service staff in how to approach people who are blind or low vision.
“There are apps that read for me, detect colours, and even tell me which tram is coming and when. A Vision Australia adaptive technology trainer taught me these different uses,” she said.
3. Good sense, great skills, and long-term commitment
People who are blind or have low vision often have stronger faculties in their other worldly senses as they have had to learn to navigate living and working in a mostly sighted world.
And it’s not just sound, scent, taste or touch: they also have enhanced skills in problem solving, emotional resilience, situational adaptability, communication and interpersonal empathy.
“I lead four business functions including the National Disability Insurance Scheme and My Aged Care programs for Vision Australia,” said Chris Edwards, with some 25 years in the workplace.
“Prior to this, I’ve been appointed to various leadership roles. I’ve stayed passionate about my work because my performance, leadership and ability to adapt quickly are highly regarded.”
Employers of people with disability also report lower rates of absenteeism and turnover in that cohort, with research indicating a 34 per cent reduced business cost compared with other staff.
4. Job security also improves on-site safety for all
One in four Australians who are blind or have low vision works full-time, but three-quarters are under-employed or unemployed, and five times more likely to be so than the national average.
So, jobseekers with a vision condition tend to go above and beyond other candidates to secure employment. That’s why, when given an opportunity, they equate site safety with job security.
Jane, who works in business transformation and service innovation, uses a white cane and calls it her “… empowerment. It’s a sign of my own capability, independence, and … resilience.”
Customer service consultant Brittnee is accompanied by Seeing Eye Dog Cooma, who helps her avoid obstacles, move about more quickly and confidently, and “to never be late,” she said.
Conor, who specialises in skills exchange and peer connection, said people who are blind or have low vision do not pose an increased workplace safety risk: “We are just as good as anyone else.”
5. Inclusivity is a means to persevere and prosper.
We all face challenges every day and, just like you, people who are blind or have low vision can find strategies to overcome them, whether through training and development, or a kind word.
Brittnee discovered her career path through Vision Australia’s Quality Living groups, which opened her mind to how she could “do whatever I wanted to do, like help businesses be inclusive.”
Tony was a chef for so many years, “I could do it with my eyes closed,” but lost confidence when diagnosed with optic nerve damage and vision loss. Through Telelink, he regained it.
Telelink, Vision Australia’s virtual social program, has Tony teaching a Confident Cooking class in which he shares kitchen skills adapted to recipes and gadgets for blind and low vision cooks.
“At first it was hard to explain, when people wanted to do everything for me, that I just needed a little bit of help, not to be treated like I am completely disabled. This is my normal,” Tony said.
Vision Australia CEO Ron Hooton agrees: “Your mindset is the most important tool for change.
“The impediment is in our workplaces, not the blind and low vision community. Forget your perceptions: judge them on their merits, the talents and diversity they could bring to the role.”
Interested to learn more? Visit visionaustralia.org/seewhatspossible