1999 Conference Proceedings

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Seville Allen
Program Analyst
Accommodations Program
Phone: (703)681-8812
e-mail: sevelia.allen@tma.osd.mil

When we think of accommodation tools used by visually impaired persons, we immediately think of high end technology solutions.

However, many effective accommodation tools exist that have been used for decades and are still viable solutions for effective job performance and movement within the employment environment. It is important for persons with visual impairments to have the right tools to function at the workstation and around the employment site.

These tools are as vital as engineering or plumbers tools needed to do an efficient and competent job.

Therefore, the following outlines the factors successfully used by the Department of Defense (DoD), Computer/electronic Accommodation Program (CAP) when working with visually impaired persons to choose the right tools for efficient and effective job performance:

The Form a partnership: Employer and the visually impaired employee must first become an accommodation team. The employee will be the best resource for exploring and choosing the accommo- dation tools.

Determine usable vision: Next, visual use must be determined. Since persons with visual impairments do not see alike, the tools chosen will depend on whether or not the employee has usable vision, how the residual vision is used and the type of skills and abilities needed to perform the essential job tasks.

Explore low vision tools: Most persons who are considered blind have some usable vision. Therefore, most accommodation assess- ments will involve how much that vision can be used to perform efficiently. when vision is assessed for its usefulness, one must take into consideration the efficiency with which the vision is used.

For example, reading speed, length of comfortable reading time, eye strain and tendency for headaches will be the variables to assess to determine if print reading is feasible. If it is, the employee can explore using high end technology tools such as computer screen magnification, print enlargement systems and less complex solutions such as dark lined paper, large print calendars and wide point pens.

Explore nonvisual tools: If the vision is not useful for per- forming job functions,then speech or braille would be appropriate accommodations to explore.

Employees with no usable vision will use high end technology solutions such as speech or braille output systems to access the computer monitor. In some cases, employees will use a combina- tion of speech and braille to work most efficiently. For exam- ple, a blind secretary who is required to proofread typed materi- als finds that proofreading is more accurate when braille is used, but that when producing the document, listening to the screen output facilitates use of speedy word processing skills.

Computer programmers report that using braille output systems has increased their work productivity more than half than it was when they used the more primitive screen reading devices or just speech output. However, when they prepare the report summarizing the results of programming runs, they rely on the speech output from the computer.

Explore all alternative technologies: For note taking, jotting down phone messages or annotating files, visually impaired employees may choose from several alternatives. Electronic notetakers are available with a standard word processing keyboard or the standard seven key braille keyboard. These systems provide speech output and can be connected to a computer for quick transfer of notes to the computer. The more traditional note taking devices are large pointed pens used by persons with low vision or the slate and stylus, considered as a pen equiva- lent by those taking braille notes. All of these note taking methods are viable. The employer and the employee will need to evaluate how notes are used to determine which is the most "reasonable accommodation".

Explore reading alternatives: Most jobs require reading and understanding or interpreting what is read. Persons with low vision generally choose magnification systems. Those with no usable vision, generally choose reader/scanners. Scanning devices work well when text reading is done. However, if large volumes of reading are required or if specific formats must be maintained, the accommodation solution may be a part time "live" reader; that is, an individual who reads printed material to the visually impaired employee. The reader need not have knowledge and ability, nor meet the job qualifications required of the employee. The reader must be able to follow directions given by the visually impaired employee, find information quickly--serve as eyes for print reading.

Address moving about the work place: The team must also address the issue of moving about the work place. Persons who fit the definition of legal blindness may have good usable vision or may not be able to see objects in the environment. Thus, not all visually impaired persons will use a mobility aid such as a white cane or a dog guide.

However, if the visually impaired employee cannot see objects in the environment, then that employee should be using a mobility aid. This issue is most likely discussed in terms of safety. For example, Safety is a viable issue when considering a working environment where large vehicles are moving about amidst high level noise. Safety is not viable issue when an employee is expected to navigate through hallways where occasional boxes or furniture may be lined against the wall. In the noisy environment the visually impaired person may not hear the audio cues needed to travel safely.

In the hallways, the visually impaired person will see the obstacles, and if they are not seen, then use of a white cane or dog guide is probably necessary to move about safely and efficiently.

The factors can be summarized in the following steps:

  1. The employer and visually impaired employee form an accommo- dation team.
  2. Conduct a job assessment to identify job functions and how the functions are performed
  3. Evaluate vision use with various data presentations
  4. Compare evaluation results with alternate output devices
  5. Select the accommodation tools which facilitate the optimal use of the employee's skills and abilities.

The DoD, CAP, provides the assistive technology to individuals with visual disabilities. When using the right combination of tools, whether an individual just fits the definition of legal blindness or has no usable vision at all, these employees can be valuable persons on the office team.

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