By Naomi Barber
In late 2019, BCA started work on the Eye to the Future of Employment project. Funded by the National Disability Insurance Agency’s Information Linkages and Capacity Building grant, the project aimed to change how employers perceive people who are blind or vision impaired.
This project was planned to have 4 major areas.
- The development of a series of short videos to showcase the success of people who are blind or vision impaired in different areas of employment.
- The creation of a website to support people who are seeking employment or navigating a career change and those looking to hire people who are blind or vision impaired. The site includes accessible features and blindness specific resources to assist in career planning, developing a resume, preparing for an interview, understanding workplace culture and much more. It also has a section dedicated to employers and recruiters to assist in making both recruitment and workplaces accessible.
- The establishment of Internships with partner organisations to challenge the perceptions of hiring a person who is blind or vision impaired and support people into different roles and businesses.
- A symposium where employers, recruiters and HR professionals could discuss the accessibility of recruitment and hiring people who are blind or vision impaired.
To support the project we also created a Facebook group that facilitates discussion around employment and shares relevant information.
After creating the videos, developing the website, and establishing relationships and agreements with partner organisations, our plans were disrupted by COVID-19. As a result, we needed to pause the internship and symposium components of the project. After consultation with our funding body, we were provided a project extension and were able to revisit the internships.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t possible to gather people in one location for a symposium. Although we had a venue and the content prepared, the social and physical restrictions in the states proposed were not lifted to allow us to move forward with the event. So again we consulted our funding body and were able to pivot our focus to work on delivering online events. We hired our own intern to work with the project team and set to work on finding a way to engage with employers and allowing them to ask questions and seek practical solutions to accessibility in employment.
As a result we held 2 online workshops that hosted 55 people from the employment, recruitment and HR sectors.
We hosted a panel discussion that involved people who are blind or vision impaired and their employers responding to questions and providing insights into accessible recruitment, reasonable adjustment and workplace modifications. The employers shared some amazing tips and highlighted that accessibility in the workplace supports all employees, how an open dialogue is key to ensuring all staff are supported at work and that employers are able to discuss needs and how those needs change over time.
Some of the key insights from the workshops were captured in these panellist quotes:
“Good design is accessible design.” – Jonathan Craig
“One of the best things organisations can do to help make change is affirmative action. In the short run it’s challenging – but in the long run it gets results.” – Matt O’Kane
“Larger organisations such as Universities, corporations and non-profits should use their purchasing power to encourage software companies to make their products accessible. Prior to a purchase they should find out how accessible the product is. If it’s not accessible – then ask why not. The power of their purchasing power makes a difference.” – Jaci Armstrong
The project overall aimed to address the underemployment of people who are blind or vision impaired and provide practical ways for employers to engage in accessible recruitment and employment.
At the start of the project we asked BCA members to share with us their experiences both positive and negative throughout their working lives or careers.
Some of the comments we received included:
“I have been totally blind and a white cane user since the early 1980s before which I was legally blind. I was mainly unemployed until the advent of screen reader technology and won my first full-time job when 38 years old.” – Michael
“I want to show that blind or vision impaired people can aspire to a range of roles and demonstrate to employers the types of careers blind and vision impaired people can have.” – Dr Theresa Smith-Ruig, Senior lecturer at UNE Business School
“I’m proud of my achievements. I remember being out of work as a young man, applying for any and every job that came up. I did things that weren’t long term or in my areas of interest. I kept going and now I have a job I absolutely love. It challenges me, it forces me to travel to Melbourne and puts me out of my comfort zone but I’m completely supported by my team, my manager and the wider business.” – Mitch
“ At 52 years old, I think the work I am doing is unique for blind/low vision people. Given the right employers it could be something others could do.” – Adam, working at a Pizzeria
“I work in hotel cleaning but also do volunteer work and provide support work at day programs.” – Stacee
What we want to showcase is that people are at different stages of life, career, vision loss, interests and expertise. There is a place in employment for everyone, whether they are starting out, finishing their higher or tertiary education, career established or looking at self-employment. There are so many varied skills and interests that bring so much life experience to a workplace.
Our members have spoken of their positive outcomes in employment, and we have heard from their employers that inclusive workplaces are great for all employees, not just those who are blind or vision impaired. By developing our website tools for employers, hearing from employers at our online workshops, and showcasing some of the success stories in our videos, we have encouraged employers to reimagine their approach to recruitment and employment.
Does an employee really need a driver’s licence for that role? Can a person use public transport or ride share services for the position? Would that even be a cost saving to the business? Do you really need to advertise a role in a PDF document that is likely to be inaccessible? By using a PDF format job description you may be limiting your reach to suitable candidates. We have shared resources that talk to document accessibility for employers. We’ve also suggested that if you just asked people how they would like to receive information and any access requirements they may have upfront, you may receive some great information from an applicant.
We are still in the throes of a global pandemic, which shook this project into very different ways of existing. But we look at how technology has supported business to maintain function throughout this time. We have seen organisations shift their workforce capabilities and move rapidly to develop processes to work remotely, use new software, test technology and challenge the status quo of working 9-5 from an office space.
Now more than ever we have the opportunity to capitalise on workforce flexibility, the introduction of new technology and the ability of employers to shape their employee experiences. BCA is working on the next application for funding to further An Eye to the Future of Employment. We hope to be able to leverage the work undertaken in this project to gain further momentum with employers and continue our work levelling the playing field in recruitment and employment for people who are blind or vision impaired.
BCA thanks everyone who expressed interest in being part of this project, supported the events, hosted an Intern, shared their experiences and provided feedback. We look forward to further work in the employment space in the future.