How Visually Impaired Individuals Can Advocate for Themselves in the Workplace

You know you have a great deal to offer the workplace, but you may encounter supervisors, coworkers or hiring managers who see your vision loss before your abilities. It shouldn’t be your job to educate people about needs or accommodations on the job, but realistically, education is often part of advocating for yourself when you are visually impaired. Self-advocacy in the workplace is essential to your career success.

What Skills Do You Bring to the Table?

When advocating for yourself in the workplace, emphasize that the employer hired you because of your skills and experience. Any accommodation you require to perform your job effectively is no different from equipment provided to other employees who need such things to do their jobs. Recognize and assess your strengths and weaknesses to know the adjustments you need to make to achieve your professional goals.

What Accommodations Do You Need?

The word “accommodation” can be intimidating. It is important to understand that accommodation may be as simple as adjusting the lighting in a workspace or using larger font in your written correspondences. Don’t be afraid to ask for accommodations. Approach the issue with confidence. It gets easier. The more you advocate for yourself, the more it becomes second nature. You might be surprised to learn that many of your coworkers may have accommodations. People with carpel tunnel syndrome may wear braces to support their wrists. Someone with back problems may have access to an ergonomically supportive chair. Individuals with conditions that impact their energy levels may work part-time or from home to perform their best within their limitations.

What is Accessibility?

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), employers with more than 15 employees are required to “provide reasonable accommodations to qualified applicants or employees. A “reasonable accommodation” is a change that accommodates employees with disabilities so they can do the job without causing the employer “undue hardship” (too much difficulty or expense).” Learn more about your rights as an employee on the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) website.

Do You Know Your Rights in the Workplace?

The EEOC speaks specifically to Blindness and Vision Impairments in the Workplace and the ADA. It’s worth taking the time to peruse this page. You’ll find useful information here, including:

  • When an employer may ask an applicant or employee questions about his vision impairment and how it should treat voluntary disclosures.
  • What types of reasonable accommodations employees with visual disabilities may need.
  • How an employer should handle safety concerns about applicants and employees with visual disabilities.
  • How an employer can ensure that no employee is harassed because of a visual disability or any other disability.

This page provides valuable information that can be referenced for self-advocacy for visually impaired people. You’ll find information on when or if you are required to disclose your disability, what is considered a vision impairment under the ADA and what an employer can legally ask. Generally speaking, they cannot ask if you have a disability, but they can ask if you can perform the job duties. Perhaps the most helpful items you’ll find on this page are the many examples of issues people with vision impairments face in the workplace and how they were resolved. Below is a possible list of accommodations for vision impairments (depending on the job/worksite) you can refer to when preparing to discuss your needs with your employer:

A few of the possible accommodations listed include:

  • Accessible internal website
  • Screen reading software for your computer
  • Larger than standard computer monitors to accommodate larger font sizes
  • External computer screen magnifier
  • Adjustable lighting
  • Digital recorders
  • Braille embossers
  • Providing written materials in large print or Braille
  • Someone to read printed materials

This isn’t an exhaustive list of accommodations, and whatever you may need to do your job is ok! If you have questions about what you may need, please feel free to contact the low vision experts at VIA.**

**Please note VIA is not responsible for providing these accommodations

How Can You Advocate for Yourself in the Workplace?

According to the National Federation of the Blind, over 70% of working-age adults reporting significant vision loss are not employed full-time. Don’t be too hard on yourself. It can take time to figure out what you need and how to ask for it. You may know the problem but are unsure what would make a workable solution. Working with an VIA (Visually Impaired Advancement) can help. VIA has been working with people with visual impairments since 1907. Chances are, they will know just what you need, so don’t hesitate to ask for help.

Approach the issue as a collaboration, not a confrontation.

It’s much easier to escalate than to de-escalate. Never assume the employer will be reluctant to cooperate. Let your manager know that you like working there, remind them of your success and treat them as your ally in solving the problem.

Educate yourself on what is available to you.

Find out what has worked for people in a similar situation. You may not know the full extent of the resources, technologies or products that are available to you. Don’t be afraid to get the ball rolling even if you are uncertain of the not sure what the solution.

Accommodations are often very simple for employers to provide.

Sometimes accommodations you request can also be good for your coworkers and the company. For example, consider if assignments or memos are typically circulated on paper in a font that is difficult or impossible to read. You could request to have them emailed to you so you can increase font sizes on your computer screen. Your manager could send them just to you or change their process and send them to everyone via email. Your coworkers might be glad they don’t have to worry about losing important information. They can always print it out on their own if that is their preference. The employer could save a lot on printing costs, making it a win-win-win.

