People who are blind or vision impaired can and should be meaningfully employed and have the right to seek, work towards and gain rewarding employment. People who are blind or vision impaired can and have worked in a range of occupations ranging from a car detailer to an accountant to a chemical manufacturer to an administration assistant, to name just a few careers.
The strategies below are intended to support you as a recruiter to successfully hire a person who is blind or vision impaired and to get the best for your business or the business you are assisting.
Why recruit a person who is blind or vision impaired?
People who are blind or vision impaired can be an excellent recruitment choice. By being innovative in how everyday tasks are completed, people who are blind or vision impaired can be very adept at managing change and can be creative in finding solutions and problem solving. People who are blind or vision impaired also tend to be highly educated and committed to an employer – research undertaken in 2012 by Vision Australia, a blindness service provider, has shown that of those employed who took part in the research, 43% had been in the same job for more than five years. These characteristics are strong attributes which would benefit businesses across Australia.
So here are some reasons why you should consider hiring a person who is blind or vision impaired.
Australian and International research shows that there are clear benefits and costs savings by hiring a person with disability
- 1. Australian and international research of the views of employers has shown that:
- Australian employers view the financial effect of workplace modifications to be mostly cost neutral
- There is clear performance benefit and advantage by providing workplace modifications – the benefit to cost ratio for making workplace adjustments might be as high as 40:1, according to the US Job Accommodation Network
- Benefits of providing workplace accommodations include enabling retention or hiring of a qualified employee (56%), eliminated the cost of training a new employee (31%), saved workers’ compensation and other insurance costs (38%) and increases in the employee’s productivity (54%).
- Australian employees with disability tend to be more reliable in their attendance, are more likely to stay in a position for longer (leading to savings in recruitment costs) and lead to cost savings in safety and insurance
- The economic benefits of hiring a person with disability exceed the costs
Advertising a Job
Provide information, such as job ads, in accessible formats
- All internally and externally advertised jobs (including the advertisement itself), position descriptions, guidelines and forms to apply for a job, must be accessible to a person who is blind or vision impaired, including through the use of adaptive technology, such as screen reading software which reads information displayed on a screen audibly. Requests for documents in alternative formats (such as large print or Braille) should be provided by the agency or organisation advertising the position in a timely manner. Just like you, people who are blind or vision impaired want to know what a job involves before they apply.
Provide documents in Word and RTF formats in addition to PDF
- Documents provided in PDF format should also be available in a Microsoft Word/Rich Text Format (RTF) to ensure that they are accessible to people using screen reading software. A PDF document can be accessible if developed using accepted guidelines for web access for people with disability (W3C Web Accessibility Guidelines) (www.w3.org). Scanning a print document and saving it to a PDF is a no-go – while this may prevent people from altering the document, it also prevents people who use screen reading software from reading it, which can constitute indirect discrimination under the law if another format is not offered.
Position descriptions – outline what’s necessary and avoid ‘desirable’ criteria which might indirectly discriminate
- Position descriptions must include the necessary requirements of the position and not include extra ‘desirable’ or ‘preferred’ criteria which could indirectly discriminate against people with disability.
A driver’s licence – is it really vital to the position?
- The requirement for a driver’s licence is often mentioned in job advertisements. There are few positions where a driver’s licence is a necessary and a non-negotiable requirement of a job, such as in the case of a taxi or delivery driver. Other strategies for conducting work related travel should be considered by employers and include use of public transport, taxis, walking and car sharing which should be recognised as valid alternatives to using a fleet car. These alternate strategies for conducting work related travel are both economically and environmentally sound.
Using technology instead of travel to maximise efficiency
- In positions that cover a broader geographic area, greater use should be made of technology such as Skype, videoconference, email and phone to maximise the amount of time spent on work and reduce the amount of time spent on travel.
Ensure your website is fully accessible to W3C web accessibility guidelines to ensure that you open your employment net far and wide
- Website content, online application forms and information placed on external recruitment websites (such as Seek or MyCareer) must comply with W3C Web Accessibility Guidelines. A clear set of instructions which outline how to complete online forms, and confirmation that the application has been successfully lodged and received, should also be implemented. Alternative application methods should also be promoted for use by individuals who are unable to complete their application online.
Interviewing, assessing and providing feedback to candidates
Treat all applicants equitably
- People who are blind or vision impaired should be treated equitably during recruitment, hiring and employment (United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Article 27). Recruitment and interviews should be conducted in a non-prejudicial and transparent manner.
Ensure interview assessments are accessible
- Assessments of an applicant’s skill such as written tests, competency tests or group based assessments which are undertaken during the interview process must be accessible to applicants who are blind or vision impaired. This might include the installation of adaptive software (such as a screen reader or text enlargement program), a comparable alternative test (if operating systems are not accessible), adjusting activities or the provision of extra time if this is required. All tests must be relevant to the position, be applied consistently to all applicants who are being considered for the position and not unfairly disadvantage an applicant who is blind.
If interviewees need adjustments, this should be negotiated
- Applicants who are blind or vision impaired should advise the interviewer of any reasonable adjustments they need after accepting an interview, including advice of accessible formats for documentation provided prior to the interview or on the day, assistance needed (such as assistance to locate the building, floor or meeting room) and any other adjustments.
Ask the same interview questions of all of your candidates
- Interview questions asked of an applicant who is blind should be the same in content as those asked of other applicants.
