What you need to know about hiring blind and visually impaired workers

According to the U.S. Labor Department, 20% of Americans in the labor force have some sort of disability, and almost 3% of all working-aged Americans are blind.

As you look to grow your teams and recruit new talent, it’s imperative that you use every resource available -and reach out to every individual or group, including those with visible or invisible disabilities.

You’re not only legally mandated to make sure your hiring practices are ADA compliant, but if your website, interview practices, and office itself aren’t accessible and friendly to disabled applicants, you’re doing your company a disservice by essentially eliminating an entire pool of potentially immensely talented candidates – just like that.

These strategies can help recruiters and low-vision candidates see each other better:

Make your application process accessible to blind candidates

Blind candidates must be able to access both your job postings – on your site and any job boards you’re participating in – and fill out the application itself. Web content accessibility guidelines can help you determine what needs to be done.

“If I’m a blind person and I go to an employer’s website and I can’t even fill out the basic job application, that discourages me and tells me that employer is maybe not all that serious about hiring blind people or hasn’t really thought about it,” says Chris Danielsen, a spokesperson for the National Federation of the Blind.

Consider putting information on your website on how to contact someone if a candidate needs to request an accommodation to apply for a job or for interviews.

If a job requires that an applicant complete testing as part of the interview process, be sure there are accommodations available for someone with low vision.

“The fewer barriers there are to hiring, the more likely it is that you’re going to get applications from blind people,” Danielsen says.

Reach out to organizations that cater to disabilities

You can specifically interface with organizations that work with the blind and other people with disabilities, such as the National Federation of the Blind, the New York State Commission for the Blind or VISIONS.

“We have a job fair every year as part of our convention,” Danielsen says. “Blind people have as many career goals and employment interests as the sighted public does, so there’s no particular thing that needs to be done other than letting blind people know that you’re interested in hiring, and making your hiring process accessible, so that blind people can participate in it.”

It’s also worthwhile to spread the message at your company that you’re looking to hire inclusively.

“Often, there’s commitment at the top of the organization, but it doesn’t always trickle down to the hiring manager or recruiters,” says George Abbott, chief knowledge advancement officer for the American Foundation for the Blind.

“Make sure the organization as a whole is clear on their philosophy about it, and you may need to do some awareness training.”

Know what you can and can’t ask

Before you’ve extended a job offer, you cannot ask a job candidate any questions that would reveal the existence of a disability or ask about the condition itself.

For instance, you can’t ask whether they’ve had any medical procedures related to their vision or whether a medical condition may have caused their blindness.

That said, if the disability is obvious or the candidate brings it up themselves, you may ask them whether they would need a reasonable accommodation to perform the tasks required in the job.

In general, however, you should be asking all candidates the same questions – about their relevant experience and why they’re qualified to do the job. “Ask a blind person the same questions you’d ask any other candidate, and try to stick to that,” Abbott says

Additionally, respect that candidate by not asking them things you’d never ask any other job candidate – like how they’d get to work every day.

“Every blind person has a story about being in an interview and being asked a question like, ‘How will you get to the bathroom by yourself?’” Danielsen says.

“What we’d really like to see more of is employers starting with at least a basic idea that blind people are generally competent to handle our lives.”

Expect great things

“The biggest thing we face in all areas, including employment, is low expectations,” Danielsen says.

One of the frustrations blind people often face is that employers frequently just assume that they can’t do the job because they’re blind.

“Blind people are doing almost every job you can think of,” Danielsen says. “If it doesn’t involve driving, a blind person is probably doing it somewhere. And as a general rule, the blind person wouldn’t be applying if they didn’t think they could do that job.”

In fact, you may find that hiring a blind person is a huge advantage – because they can add a lot to your team. “We spend so much of our day being problem solvers for everything we do,” Abbott says. “So we just naturally bring creativity and creative thinking to the work environment and I think that adds value.”