Keep testing and changing.

Even if you have done the research and worked closely with your manager, there’s no way of knowing whether an accommodation will work until you try. When you begin working with an accommodation, set an expectation that it’s a trial. Plan to update your manager after a week, a month and ninety days before deciding if it works. If your condition is degenerative and likely to worsen, mention to your employer that you are likely to need to revisit and adjust.

From an early age, most of us want to fit in.

It can be challenging to advocate for yourself because it means admitting you have different needs from other people. Keep in mind that you never know what battles others may be fighting. People are within their rights to keep their disabilities and challenges private. It’s very likely some of your coworkers have accommodations to help them do their jobs. They simply have chosen not to share. Whether you want to keep your visual impairment to yourself or be outspoken about it is up to you. If you do decide to share, you risk people treating you differently, but you may give someone with their own struggles the courage they need to speak up.

Don’t hesitate to ask for help.

If your visual impairment is new, you may struggle to accept your limitations and admit you need help. Give yourself the time and space you need to process your emotions before getting into the tactics you need to do your job. Denial is common, but it will only hurt you in the long run. Attempting to hide a disability is exhausting. If you avoid facing the challenge, you risk alienating people – you can’t get close to people if you don’t bring your whole self. Also, the longer you muddle through without accommodation, the greater your chance of making a career-ending mistake.

Communicate effectively.

Even when a colleague or manager wants to help, they may not have the right language to express their thoughts. Unless what they say is discriminatory or offensive, give them the benefit of the doubt. Repeat their question or remark to them so they can hear how it sounds. “Did you mean to say…” or correct them if they use an offensive term, “We prefer to say…” You should only need to do this once. If you feel you are being discriminated against, speak up. Follow the appropriate internal channels – report it to the next person up the ladder or to human resources. If this process is ineffective, you can report the incident to the appropriate agency.

Build a team of allies.

You don’t have to go it alone. The right coaching can help you assert yourself when you need to. They can teach you strategies to advocate for yourself in the workplace. If vision loss is new to you or is worsening, you may be frightened about what’s to come. You might worry about losing your independence or livelihood. You might be reluctant to share your condition or concerns because you don’t know how people will react, and talking about it makes it that much more real. Just remember, you don’t have to be alone. Advocating for yourself is essential, but so is getting support.

VIA Provides Services Throughout WNY

They have programs designed for people going through the same challenges you are. They will work with you to help assess your work experience, provide job coaching if you need it and determine what adaptations or accommodations you may need on the job. We also work with employers to help them make any necessary changes to keep or hire visually impaired employees. You’ll work with an employment specialist who can help you find the right fit, whether you’re looking for a new career path or hope to remain in your current career.

Our Vision Rehabilitation Professionals Are in Your Corner

VIA is a low-vision clinic in Buffalo, NY and an advocacy agency that offers work experience training for visually impaired individuals. Whether you are entering or re-entering the workforce with a visual impairment, we offer programs to meet your career goals. Working with you to make your goal a reality is the mission of the workforce development team. VIA partners with local community employers who seek skilled, dedicated employees.

VIA is Buffalo’s Trusted Low Vision Clinic

VIA has provided vision loss rehabilitation services to Western New York’s communities for over 100 years. We provide vocational counseling, training, and employment services for New Yorkers who are legally blind or visually impaired and are seeking to enter the workforce. Our goal is to maximize our patients’ functional vision to improve their safety, independence, and quality of life.

From our offices and Low Vision Clinic in Buffalo, NY, we offer vision loss rehabilitation, tools, education, job training, and community support to help individuals of any age who are experiencing vision loss to live and work independently.

Workforce Development & Work Experience Training (WET) for Visually Impaired Individuals

The employment specialists on our workforce development staff help prepare individuals with vision loss for job placement. All our employment-related services are approved and in partnership with The New York State Commission for the Blind (NYSCB). If you’re interested in learning more about our various workforce development programs or work experience training, contact VIA today.

Get in Touch Buffalo’s Vision Rehabilitation Experts Today!

Contact VIA today to learn more about the vision loss rehabilitation services we provide in Western New York.

VIA has two clinic locations in the WNY area:

Main Campus
1170 Main Street
Buffalo, NY 14209

Northtowns
1491 Sheridan Drive, Suite 600
Tonawanda, NY 14217

Clinic hours are Monday through Thursday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. To make an appointment at one of our locations, call VIA at (716) 888-4556.

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