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/