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Although people who are visually impaired work in as many different job sectors as people with normal vision, the unemployment rate of visually impaired people is significantly higher. The rate of employment of visually impaired individuals has been steadily increasing, but more opportunities need to be made for these highly qualified and skilled individuals to enter the workforce.
That being said, people who are blind or visually impaired make a living doing a wide range of jobs depending on their interests and skill sets. With reasonable accommodations, visually impaired individuals can perform just as well as anyone else.
According to the American Printing House for the Blind, visually impaired individuals work in as many different career sectors as people without visual impairments. People with visual impairments generally know what resources and adaptations they need to make them successful in the workplace. There are various resources available to help visually impaired individuals learn about these accommodations as well.
For anyone, visually impaired or not, salaries vary greatly depending on many factors, such as job sector, competition, and geographical location. Having a disability, such as being blind or visually impaired, should not impact one’s salary.
Education paths for people who are blind or visually impaired are often the same as for people with normal sight. With the help of special education resources, there are many potential education setting options for people with visual impairments. Based on a child’s unique needs, visually impaired children attend school in settings ranging from general education classrooms to private schools for the blind.
Following basic education, higher education options are available for people with visual impairments. The Americans with Disabilities Act has helped to ensure that colleges and universities across the country make their education fully accessible to all students, including students with visual impairments.
Employment Statistics for the Visually Impaired
The unemployment rate of visually impaired individuals is more than twice as high as the unemployment rate of the general population. According to 2016–2017 data collected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 37 percent of working-age individuals (ages 16–64) with vision loss participated in the U.S. labor force, with a 12 percent unemployment rate. For the general population, 73 percent of working-age people were active in the labor force with an unemployment rate of just 5 percent.
As the percentage of the working-age employment population in the U.S. has increased slightly, so has the employment rate for visually impaired people. From 2014 to 2017, the employment rate of visually impaired individuals increased from about 29 percent to 35 percent. Despite this positive trend, the employment rate for visually impaired people remains roughly 37 percent lower than that of the general employment population.
The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA)
Even though blind or visually impaired individuals are effective employees as people without disabilities, the unemployment rate among the group is significantly higher than it is for the general population. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics 2017 report, 37 percent of persons with vision challenges in the age bracket of 16 to 64 participated in the U.S. labor force, while 12 percent were unemployed.
Those statistics are similar to ones documented in previous years of annual reports – statistics that fueled a disabilities reform movement that led to the ratification of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.
The ADA encompasses civil rights laws proscribing discrimination against people with disabilities in different areas of public life. Whether in school, at work or in any public and private venues open to the general public, discrimination against the disabled is not tolerated. Blind and visually impaired individuals have the same rights and opportunities as other citizens.
Thus, individuals with disabilities like visual impairment have equal opportunity in public accommodations, state and local government services, employment, telecommunications and transportation.
How to Make a Living
Despite the gaps in employment rates for visually impaired people compared to the general population, there are many rewarding ways to make a living when visually impaired. Most people who are visually impaired have the same education and skills as people without visual impairments. They can perform the same tasks and only require reasonable accommodations to get the job done.
Many misconceptions and stereotypes exist about the abilities of visually impaired individuals to work in a regular job setting. Thanks to advancements in modern technology, adaptive equipment, such as screen-reading software and braille displays, is available to make nearly any job accessible to people with vision loss. Additional accommodations may need to be made, but someone who is visually impaired has likely already explored solutions so they can successfully fulfill their duties.
In truth, visually impaired individuals can do nearly any job you can think of. According to Career Connect, which is operated by the American Printing House for the Blind, people with visual impairments are employed in as many different types of careers as people with full sight.
Blind and visually impaired individuals currently hold jobs in a wide range of industries. They may be any of the following:
- Marketing professionals
- Human resources managers
- Business managers
- Agriculture workers
- Teachers and professors
- Health care providers
- Counselors and psychologists
- Social workers
- Physical therapists
- Writers and journalists
- Customer service representatives
- Retail employees
- Athletics instructors and coaches
- Motivational speakers
The above list is not exhaustive, and nearly any job you can think of could be added to it. If you are blind or visually impaired and considering your career options, the important thing is to consider what type of career interests you have and what aligns with your skill set and education. Your visual impairment should not be a limiting or guiding factor in your career search.
