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Disability Action Center NW

New technologies help visually impaired reimagine the workplace

Posted by: Mary Malone

Can you imagine life after experiencing a significant loss of vision? Consider the challenges you would have to overcome to return to day-to-day living. Now, think about the obstacles you would face upon returning to work. Or is the thought of resuming your career even possible?

For one employee, these challenges were all too real. The employee, a teacher, developed a condition that caused significant vision loss.

While I wasn’t the teacher’s case manager, I believe her experience highlights some of the great advancements in adaptive technologies.

At first she struggled with the basics: taking care of her home, preparing meals and looking after loved ones. Fortunately, after a period of time, her vision improved slightly. Although she was still considered legally blind, she was motivated enough to return to teaching — a return that would necessitate using adaptive equipment.

Adaptive technologies have improved dramatically over the past 10 years, and can help a visually impaired person resume his or her career. This technology includes:

  • Braille translation software
  • Screen magnification and screen reading software
  • Optical character recognition
  • Large-print printers
  • Braille display printers

To begin with, the employee participated in a low-vision evaluation to identify the devices that would allow her to come back to work. She met with a vocational consultant who coordinated services with the school district. Based on the consultant’s feedback, the district purchased a number of devices, including a closed circuit television (CCTV), an orange filter and a portable CCTV, as well as voice-activated software.

In addition to her adaptive equipment, the employee was given the opportunity to job shadow and co-teach, which enabled her to become familiar with these new devices on the job. Based on immediate and measurable results, the school district offered her a new contract and she returned to her position as a full-time middle school teacher.

The employee is now focused on inspiring students to excel in school. This, in the end, may be the greatest challenge she now faces.