Myths About Hiring Blind Or Partially Sighted Employees

By Mark Swartz


Approximately half a million Canadians live with significant vision loss. And every year more than 50,000 of us will lose our sight.

Yet one out of three of our working-age adults with vision loss is employed. Imagine the amount of adaptability and determination this demonstrates. Impressive traits that employers should consider at hiring time.

However myths about job seekers who are blind or partially sighted persist. Is one of these inhibiting you from choosing the best candidate?


Frequent Injuries Can Be Expected

There is a considerable amount of research that indicates people who are blind or partially sighted are as safe, if not safer, on the job than their sighted co-workers. 

In Canada there are no public records on the number of injury claims brought by visually challenged workers against their employers. But in 1931, Ontario set up a Blind Workmen's Compensation Act to alleviate employers' fears. Since then there has not been a single claim.

The reality is that a person with a visual impairment who goes out for a job has all their orientation and mobility skills. If they do not, they will not be out looking.


Accommodations Are Too Expensive

Most visually challenged people have special needs. Fortunately the cost of accommodation is typically low (88 percent of complete employee accommodations cost less than $1000).

Moreover funding for assistive devices, specialized training or renovations may be available from the government. An example is the federal-provincial Employability Assistance for People with Disabilities (EAPD) initiative funds programs. It helps pay for assistive technology.

ServiceCanada offers the Enabling Accessibility Fund. It is a federal Grants and Contributions program that supports costs of construction and renovations related to improving accessibility and safety for people with disabilities. Also check with your provincial and local governments for possible wage subsidies.


Productivity Will Be Lower

Once any necessary accomodations are made, you can expect an employee with vision loss to be as diligent, attentive to detail, punctual, honest, loyal, and everything else you expect from any other employee.

The only difference is that they will prefer verbal and written feedback over non-verbalized cues (such as frowns, smiles, thumbs up, raised eyebrows, or other such expressions) that they may not be able to see. Here are some additional communication tips for this.


All Material Must Be Translated Into Braille  

Only a small percentage of blind or partially sighted readers are completely fluent in braille. Many know enough of it for functional use, such as reading notes and labels.

Nonetheless the advent of computers and technology has made nearly any kind of print accessible. Computer software can translate print into speech, magnify screen images, and enlarge text to a readable size. Occasionally human readers take care of the rest.


Too Much Supervision Is Required

Studies have proven that employees who have less than full vision do not need more supervision. They may require different supervision to perform specific tasks. Most have a high desire and motivation to succeed. Given proper instruction and devices, they will perform well independently and in teams.

Need more convincing? When the person you hire is a registered client of the CNIB, onsite workplace advisory services are available at no charge to the employer.


It’s Difficult To Even Find Job Seekers Who Have Visual Challenges

You can recognize applications from people who have visual challenges. They will virtually always self-identify their special needs upfront. This will help both of you prepare for interviews and eliminate surprises.

If you are actively seeking these types of candidates, the CNIB provides a site for employers to connect with qualified applicants.   


There’s Not Enough Information For Employers

Sure there is. For more details, please visit the employer pages of Project Aspiro, a program partner of CNIB. They provide a wide range of tips and practices for hiring, accommodating and engaging employees who are blind or partially sighted.

You will find that many of the hiring barriers are exaggerated. Some, in fact, are just residual myths long overdue to be set aside.