Workers with sight loss are significantly less likely to be employed full time compared to their sighted counterparts, according to research from Vision Australia, the Blind Foundation of New Zealand, and the CNIB Foundation.
The study looked at blind and partially sighted adults across three countries, finding Australia had the lowest full-time employment rate at 24%, followed by Canada at 28% and New Zealand at 32%.
However, the full-time employment rate among the general public in these countries, in some cases, is nearly double that.
Sandra Budd, Blind Foundation of New Zealand chief executive, said there is a great opportunity in supporting employers to make changes that result in more inclusive workplaces for people with sight loss.
“This is the same at the government level – systemic change in accessibility and inclusion will help to move us forward.”
John Rafferty, CNIB Foundation president and CEO, added that in this day and age, it's shocking to see such a stark disparity when it comes to full-time employment rates for people who are blind.
"With all the technological advancements and educational opportunities available, people with sight loss shouldn't be disadvantaged when trying to find a job."
The survey also found a major link between educational background and full-time employment rates for people with sight loss.
In Canada, only 5.5% of people with sight loss who don’t have a high school diploma are working full time, versus 35% with a post-secondary degree, compared with Australia, where the statistics were 10.6% versus 28%.
Meanwhile, in New Zealand, 15% of people with sight loss who don’t have a high school leaving qualification are working full time versus 42% with a degree.
“This research tells us something we’ve known for some time in the international sight loss community: education drives employment outcomes,” said Ron Hooton, Vision Australia CEO.
“Our kids need comprehensive supports delivered by specialists who understand blindness and its unique impacts on learning, to help them thrive in school and succeed in their future careers.”
The research also points to the need for a shift in employer attitudes and business practices to help make workplaces more accessible for people who are blind or partially sighted.
The survey showed 43% of Australian respondents identified their workplace's inaccessibility as a barrier compared to 58% of Canadians and New Zealanders.
Moreover, over 60% of respondents in all three countries believe employer attitudes are one of the main barriers to full-time employment – and half reporting feeling they had not been hired because of their sight loss.
The three organisations are calling for national accessibility legislation and related funding programs to be strengthened and enforced in their respective countries, to effectively motivate and support employers in making their workplaces truly inclusive to people with sight loss.
Additionally, pan-disability employment support models should be reviewed to better meet the unique needs of the blind community.
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