Utilizing Affordable Assistive Technology in the Workplace

Employers in a study by the Job Accommodation Network reported that 56% of accommodations in the workplace cost absolutely nothing to make, while the rest typically cost $500 or less. Providing (or modifying) equipment for people who are blind or visually impaired often costs less than you might think. In this article, Luke Scriven, Assistive Technology Manager at The Chicago Lighthouse, helps to demystify misconceptions about employing and retaining individuals with vision impairments. 

 There are over 10 million people who are blind and visually impaired in the Unitesd States. 1.3 million of them are considered "legally blind," with a visual acuity below 20/200, (or a visual field of less than 20 degrees). 

There are over 10 million people who are blind and visually impaired in the Unitesd States. 1.3 million of them are considered "legally blind," with a visual acuity below 20/200, (or a visual field of less than 20 degrees). 

Hiring people with a visual impairment can appear to be a daunting prospect for employers if they are unfamiliar with assistive technology. Common questions might be ‘how is a person who is blind able to do the tasks required by the job?’ and ‘How can we afford the technology required for this employee?’ One simple way of finding the answers to these questions is by talking to the employee with a visual impairment. There is no better person who can educate an employer about their specific needs, and a little education will help demystify visual impairment and erase any concerns an employer may have.

 A reasonable accommodation is any modification or adjustment to a job or the work environment that will enable a qualified applicant or employee with a disability to perform essential job functions. 

A reasonable accommodation is any modification or adjustment to a job or the work environment that will enable a qualified applicant or employee with a disability to perform essential job functions. 

There are many assistive technologies available to help in the workplace, and they need not be expensive. Screen readers allow a person who is blind to use a computer, and are built into both Windows (Narrator) and Mac (VoiceOver). Additionally, a well-respected open source screen reader called NVDA is available for free download on Windows. For people who have low vision, screen magnification, enlarged mouse pointers/cursors and contrast enhancement are often useful. Again these features are built into both Mac and Windows based computers. In addition a larger monitor may be useful, or a magnifying sheet which is placed over the monitor to enlarge it through magnification. A computer keyboard with large, high-contrast letters may also be necessary.

 An employee of The Chicago Lighthouse's Information Technology department uses screen reading software in combination with a Braille keyboard to do his job more efficiently.  

An employee of The Chicago Lighthouse's Information Technology department uses screen reading software in combination with a Braille keyboard to do his job more efficiently.  

To access physical documents, people who are blind may require optical character recognition/text-to-speech technology which can read printed text aloud. This can be done with an external device, software on a computer in conjunction with a printer or even using apps on a smartphone! People with low vision may again benefit from magnification and contrast enhancement. This can be achieved through optical magnifiers (magnifying glasses), electronic magnification devices or again through smartphone apps (Apple has a magnifier built into iOS).

 The Chicago Lighthouse offers demonstrations on accessibility apps which are available on smartphones. 

The Chicago Lighthouse offers demonstrations on accessibility apps which are available on smartphones. 

This is a brief summary of some of the things which can be helpful for visually impaired employees. There are many different ways for a person with a visual impairment to carry out anything a job may require. So, if you’re an employer, expand your workforce diversity and learn how people with disabilities are as capable as anyone else and can make important contributions to your organization.  

For more information on assistive technology devices and services available at The Chicago Lighthouse, contact Luke Scriven at 312.997.3649 or visit https://chicagolighthouse.org/programs-services/assistive-technology/

Let's Celebrate and Support the Talents and Independence of People with Disabilities!

As we celebrate the Fourth of July, we also celebrate and support the independence and talents of people with disabilities. Carlos Hranicka and Maria H. Franco are two artists with disabilities that participated in Lighthouses on The Mag Mile with the group The Blind Weavers of Friedman Place. Both of them shared with us their thoughts on what independence means to them.

We urge you to reflect on their comments and ask yourself the question: What can I do to help promote access and inclusion for people with disabilities? 

 Twelve artists with The Blind Weavers of Friedman Place worked together to create the sculpture titled Our Woven Lighthouse that is currently on display as part of Lighthouses on The Mag Mile, a public art display celebrating access and inclusion for people with disabilities. 

Twelve artists with The Blind Weavers of Friedman Place worked together to create the sculpture titled Our Woven Lighthouse that is currently on display as part of Lighthouses on The Mag Mile, a public art display celebrating access and inclusion for people with disabilities. 

Carlos Hranicka – Artist is Visually Impaired

Independence means that I am able to do things perhaps a little bit slow but to the best of my ability and to be sure that they are done correctly. It also means that I am able to go out to certain neighborhoods or places without worrying about getting hurt while traveling with a white cane. It also means that I am able to do the things that I know how to do besides cooking on my own, like doing laundry, cleaning my own apartment, and to help others be as independent as they can and help with things that I can do that they need help with.