Expected salaries from any given career vary depending on many factors, such as geographic location, education, work history, industry, the current job market, and competition for the job.
Here are median annual salaries for specific jobs in the United States based on 2017 and 2018 data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics:
- Receptionist: $28,392 ($13.65/hour)
- Administrative assistant: $38,880 ($18.69/hour)
- Market research analyst: $63,120 ($30.35/hour)
- Graphic designer: $50,370 ($24.22/hour)
- Interpreter or translator: $49,930 ($24.00/hour)
- Public relations specialist: $59,300 ($28.51/hour)
- Writer or editor: $62,170 ($29.89/hour)
- Architect: $79,380 ($38.16/hour)
- Environmental engineer: $87,620 ($42.13/hour)
- Guidance counselor: $55,410 ($26.64/hour)
- Special education teacher: $59,780 ($28.74/hour)
- School principal: $95,310 ($45.82/hour)
- Teacher: $55,790 ($26.82/hour)
- Accountant: $69,350 ($33.34/hour)
- Financial advisor: $88,890 ($42.74)
- Dietician: $59,410 ($28.56/hour)
- Doctor: $208,000 ($100/hour)
- Health educator: $54,220 ($26.07/hour)
- Medical assistant: $33,610 ($16.16/hour)
- Occupational therapist: $83,200 ($40/hour)
- Physical therapist: $87,930 ($42.27/hour)
- Consultant: $83,610 ($40.20/hour)
- Human resources manager: $110,120 ($52.94/hour)
- Computer programmer: $84,280 ($40.52/hour)
- Computer systems analyst: $88,740 ($68.37/hour)
- Software developer: $110,000 ($52.88/hour)
- Web developer: $69,430 ($33.38/hour)
- Court reporter: $55,120 ($26.50/hour)
- Judge: $99,850 ($48/hour)
- Trial lawyer: $99,000 ($46.60/hour)
- Intellectual property lawyer: $137,000 ($65.87/hour)
- Employment attorney: $87,000 ($41.83/hour)
- Personal trainer: $34,980 ($16.82/hour)
- Marriage and family therapist: $48,790 ($23.46/hour)
- Customer service representative: $33,750 ($16.23/hour)
How You Can Prepare for Your Role
While you have countless career options as someone who is visually impaired, you need particular resources and accommodations to succeed in the workplace. Numerous organizations make it easy for you to access the various resources that can help you understand your rights and detail reasonable accommodations the employer should avail to you to help you deliver accordingly.
Even so, you need to prepare to maximize your productivity in whatever role you take. First, it is important to learn about your diagnosis. Understanding the type of vision loss helps you know what to expect, prepare and determine which tools will be essential in fulfilling your roles.
Talking to your employer about your visual impairment will help them provide the appropriate assistive technology that allows you to continue working even if blindness sets in during active employment. Noteworthy, the ADA requires employers to provide reasonable accommodation to workers with disabilities.
Before approaching your employer and letting the company know about your visual impairment, consider talking to a low vision specialist who can help you understand the type of accommodations you need.
From there you’ll develop your accommodations request to take to human resources. By law, your company must make proper accommodations – this is the legal term – for you to be successful and not disadvantage you in the workplace.
Understand that you also may be working for a company that has never had to make an ADA accommodation before. It may take the firm a little time to understand what its responsibility is and what it must do under the law.
This is an even more slippery slope now that more and more employees are working from home. Know what to expect and how best to react to the company’s responses to your requests.
Resources for the Visually Impaired Job Seekers
Job seeking is usually a nerve-wrenching ordeal for many individuals. Disabled professionals can find it even more frustrating. But this shouldn’t be the case. You can utilize the numerous career resources for visually impaired or blind individuals to obtain vital information to make your job search much easier.
From organizations to federal programs, you got many resources that will help you land a new job. Here are some you can consider:
Resources for Job Openings
Are you wondering where to find job openings for your profession? These websites and agencies feature multiple employment opportunities for the disabled, including professionals with visual impairment.
