Noel Duffy, CEO of Dolphin Computer Access Limited, uncovers the hidden opportunities associated with recruiting people with vision impairments!
Employers not exposed to vision impairment may wonder how employees cope with their disability in the work place. If someone can’t see a screen, how can they be productive. It’s a valid question but unfortunately puts people with vision disabilities at a disadvantage from the outset.
While equal rights legislation helps overcome this, by driving compliance and encouraging fairness, it does little to hype the benefits of having vision impaired people in your team. When recruiting, as employers we’re all motivated to bring in A players. We all get the idea that diversity is a nice aspiration. We get that it helps improve the balance in the workforce but it doesn’t speak to our desire to have a high performing team – in a recent survey of CEOs, only 5% had diversity as their priority.
Just over 20% of Dolphin’s workforce is blind or visually impaired. We can define these as people using screen reading or magnification software on a daily basis. Since we develop assistive technology for people with vision impairments, employing vision impaired staff to serve this community just makes sense. It also bring obvious insights to our design process, so yes of course we’re a special case. However, to leave it at that would be to understate all the other attributes. We’ve got a team of people in support, for example, who all have a visual impairment, whose attitudes (empathy, tenacity and efficiency) are attitudes and skills of A players. I can’t believe better support departments exist elsewhere and I don’t believe it is related to the fact they are serving their own niche. It is simply because they are A players. However in the broader context of the economy as a whole, two thirds of vision impaired people in the age range 16 to 65 remain unemployed. This is wildly disproportionate to the sighted community, leaving talented and capable people on the sidelines.
We have been employing people with vision disabilities for several years. And there are lessons. Being blind or low vision, like being short or tall, or fat or thin, is quite personal – most people don’t want to stand out and make a fuss, so ensuring there is a natural culture of communicating inclusively is important – little things like, for example, describing power point images is a relatively easy thing to do, but very easy to forget.
The National Federation of the Blind in the United States estimates the prevalence of visual impairment in the working population is 1.9%. Applying this to the UK workforce of over 33m suggests we have about 600k people of working age with vision impairments in the UK. In a land of otherwise full employment, with doors to Europe at risk of closing, this is a significant resource already at our disposal.
Many larger employers around the globe have a good record employing people with disabilities and indeed we support many of those with network and remote access licenses of our magnification product Supernova. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YLFw4mUeFSk
In the UK Access to Work supports employers who wish to employ people with disabilities. The scheme provides grants to help pay for the extra employment cost of working with a disability. This can include funding for specialist software or computer access equipment.