 Many employees of The Chicago Lighthouse use guide dogs to travel safely and independently. 

Many employees of The Chicago Lighthouse use guide dogs to travel safely and independently. 

Independence means freedom of certain things – not everything, because certain things I need help with – such as doing what I know how to do properly and promptly, to the best of my ability. Being able to do the things that I want to do whenever I want to do them. To me the definition of independence means what I stated above. Other people may have different definitions, but this is mine.

 Assistive technology offered at The Chicago Lighthouse helps people who are blind and visually impaired work efficiently. 

Assistive technology offered at The Chicago Lighthouse helps people who are blind and visually impaired work efficiently. 

Maria H. Franco – Person who is Visually Impaired and Partially Deaf

Independence means cleaning, cooking, meeting challenges that are beyond you. It means making things that help others. It means strengthening others. It means creativity. It means teaching others. Giving to others, besides yourself. Cane travel. Or Dog travel. Going beyond what it means to be blind – being an eye for others. Seeing what others don’t see. Being a good writer. Being a winner and not a quitter.

One that never gives up. Never doubts. Independence is discipline. Independence is being a driver of your destiny and a strength for others destiny, and to be there for others who cannot be there for themselves. 

We wish all of you a very happy Independence Day holiday!  

Happy 138th Birthday, Helen!

As a birthday wish for Helen, please share your wish for access and inclusion for people with disabilities in the comment section below!

  A photograph of Helen Keller appears on one of 51 lighthouse sculptures that are part of Lighthouses on The Mag Mile celebrating access and inclusion for people with disabilities. This piece is titled "Lovely Helen" by artist Jennifer Hiser of 4Everly Adorned.

A photograph of Helen Keller appears on one of 51 lighthouse sculptures that are part of Lighthouses on The Mag Mile celebrating access and inclusion for people with disabilities. This piece is titled "Lovely Helen" by artist Jennifer Hiser of 4Everly Adorned.

She was literally the very first beacon who championed the causes of access and inclusion for people with disabilities.

Today (June 27) marks what would have been the 138th birthday of Helen Keller, respected around the world as an educator, journalist, humanitarian and tireless advocate for the disabled community.  This year also marks the 50th anniversary (1968) of her passing.

Though both deaf and blind, Ms. Keller never let her disabilities deter her from pursuing her dreams and living a full and rich life. In the process, she inspired millions around the world.

  In her lifetime, Helen Keller never let any obstacles stop her from being a crusader for people with disabilities. 

In her lifetime, Helen Keller never let any obstacles stop her from being a crusader for people with disabilities. 

The Chicago Lighthouse is very proud to have an association with Ms. Keller.  Back in 1955, she helped dedicate our headquarters building at 1850 W. Roosevelt Road on Chicago’s near west side.  On that historic occasion, which had the Governor of Illinois and Mayor of Chicago in attendance, she also dedicated The Lighthouse’s low vision clinic, one of the oldest and most respected in the United States.

“There were about 400 people there who gave her a standing ovation…tears were flowing because it was just a memorable event,” says an individual of Helen Keller’s speech during her visit to The Chicago Lighthouse in 1955.

  A plaque on a wall in The Chicago Lighthouse commemorates Helen Keller's visit and dedication to the facility in 1955. 

A plaque on a wall in The Chicago Lighthouse commemorates Helen Keller's visit and dedication to the facility in 1955. 

It is fitting that Ms. Keller’s birthday coincides with the running of our world-class Lighthouses on The Mag Mile Public Art Display, which celebrates access and inclusion for people with disabilities.  Throughout her life, she embodied all the values that the beautiful lighthouse sculptures represent. 

  Helen Keller embraced life to the fullest. She traveled throughout the world and was active in many communities. This quote is painted on another lighthouse sculpture as part of Lighthouses on The Mag Mile celebrating access and inclusion for people with disabilities. This lighthouse is by artist Carrie Carlson. 

Helen Keller embraced life to the fullest. She traveled throughout the world and was active in many communities. This quote is painted on another lighthouse sculpture as part of Lighthouses on The Mag Mile celebrating access and inclusion for people with disabilities. This lighthouse is by artist Carrie Carlson. 

We invite you, your family, friends and colleagues to visit all the lighthouses that are on display through August 11. 

As you view these stunning works of art, ask yourselves, as Helen Keller would, “what can I do in my own special way to promote access and inclusion for our fellow Americans with disabilities?” 

Be a beacon just like Ms. Keller was!  As she herself acknowledged in one of her most memorable quotes that is actually imprinted on one of the lighthouse sculptures: “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” 

As a birthday wish for Helen, please post your wish for access and inclusion for people with disabilities below. 

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To share your wish, click on the blog article to activate the comment box and write your wish.

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