National Industries for the Blind Careers: Based in Washington, D.C, the NIB is always looking for talented professionals to fill various positions either in their head office or associated agencies spread across the country.
American Council of the Blind’s Job Connection: The ACB Job Connection board features jobs posted from around the country listed in categories.
USAJOBS: The U.S. Office of Personal Management runs this site, and you can use it to find or apply for jobs with the U.S. federal government. People with disabilities can use the additional resources section to locate new openings.
disABLEDperson: The disABLEDperson website features dynamic job boards with over 250,000 open opportunities at a time. It’s solely for publishing employment openings for disabled professionals.
Workforce Recruitment Program (WRP): WRP is one of the government-sponsored programs that recruit individuals with different disabilities for various positions depending on their skill set. If you’re still in college, you can land a summer internship with WRP regardless of your course. Recent graduates are the favorite candidates for the different federal opportunities the program offers.
Several other organizations, such as the CareersWithVision and Recruit Disability, provide important resources for blind and visually impaired job seekers.
Career Training and Assistance
When you’re seeking to further your career or learn new skill sets, here are reputable and free resources you can utilize.
Vocational Rehab Agencies: Every state has a vocational rehab agency that equips job seekers with the necessary tools to secure employment. Training is usually free and covers multiple career fields.
Hadley Institute for the Blind and Visually Impaired: The Hadley Institute provides online courses for all groups of individuals with visual impairment. Technology training is the main course at Hadley Institute, but finding employment, self-employment and business writing are also offered.
Educational paths for people who are blind or visually impaired can be identical to those of people with normal vision. If you know from early on which career might interest you, you can outline your educational path accordingly. For visually impaired children and people who are not yet sure of their career goals, a basic educational path may be the right place to start.
If you are the parent of a visually impaired child, you are most likely considering where your child can get the best possible education given their unique educational needs. Basic education options for children who are blind or visually impaired include:
- Placement in a general or regular education classroom.
- Combination participation in a resource room and general education.
- Placement in a self-contained special education classroom for children with disabilities.
- Placement in a special education program specifically for children with visual impairments.
- Enrollment in a residential or specialized school for the blind.
There are many schooling options available to meet the unique needs of children with visual impairments. Through individualized education plans (IEPs), the needs of these students can be met in regular public schools, as well as in specialized and private schools. As your child’s needs change over time, you may decide to take advantage of different education options.
Higher Education Options
For visually impaired students seeking higher education options, most colleges and universities across the country should be equipped with services to meet the educational needs of all their students, including blind and visually impaired students. Thanks to the Americans with Disabilities Act, college campuses are required to provide learning facilities that make education accessible to all students, including those with disabilities.
Teachers who work with visually impaired students stress the importance of transition planning to ensure a successful transition to college. Transition planning includes considering the tools and options for a visually impaired student as they graduate from high school.
Educational options to consider beyond high school include:
- Attending a four-year degree program.
- Vocational job training.
- Integrated or supported employment.
- Adult services.
- Independent learning services.
In addition to attending general education programs for higher education, such as at a public university, private continuing education programs, such as Perkin’s School for the Blind, have been established specifically to meet the career development needs of people who are blind or visually impaired.
If you are blind or visually impaired, there are many educational and career opportunities available. With advancements in assistive technology as well as educational and workplace resources and accommodations, nearly any job can be made accessible to you.
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College Guide for Students with Visual Impairments. Best Colleges.
Exploring the Options for Your Blind Child’s Education. Family Connect: American Printing House for the Blind.
Key Employment Statistics for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired. (2017). American Foundation for the Blind.
List of Jobs with Career and Salary Information. The Balance Careers.
What Kinds of Jobs do People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired Do? The Chicago Lighthouse.
What Is the Americans with Disabilities Act ((October 2021). ADA National Network.
How To Prepare When You Are Going Blind. Industries for the Blind and Visually Impaired.
Resources Available For Blind And Visually Impaired Job Seekers. Industries for the Blind and Visually Impaired.