Job Resources for Older Workers (Audio Presentation)


Hello everyone and welcome to the American Foundation for the Blind’s Center on Vision Loss. My name is Neva Fairchild. I’m national independent living specialist for American Foundation for the Blind. I want to talk to you today about employment as a person who is older and what you need to do to be ready to look for a job and also to share some resources with you that will be helpful. So we just heard a presentation on Social Security Benefits. Now, that you have decided that you won’t lose all of your benefits because you go to work and you’re not afraid of going to work anymore, let’s talk about what else you need to do to get ready.

Look at Jobs From the Perspective of Tasks Involved to Perform

So people with vision loss need to look at the jobs that they are considering in terms of the tasks that are involved in those jobs and what it takes to be able to be able to do that task with your vision. And what you do with your vision and how you do something like for example, read the computer screen is going to be different from the person next to you who might have a vision loss but there are solutions for everyone who have vision impairments to do most tasks on most jobs. Now I can’t promise that the perfect job for you is completely accessible to you as a person with vision impairment but there are very few jobs that aren’t at least partially accessible. I have a very short list of jobs that I would prefer that the person who is doing them not be blind. I’d rather my jet pilot not be blind. Although with the automatic landing and flying capabilities of planes and before too long, cars, I may have to change this list. I’d also rather my bus driver or my taxi driver not be blind. I’d really like to arrive at my destination safe and sound. But that doesn’t mean that the dispatcher that is sending them to their destination or the planner that is mapping out the city and deciding on the best routes couldn’t be a person with vision loss.

I have some friends who are both totally blind and they alerted me to another job that probably shouldn’t be done by a person who is blind and that is a fireman. They had a fire in their kitchen. They smelled the smoke. They heard the flames. They knew there was fire. They ran and got the water hose. They grabbed the fire extinguisher but they couldn’t find the flames. So I think it’s important that a fireman be able to see the flames. Do you think that someone could still work in the fire department as a person with vision loss? Of course they could. They could be in the planning department, the training department. They could be a dispatcher. In fact 911 operators are often people who are blind and visually impaired or have other disabilities. So it depends on your skills and your abilities, and your interests as to what kind of jobs you want to look for especially as a person who is older and has lost vision later in life. You probably already had a career and you may have had to leave it because of your vision. Does that mean you can’t go back? Absolutely not. It means that you need to gain the skills and use the tools that will allow you to do the job you used to do or a new job, if you don’t want to go back to what you have done previously. Let’s break it down to a couple of important tasks that need to be dealt with at first before you even start applying for jobs. Because if you did apply and got a job and didn’t have the basic skills to cope with your vision loss in place, it’s likely to be disastrous. And what a shame to set yourself up for a failure that then you have to overcome that sense of disappointment and that frustration that people who try to get back to work too quickly before they have these compensatory skills in place experience.

Compensatory Skills Needed

So first of all, you’ve got to be able to handle things around the house like setting an alarm and getting up on time. Fixing your own breakfast. Grooming yourself appropriately. Fixing your face if you’re a lady. Shaving, if you’re a man. Matching your clothes. All of the things that it takes to handle your personal needs in the home. Those skills are typically taught either in your home with a rehabilitation teacher or therapist or at a blindness rehabilitation center. And it’s important to have those foundational skills in place before you decide I’m going to work. Now you may say to me but I need to be at work right now. I don’t have time to learn all of that before I return to work. Then you are going to have to take a crash course. You are going to have to study it in the evenings. And you can do that in lots of ways through the rehabilitation schools for the blind programs. There are lots of classes you can take by getting involved with the rehabilitation agency to get the basic skills you need to get back to work. Again, we want to avoid you experiencing a failure when you try to return to work the first time. After you feel like, you know, I’m handling things around the house pretty well, then you need to think about, and probably at the same time as you are learning those skills, you need to think about how am I going to get around in my community? You need to work on mobility skills, an orientation and mobility specialist can teach you these skills. You may need to use a mobility tool such as a long white cane or you may want to take the time to learn to use a dog guide especially if you are doing a lot of traveling and your cane skills are good but you are still not moving at a pace that you feel good about and you want to get there faster, you may be a good candidate for using a dog as your guide. Once mobility skills and independent living skills are in place, and at the same time you are learning these skills, you have to think about the work related tasks that you want to be able to do and that most people at work need to be able to do. For example, being able to read. Now reading can mean a lot of different things on different jobs. Does it mean reading the pink while you were out slips so you know who to call back? Does it mean reading your computer screen? Does it mean reading big print outs of budgets, that are spreadsheets, that are columns and columns wide and rows and rows long with tiny little numbers? And that type of thing. Do you have to read handwriting on the job or is it all going to be mechanically printed texts that you are going to read? There are probably going to be some writing tasks involved in doing most every job. At the very least, you need to be able to write notes to your co-workers, memos, email messages, text messages maybe, depending on the industry. Writing and reading are essential to almost any job.