An interview is a good opportunity to find out how work related tasks will be conducted
- A person who is blind might not be able to read standard print but will have developed other strategies to conduct work related tasks, such as scanning documents, using screen reading software which discreetly reads information via headphones or recording voice memos on a playback device. An interview is a good setting to seek clarity on how the applicant will undertake the core tasks of the advertised position and to discuss what adjustments may be required. The purpose of an interview is to find out more about the skills and experience of the applicant to determine if they are the right fit – questions about how tasks will be completed should not form the basis of the selection decision or the terms and conditions on which the job may be offered.
Provide timely and constructive feedback to unsuccessful applicants
- Applicants who are blind or vision impaired who are unsuccessful for a position should be encouraged to request feedback from the prospective employer as to why they were unsuccessful and the areas that require improvement. This can ensure that the jobseeker is better prepared the next time round. It is important that there is a consistent approach to providing feedback to all applicants and that the feedback provided relates to the person’s fit to the role and/or their skill set and not to their disability.
Access to information in the workplace
Ensure all workplace information is accessible
- Forms, staff materials, manuals and protocols (including information about how to resolve a complaint in the workplace), internal and external documents (as far as possible) as well as any other information that is relevant to the position should be available to the employee who is blind, in their preferred format, at the same time that it is available to other employees performing the same or similar roles.
Reasonable Adjustments – what recruiters need to know
- Providing reasonable adjustments for a candidate or employee with disability is a legal requirement of the Commonwealth Disability Discrimination Act 1992 so it is important that this forms part of recruiter’s thinking. The type of reasonable adjustment needed by a person who is blind or vision impaired may differ from person to person and may depend on the position. Also, a requirement for a reasonable adjustment may arise at any stage of the employment process, not just during recruitment. A recruitment agency acting on behalf of an employer will be acting unlawfully if it discriminates in a way that would be unlawful for the employer to discriminate! So what can you do?
Speak with the person seeking reasonable adjustments about their specific needs
- People who are blind or vision impaired may require some reasonable adjustments to be able to perform the ‘inherent’ or key requirements of a position to their full potential. The adjustments needed by an applicant or employee who is blind or vision impaired should be made in consultation with the person, with the involvement of an advocate and/or a professional who works with people who have vision impairments if required. The judgment of the individual should be respected – a person often knows their own needs best.
Reasonable adjustments are not about doing less work – consider trading tasks between team members or modifying how a task is completed
- Reasonable adjustments are not about an employee doing less work or taking on fewer tasks. In the instance where some tasks are impossible or very difficult to complete accessibly, an employee seeking reasonable adjustments to a position should be actively considered for, and allocated, other comparable tasks which are suitable and accessible. This could include “trading” a task/s between team members, modifying how a task is completed, discussing alternate tasks with the employee to determine tasks that are achievable or tailoring the position to better fit the skill set of the employee rather than fit a “standard” role. This ensures that the workplace can work smarter and better utilises the skillset of the team.
People who are blind or vision impaired can be highly productive employees
- Government schemes, such as the Employment Assistance Fund which funds workplace modifications, wage subsidies and tax incentives, are offered to incentivise employers to hire a person with disability and are not in place because people with disability are less productive. People who are blind or vision impaired, when equipped with the adjustments they require, can be highly productive, loyal employees who have a lot to offer an employer.
Case study: Hiring a person who is blind or vision impaired won’t necessarily be expensive – in fact it could lead to a cost saving
Geoff applied and accepted a position as a Production Manager with a major Australian cleaning company. The company, during contract negotiations, advised that they were working to a tight budget and would be stretched to provide Geoff with a company car as part of his salary packaging. As Geoff has a vision impairment, he advised that a company car was not necessary and negotiated for taxi vouchers to be provided for work related travel.
The company were extremely satisfied with this arrangement as it led to a significant cost saving and enabled Geoff to be hired. Geoff was pleased that he was able to commence a new position closer to home.
Best practice dos:
- Recruit a person who is blind or vision impaired on their merits, skills and work experience rather than placing them in a stereotypical job or making assumptions about what they can and can’t do.
- Don’t be afraid of losing a contract with an employer by putting forward a candidate with a disability – research has shown that staff retention is higher amongst people with disability, which presents a good business case for employment.
- Ensure that software programs, equipment and information are accessible for everyone, including job advertisements, recruitment processes and procedures. You may be missing out on a great candidate because of inaccessibility.
- Ask questions and discuss issues as early as possible with the person who is blind or vision impaired. This will allow time to work out ways to overcome these issues prior to the person commencing the role and can give you a better understanding about the person and what other skills they can bring to the role.
Worst practice don’ts:
- Don’t assume that if you can’t perform certain tasks with your eyes closed that a person who is blind or vision impaired can’t either. A person will likely have undertaken years of training to acquire those skills or may have enough sight to be able to manage a position very effectively, with or without low vision aids, such as use of a white cane or adaptive technology.
- Don’t assume that employing a person who is blind or vision impaired will be a huge financial cost to the organisation. Many modifications are minor or low cost and there are many government grants and subsidy programs, such as Job Access, which can assist. Talk with the candidate and/or a Disability Employment Service (DES) provider about how some of those costs, like specialised software programs, can be met.
- Don’t assume that a person who is blind is an increased Work Health and Safety risk. People who are blind or vision impaired take their personal safety seriously and may pick up on hazards that sighted peers may not immediately notice, such as leads and mats on the floor. This can encourage all employees to become more safety conscious.