PEOPLE WHO ARE VISUALLY IMPAIRED IN THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY
a research project
This paper was written in 1999, when I intended to undertake
academic research that would help to identify jobs that could be
by people who are vision impaired. Work did start on the
in the year 2000, but had to be abandoned because of pressure of
work. It is actually far too large a project for an
researcher to undertake, but is published here to encourage
may wish to follow the academic route.
Since writing this brief, I have had two further attempts at
defining research studies that would not be too much for an
yet would contribute something worthwhile in the field of
for people who are vision impaired. Subsequently, I have
that my time would be more effectively used in working with
are disabled in training and supporting them in employment and
This paper sets out the brief for an academic research
which, it is envisaged, will examine issues relating to the
of people in the United Kingdom who are visually impaired.
intended that the study be undertaken by myself, working part
over a five year period. Discussions with universities
that the most appropriate route would be via an MPhil, leading
PhD. However, this project is intended first and foremost
practical investigation and implementation, not simply as an
in academia. It is hoped that genuine improvements in
prospects for people who are visually impaired will be the most
significant outcome of this work.
1. To identify, survey, assess and evaluate new and
employment opportunities for people who are visually impaired.
2. To participate in the development, implementation and
of at least one scheme that will create new employment
for people who are visually impaired.
There is often a deal of confusion about terminology used
referring to people who have a visual impairment. The
below are not intended to be absolute, but they are those to be
throughout this study.
Blind Refers to a person who is legally entitled
registered blind in the United Kingdom, i.e. a person who has
five per cent vision.
Partially Sighted Refers to a person who is legally entitled
registered partially sighted in the United Kingdom, i.e. a
has less than ten per cent vision.
Visually Impaired Refers to a person who is either blind or
partially sighted, within the above definitions. There
however many more people who are not entitled to be registered
or partially sighted but who may have significant difficulties
many visual activities; these people are also referred to
being visually impaired.
Totally Blind Refers to those people who have no useful
although they may have limited perception of light and dark.
Estimates of the unemployment rate amongst people in the
Kingdom who are visually impaired vary from 75% (BBC “In
Business”; Radio 4, 3rd February 2000) to in excess of
Whatever the reliability of these figures, it is clear that the
majority of people who are visually impaired are not in
employment. This view is supported by a large body of
opinion within the visually impaired community.
It is not yet known whether these figures are stable or are
changing. However, it would seem likely that changes in
workplace and in working practices may be making it more
people who are visually impaired to secure and retain
Two of these changes that have already been noted are:-
a) much work that was formerly carried out by people who were
visually impaired is now done in the developing world, done by
or not done at all;
b) increasing visual factors in the workplace, notably though
exclusively due to the increased use of computer technology,
it progressively more difficult for people who are visually
carry out many tasks and to integrate with work colleagues.
The short article by John Rae, included as an Appendix to
paper, is a useful starting point for any survey of factors in
workplace that have further obstructed the employment of people
visually impaired. Although this article is based on the
situation in Canada, it is equally relevant in the United
It is envisaged that a number of threads will run through
study and will be of differing significance at different
The major areas of interest will be as follows:-
1. To establish actual levels of employment and unemployment
people in the United Kingdom who are visually impaired.
2. To establish how employment rates for people in the United
Kingdom who are visually impaired have changed for various types
employment, such as professional, craft, trade and unskilled
3. To study initiatives in the United Kingdom and elsewhere
at improving the employment prospects of people who are visually
4. To examine the potential benefits for people who are
impaired of enabling mechanisms such as supported employment and
5. To examine the potential of self employment for people who
6. To examine the potential advantages and disadvantages of
teleworking for people who are visually impaired.
7. To collaborate in the development and implementation of
more specific schemes with a view to creating new employment
opportunities for people who are visually impaired.
It is envisaged that the study will be carried out in seven
phases, though there will inevitably be considerable overlap
1. A thorough survey of existing facts and figures relating
employment of people who are visually impaired in the United
Kingdom. Much of the source material for this phase is
available, but will have to be identified and information
2. A review of the extent and effectiveness of employment
and other support available to people who are visually impaired
by state and other agencies.