Skills and Accomodations Needed on the Job

Now there may be other tasks on the job that would need to be learned either on the job or some of the basics learned before you even start the job. Some employers are willing to train on the job. Some are not. And the industry has a lot to do with that. So you may be thinking “well, that’s nice. I can’t read handwriting. I can see the computer screen to read it. I couldn’t read a spreadsheet if I needed to. How am I going to do that?” So there are access technology devices such as video magnifiers that take an image of printed or written material and or handwriting and put the image up on a large screen and you have control on how big that information is and if you have some remaining vision, that may be a tool that will help you. But even if you have remaining vision and you need to read on the job, you may have to read so much that your vision would fatigue before you would finish the task. Or you may read so slowly that you wouldn’t be able to keep up with the pace. I have good news and bad news. Employers expect you as a person with visual impairment to produce and compete with your sighted co-workers. That’s the bad news if you were hoping for some break on that like “gee, I’m going to come back to work but because I have a vision impairment, I’m going to work slow.” But the good news is employers expect you to compete with your sighted co-workers in terms of production and pace. And that’s good news because they will pay you at the same rate as your sighted co-workers. So as a person with vision loss, we really need to be prepared to keep up the pace. So you have to look for really efficient ways to keep up the pace to get the job done. And for some people that may be magnification. For some, it might be using audio access, electronic access through a screen reading on a computer or through an optical character recognition device that takes an image of a printed page and speaks it out loud. Screen enlargement on the computer as well as screen reading technology for the computer allow people with all levels of vision to use the computer and with the foundation of touch typing skills that you don’t have to look at the keyboard in order to type, you will be or you will have the potential to be as competitive as your sighted co-workers.

State Rehabilitation Agency Services

So addressing those issues before you start looking for a job is extremely important. How are you going to do that? Where are you going to find out what kind of technology will help you. Well, that’s where the state location rehabilitation system can help. Every state in the United States has an agency dedicated to help people who are blind or visually impaired to go to work for the first time. Those are the experts and those are the people that can connect you to and help you with evaluating that kind of technology and learning to use it and that’s an important connection you are going to want to make in order to get the technology, determine the technology that you are going to need, perhaps get the technology into position and learn to use it. Most states are able to provide technology when it is work related. It’s all budget related as well so I am not going to make any promises that your state agency is going to buy you the piece of software you need for computer access on the job. But most will at some level be able to help you acquire technology for work related tasks. There are also free programs out there that will allow you to use screen reading technology specifically on your computer that don’t cost anything so you can learn to use them even at home on a PC or even if you have a MAC it’s also built in to be able to build those skills for personal needs as well as work-related needs. Once you feel like ‘OK, this is what I need to be able to read. This is what I need to be able to write. This is what I need to be able to do the tasks of the job I’m interested in, then you are ready to take a look at making applications and starting to look for employers. You may still have questions like how do other people who are blind or visually impaired do this type of job? Do I have all of the skills I need? And how can I find out what is involved in a job if I’ve never done that job? Now, if you used to work in a particular industry; Let’s say you were a teacher. You know what’s involved. You have to be able to write lesson plans. You have to be able to read student papers. You have to be able to monitor a classroom. So go through in your mind or write it down all of the tasks that are involved in the job you used to do and determine how you are going to do them now with your current level of vision. You may decide, you know what? I don’t think I can do that. But, let me promise you that there’s probably somebody out there that is blind or visually impaired doing just that job.

