Imagine going for a job interview - something we’ve all done before and you have a great rapport with the interviewer, you have all the skills and qualifications for the job, you answer each question perfectly, you leave feeling really confident. The next day, the interviewer calls you and tells you: “We really like you, we want to give you the job but the software we use isn’t compatible with your screen reading software”.
This happened recently to 32-year-old Jane when applying for a job.
For people who are blind or have low vision, there is a variety of software including screen-reading and magnification software that means the barrier of blindness disappears.
For Jane, she missed out on getting the job because of software that was developed without considering accessibility.
All people, regardless of ability, should be given the same quality employment opportunities but this requires employers, businesses and government to consider workplace accessibility. Quality full-time employment opportunities support people to have personal and financial independence, and full time employment is the goal for many people with disabilities, as opposed to part-time or otherwise transient employment.
Vision Australia, CNIB Foundation and Blind Foundation NZ recently worked together to conduct a survey about employment for people who are blind or have low vision. It confirmed that people who are blind or have low vision are significantly less likely to have full-time employment compared to their sighted counterparts. Of those responding to the survey, Australians had the lowest full-time employment rate for people with sight
loss at only 24 per cent, followed by Canada at 28 per cent and New Zealand at 32 per cent. The full-time employment rate among the general public in these countries is nearly double that.
In this day and age, we need to do better. With all the technological advancements and educational opportunities now available, people with sight loss shouldn't be disadvantaged when trying to find a job.
The survey found there needs to be a shift in employer attitudes towards hiring people with disability, and business practices to help make workplaces more accessible for people who are blind or have low vision. A full 43 per cent of Australian respondents identified their workplace's inaccessibility as a barrier compared to 58 per cent of Canadians and New Zealanders. More than 60 per cent of respondents in all three countries believe employer attitudes are one of the main barriers to full-time employment with half reporting they
believed they had not been hired for roles because of their sight loss.
At Vision Australia, we have an employment rate for people who are blind or have low vision of 15%. I know, from personal experience, that people who are blind or have low vision make excellent staff and are capable of participating effectively in a wide range of workplaces.
A diversified workforce is also a good business decision and some studies have shown that hiring a person who is blind or has low vision can drive business growth, productivity and nurture a positive work culture. Research has also shown that people who are blind or have low vision highly value their employers and places of work and are likely to be committed employees.
Government has a role to play, both as an employer (as the current disability employment rate across all public services is low) but also through policy and legislation that needs to drive accessibility and inclusion for people with disabilities.