Careers for Blind and Visually Impaired Individuals
People who are blind or visually impaired are employed in as many diverse jobs as those who are sighted in the workforce. Individuals with vision loss can perform jobs across all clusters of careers including marketing, human services, business management and administration, health science, law, agriculture, and more. There is not a special category of careers or a unique list of jobs just for people with visual impairments to consider. In fact, working-age teens and adults with vision loss can be employed in occupations across all industries of work.
Legislative changes have positively impacted the career possibilities for individuals who are blind or visually impaired. Civil rights laws, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act, protect individuals with disabilities from being discriminated against in all aspects of the employment process. Employers, especially in mid-sized and large businesses, routinely follow equal employment opportunity practices and have diversity and disability accommodation processes in place. More importantly, since the passage of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (amended in the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, WIOA, of 2014), individuals with visual impairments have access to vocational rehabilitation training programs, services, and resources that can prepare them for employment opportunities as well as increase their success in the workplace.
When choosing a career path, individuals with vision loss explore careers based on their vocational interests and do not limit their options for pursuing jobs in the labor market as a result of having a visual disability. Just as sighted job seekers do, visually impaired job seekers pursue careers based on their skills (what they’ve learned to do well), abilities (talents), and values (what’s important to them).
However, visually impaired teens and adults do not always learn about career options and jobs in the same way sighted individuals do. Therefore, prior to selecting a career path, they need opportunities to explore jobs in their careers of interest by visiting worksites, completing informational interviews with workers, job shadowing, volunteering, and holding internships. These opportunities increase a person’s awareness of jobs available in the workforce as well as the tasks, training, and salary associated with different jobs. During the job exploration process, they discover what their preferences are for lifelong work.
Job Accommodations Create Opportunities
Individuals who are blind or visually impaired can perform the functions of most jobs with no or minimal sight. No two visually impaired people have the exact same level of functional vision or the same approach to executing work-related tasks. Some use their vision more than others; some may work more efficiently when they use nonvisual techniques. The majority will use accommodations to perform competitively at work.
Accommodations are adjustments to the work environment or an individual’s work situation that enable a person with vision loss to perform work duties as well as his or her sighted coworkers. Employers are expected to provide an employee with vision loss with reasonable accommodations at the worksite. If an accommodation is an undue hardship or beyond the employers own resources, vocational rehabilitation may pay for the necessary accommodations. Accommodations that have proven to be effective and affordable include (but are not limited to) the following:
- Glare reduction and adjusted lighting
- Voice or e-mail messages instead of handwritten notes
- Desk or laptop computers adapted with screen-reading (synthesized speech), screen magnification, and/or optical character recognition (OCR) software
- Digital cameras, larger-than-average computer monitors, and/or braille devices can be added as peripherals
- Large print, tactile, or talking devices such as calipers, scales, tape measures, thermometers, blood pressure cuffs, calculators, money identifiers, and cash registers
Visually Impaired Individuals Hold All Types of Jobs
Job opportunities for people who are blind or visually impaired are limitless especially when accommodations are in place. Individuals with visual impairments are employed in all classes of work including the private sector (nonprofit and for-profit); local, state, and federal government; and even self-employment as entrepreneurs.
A unique avenue for a person with vision loss to pursue entrepreneurship is through applying for the Business Enterprise Program (BEP) with their state’s vocational rehabilitation agency. The BEP was created under the Randolph-Sheppard Act and provides business opportunities for individuals to run vending stands in the lobbies of government buildings, in rest areas along state highways, and occasionally on military bases.
For informative first-hand accounts written by blind and visually impaired employees who have achieved success in a variety of occupations, read some of the success stories written by CareerConnect mentors:
- Biomedical Physicist
- Financial Analyst
- Personal Trainer
- Senior Accessibility Specialist
- University Professor
For additional information about jobs performed by people with vision loss, explore the CareerConnect database of mentors, which includes more than 1,000 employed visually impaired individuals who have agreed to act as mentors to visually impaired teens and adults seeking career information. The mentors are willing to share details about the practical aspects of how they perform their job duties as well as how they prepared for their careers.