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    The Premier AT Conference

Technology Experiences of Blind and Low-Vision Workers

Description
Amid daily struggles, it's easy to forget how lucky we are to have the technology and opportunity we have today as blind people. However, we as blind people have to function in a workplace and compete with sighted peers using tools designed specifically for them and not us. This is every tool, every day, all the time, from the coffee maker to the calendar app to the very architecture of the building. Technology is ubiquitous in the modern workplace. Today's workers must use technology to apply for jobs, complete onboarding and required training activities, communicate with coworkers and clients, and perform their work responsibilities. Like fully sighted workers, employees who are blind, have low vision, and are deafblind must access various technologies in the course of their employment. However, most modern technology is built for people who are fully sighted. Employees who are blind, have low vision, and are deafblind must make adaptations or receive accommodations at work to be fully productive and included in the workplace. At the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB), we conducted the Workplace Technology Study to answer the question: How do technology and the need for accommodations shape the employment experiences of U.S. adults who are blind, have low vision, or are deafblind? We began by reviewing the literature on assistive technology in the workplace. We then conducted a mixed methods research study, beginning with focus groups with blind, low-vision, and sighted individuals working in various industries to identify themes related to technology use and common access challenges. Based on these preliminary findings, we administered an accessible online survey to blind and low-vision adults across the United States in February 2021, receiving 323 usable responses. Finally, we conducted in-depth interviews with 25 survey participants. We will present findings from the three phases of the study. Participants described using a wide variety of mainstream and assistive technology tools. We share the successes and challenges that the participants reported with using technology during hiring, onboarding, required training, and performing their job. We will also describe the experiences that participants reported with requesting and receiving accommodations on the job and with using mainstream and assistive technology together to complete work tasks. Although many participants reported facing access challenges, 40% of the survey participants reported difficulties accessing the required online training. Respondents also described the successful strategies they used to remain productive at work. Based on our findings, we present recommendations for technology developers, information technology (IT) professionals, and employers to lead to more inclusive, accessible workplaces. Among these, we recommend that: • Employees who use Assistive Technology (AT) should review new technology before the employer's purchase. • IT staff should receive AT training to better support employees who use AT. • Developers must think of accessibility from the beginning, not as an afterthought. Our findings support our understanding that, with accommodations and a culture of inclusion, people who are blind, have low vision, and are deafblind can participate fully in the modern workforce. Collaboration between employees, supervisors, HR departments, IT departments, and technology developers will ensure that barriers are removed and that blind, have low vision, and are deafblind workers are fully valued and productive in the workplace. As another of our participants stated: "Technology and availability of accommodations have changed over the years. I don't think I could have done the same job I'm doing now if it were 25 years ago. Technology has enabled me to be a productive person."  
Audience
  • Information & Communications Technology
  • Disability Specific
  • Healthcare & Rehabilitation
  • Employment & Human Resources
Audience Level
Intermediate  
Session Summary (Abstract)
AFB conducted a survey and interviews to examine the technology-related experiences of blind, low-vision, and deafblind workers. We report major findings and recommendations to make workplace technology more accessible and inclusive.  
Session Type
General Track  
Topics
  • Blind/Low Vision
  • Digital Accessibility
  • Employment & Workplace
  • Information & Communications Technology (ICT)
  • Research

Presenters

  • Arielle Silverman
    American Foundation for the Blind
  • Elizabeth Bolander
    New Mexico State University

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