3. An investigation into initiatives in the United Kingdom
elsewhere that promote, encourage or support employment of
are visually impaired. This will be a lengthy phase in
will be necessary to make heavy use of the Internet, as well as
requiring visits to schemes in various parts of the United
4. Assessment and evaluation of a variety of those
with a view to selecting a small number for special study.
of this work will overlap the previous phase as schemes are
5. A detailed study of the strengths and weaknesses of the
selected group of schemes with a view to discovering why they
have not been successful. There may be a need here to
moral and ethical implications of schemes.
6. Implementation of at least one scheme aimed at creating
employment opportunities for people who are visually impaired.
7. Critical evaluation and assessment of the whole study.
Searches of the Internet and enquiries amongst professional
contacts have revealed little by way of literature relevant to
subject of this research. It does, however, seem unlikely
little related work has been done. It will therefore be
to make an early and detailed search for relevant literature.
Some potentially relevant work has been found in the United
Kingdom, and efforts are in hand to procure papers from the
concerned. Another useful potential source has been
Mississippi State University.
The following article was published in Volume 29, No. 1 of
Newsletter of the British Computer Association of the Blind in
1998. It is included here by kind permission of the
author, John Rae, who has already given considerable help and
encouragement in developing the brief for this study.
Although I had had no contact with John Rae at that time, his
article, posted on the GLADNET mailing list, focusses on the
that were uppermost in my own mind at that time.
Note that the email address given for John Rae at the end of
article is no longer valid.
------ Text of Article - BCAB Newsletter Vol. 29, No. 1
WILL THE BLIND FIND WORK IN THE
21st. CENTURY? - John Rae
Margaret Hill offered the following for publication:-
Dear GLADNET Colleagues:
I was recently provided the following article by a friend,
will apparently be published. The author raises an
issue; that systemic employment practices that result in the
in the numbers of support staff are having an adverse impact on
opportunities for certain persons with disabilities.
Again, GLADNET colleagues may wish to contact the author
at his e-mail address.
John Rae Writes:-
At present, the workplace, and indeed the very nature of work
itself is being transformed more quickly and more dramatically
has since the Industrial Revolution! These changes will
to have a profound impact upon all job-seekers with
including those of us who happen to be blind.
Over the past ten or twenty years, the disability community
most western industrialised nations has worked very hard to
public attitudes and to remove old barriers in both society and
workplace that have impeded our equal participation in the world
work. The literature tells us that some progress towards
achieving these goals has taken place but, to date, only the
few have benefited directly by finding their niche in the
today. The vast majority of persons with disabilities
unemployed and marginalised or, at best, severely
Advances in technology, it was postulated by some, would go a
way towards removing the drudgery of heavy, physical work, and
remedy our chronic level of unemployment by making it possible
and more of us to compete successfully alongside our
Undoubtedly, some have definitely benefited from this
promise. After all, the development of new technology has
the development of a variety of new industries where some
highly-skilled blind persons now work successfully.
those who predicted that the computer would become our panacea
failed to see the other side of this "double-edged sword," and
are seeing the emergence of new barriers that were unforeseen as
recently as five or ten years ago, that are threatening much of
progress we have made.
Today, the level of unemployment in most western
nations remains high with little or no prospect for significant
improvement. While expanding global trade should help
greater workplace diversity, cutbacks are now the norm as
try to maximise their profits through the use of an
force. Every day, more and more individuals are being
hired on a
short-term contract basis to work on a specific project.
staff, who often used to provide some of our needed
almost becoming an endangered species and the technology that
supposed to help make us equal is too often put onto the market
necessary access features are even thought about, let alone
the new products.
As we approach the dawn of the 21st century, will even those
fortunate few persons with disabilities continue to be employed,
what will be our prospects? This dilemma leads to an
question: is any individual or Organisation now looking
at these futuristic questions?
Anyone with information, or who would like to discuss these
questions in more detail, please contact me in print, Braille,
tape, no disks please at: 92 Jarvis Street, Apt.
Toronto, Ontario, Canada M5B 2J9. E-mail:
Cad Raskin, Coordinator, Global Applied Disability Research
Information Network on Employment and Training (GLADNET)
Visit GLADNET's Web sites at: HTTP://www.gladnet.org or
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