AFB Resources That Can Help

Through American Foundation for the Blind’s Career Connect website, you can connect with a blind or visually impaired mentor working in a field that you are interested in. You can talk to them by email at first, and eventually, if you both agree, you can talk on the phone or even meet in person if you happen to live in the same area of the country. And you can find out how they have dealt with the situations that you’re not sure yet how you would deal with them. Connecting with a mentor can be as simple as asking a few questions and it can be as complicated or as deep of a relationship as your new best friend who is going to help you and encourage you and connect you with information that you wouldn’t have found otherwise if you weren’t talking to someone who is experienced. CareerConnect can be found on the AFB homepage. A as in American, F as Foundation, B as Blind dot org. A-F-B dot org ( And on our main page, look for the career connect link. When you bring career connect up, there are several areas of the website that you would want to know about. I’m going to jump to a couple of those areas right now.

On the AFB webpage, there are several basic areas of information you will find like living with vision loss and technology that you may want to read in advance. The CareerConnect website ( has several areas that areas that are specific to job seekers. The featured slideshow takes you to some of the newest information on the site, like a blogpost for a person who has used hobbies to build skills. There is a section on our stories that have articles and links to even news stories about people who are blind or visually impaired doing all sorts of different types of jobs. There’s a basic section of employment information for job seekers and there’s a place where you can register on career connect to be able to connect with mentors and get updates on information. I think that’s the place to start is getting registered and then you have full access to all of the information from career connect and that includes a job seekers toolkit. Because one of the other questions you very likely have is how do I even get out there and start looking for a job? The way I looked for a job when I was starting my career was sending out resumes and waiting for people to call me. And in the year 2016, it’s a very different job seeking environment. And we are going to have another presentation specific to that. So I am not going to steal Janna’s thunder but I want you to know that there’s a whole curriculum, a whole set of lessons that will help you learn the tips and tricks for looking for a job as a person with vision loss. CareerConnect is for jobseekers of all ages so don’t be put off by the story that you run across about why you don’t want to go to a job interview with blue hair. That’s designed for teenagers. Although there might be a few of us little old ladies who do have blue hair. It’s ok for us. You just don’t want to go to a job interview all punk-rocked out. You probably won’t get hired. But those are lessons for teenagers. There are still applicable stories on career connect for adults and seniors who are job seeking. Here’s the basic point to all I have said. It is possible and it is desirable for you as a senior, as an older worker, to return to work for many reasons. It is a way to boost your income. It’s a way to stay connected in your community. It’s a way to share the experience of your life and career with others. And it’s a way to give back to the world some of the wisdom that you have developed through living life to the fullest. And that’s what American Foundation for the Blind wants to help you do. We want to expand your possibilities to whatever world of work you’d like to re-enter. And we pride ourselves on having the resources available to you 24/7 365 through CareerConnect and our other family of websites. I hope that this information has been helpful and that you will utilize these resources and get back to work. Thank you.

Participant Question: I do have a question. What if someone doesn’t have access to the internet, CareerConnect, what would you suggest?

If a person does not have access to CareerConnect so that they cannot take advantage of the AFB resources, I would suggest that you call the AFB information and resource center and you can reach that center by calling 214-352-7222 because much of the information we have we can send to you in large print or in braille and there are people that can help you connect with a mentor database if you don’t have access to the internet. I would also encourage anyone who is seeking a job to build the skills to be able to use the internet and if you don’t have a computer at home, there’s a wonderful resource called Computers for the Blind that the information and resource center can connect you with that you can get an accessible computer in your home with either speech or screen magnification software already loaded on it. It is a refurbished computer running Windows 7 at this point and it’s only $110. And if you need the magnification software, they will put it on there for you and that’s a $395 program but you still only pay $110 for that computer. It’s a great way to build skills and it’s a great way to connect with employers. So building the ability to use the internet is really important for someone who wants to return back to work. It’s always a great way too to stay connected with your family and friends and the community in general. You also have resources in your community for work. In Texas it’s the Texas Workforce Commission. It’ll have other names in other states but it’s basically the employment centers in every state. Get connected with those folks. Work with their specialist to find employers and get access to their information that you don’t have if you’re not a computer user. I’m not going to say that absolutely every job on Earth requires computer use these days but more and more do. And even if it’s just as simple as to log in to document your hours so that you get your paycheck, a little bit of computer experience and a little bit of computer knowledge is very important. So I would include that in your task to build skills when you are building your repertoire to return to the world of work.