Can A New Online Learning Platform Improve Employment For Those With Visual Impairment?

Despite their ability to work in a variety of jobs, people who are blind or have low vision tend to have low employment rates, low salaries and an unusually high underemployment rate. But some advocates say accessible tech platforms could be key to changing that.

Employment for blind and visually impaired people typically falls into either the low-skill, low-paying category or professional jobs that require a college education category, says Edward Bell, director of the Louisiana Tech University Institute for Professional Development and Research. blindness.

“While blind people are able to do many jobs, such as working in the service industry or mainstream manufacturing, employers are very concerned about safety concerns,” Bell says.

This takes away a lot of functionality. Thus, jobs offered to people with visual impairments are often jobs that are seen as physically safe, which means they involve sitting, such as telemarketing or working in a call center, or those professional jobs such as teaching or law, he says .

The good news, according to Bell, is that college education and skills training — specifically the use of white cane and braille — are associated with greater employment outcomes.

However, access to training in the workplace can be a stumbling block.

The American Foundation for the Blind’s Technology in Work Report, published this month, notes that many blind, partially sighted or deafblind people say they have difficulties accessing workplace training.

According to researchers from the institution, study participants described problems with online exercises that were incompatible with screen readers or visual adjustments such as changing font size, with tests not working with a keyboard and with educational images and videos. that are not described orally.

Many participants say they need to enlist the help of a manager or co-worker to complete the mandatory training, the report notes, causing delays and a sense of exclusion.

“People sometimes assume I can’t participate because I’m blind, when the real problem is that the material is either not made available or not accessible,” says one participant.

More comprehensive platforms

At least one startup is gaining momentum in building a possible solution.

Clusive, Inc. says: , it can improve employment outcomes for the visually impaired through programs and services to teach remote work skills and technology. The company describes itself on its website as the first e-learning platform built for the blind and visually impaired.

“When I discovered the depth of this problem, I really committed myself to solving it: removing barriers between the modern workforce and the blind,” says Lukas Simianer, CEO of Clusiv.

The company acts as a training provider for state vocational and blind rehabilitation services agencies across the country. Clusive is training for what its leaders call “accessibility engineers” who can go into companies and determine if their software is “really usable” for blind or visually impaired people. The founders say they see demand for their system, though they haven’t disclosed how many current users it has.

Blind people are often prevented from feeling “intellectually valued,” according to Simianer, who says his own academic experience has been wracked by a dyslexia diagnosis and can understand the need to feel valued and engaged, which is also relevant to the pedagogical approach. Usually, for example, screen readers are “boring and monotonous,” he says, adding that the use of voice acting and other techniques that engage learners with visual impairments have helped them figure out how to synthesize the information.

The company raised $576,000 in upfront fundraising from venture capital firms, and expects to close a total of $700,000, with a launch expected sometime in the first quarter of 2022.

Gaps and Barriers

Some research has indicated that gaps in workforce participation between visually impaired and non-disabled people still exist but have narrowed over time. However, the gap between the visually impaired and other categories of disabilities, such as hard of hearing, has grown “significantly”, which may indicate unique accessibility issues or structural barriers for those who are blind or visually impaired.

If there is a unique structural barrier to vision impairment, says Bell, of Louisiana Tech, it likely will be resource limitations around the Department of Rehabilitation Services, the agency in the Department of Education that provides vocational rehabilitation services, and a lack of training for most of your counselors for low vision. sight.

Part of the problem, Bell says, is that blind people need more work to acquire “pre-professional skills” — such as reading Braille and using a white cane, for example.

With other disabilities, such as deafness or spinal cord injury, “vocational skills” are usually taken care of during the medical insurance process, so that they are ready to work by the time they reach vocational rehabilitation. In contrast, people who are blind or have visual impairments often come out of vocational rehabilitation not ready to go to work right away.

“The problem is [learning these prevocational skills] It takes time, and it is very expensive, and [vocational rehabilitation] Counselors often feel pressure to close cases quickly and inexpensively.”

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