A career planning and employment resource for people who are blind or partially sighted

Workplace Accommodations for Workers Who are Blind

Individuals who are blind access information through audible or tactual input, which means that they either listen or touch something to learn about it. If someone who cannot see wants to read a book, job manual, or other printed material, he or she must convert the text into either spoken words or braille. Braille is to a blind person as print is to a sighted person – it is a primary literacy medium. The braille code can be used to represent letters, numbers, punctuation, music, computer code, and to tactually represent many different languages.

Someone who reads braille may produce print materials by translating the electronic files into braille using braille translation software such as Duxbury or Megadots, and printing out the materials in braille with a braille embosser. Or, braille may be produced manually using a mechanical brailler such as a Perkins Brailler or by writing with a slate and stylus.

In addition to reading hardcopy materials that are produced in these ways, many people who read braille like to read from refreshable braille displays. Refreshable braille displays have a row of metal pins that spring up in braille configurations from which the user reads. There are two kinds:  stand-alone devices that rest below a computer keyboard and allow the user to read what’s on the computer screen line-by-line; or portable devices that work with a PDA that have braille keys for data entry and an intregrated refreshable braille display  for reading.

However, not everyone can read braille. If an individual has limited sensitivity in his or her fingers reading braille may not be an option. Adults blinded later in life (adventitiously blinded) may find reading extensive tracts in braille difficult and choose to use auditory access to print. They may prefer to read recorded (audio) books or electronic text that can be listened to through reading machines, devices like e-readers, or on a computer with speech output.

Some people use braille (or another tactual system) solely for labeling tools, machines, or file folders. To write notes or input data into a PDA or note taker, they use a QWERTY keyboard and listen to what they’ve entered. Digital recording devices can also be used by individuals unable to read braille to capture quick notes that can later be played back.

In addition, auditory access can be achieved by having a person read to you. Machines, as mentioned above, are another option: either stand-alone reading machines or computers and other electronic devices with speech output. There are a number of speech output software programs that convert print into synthetic speech, enabling employees to read what’s on their computer screens by listening. Some of these programs are commercially available software packages such as JAWS (Job Access With Speech) or Window Eyes and some are available without charge as open source downloads such as NVDA (Non Visual Desktop Access) and Thunder Screen Reader.

There are also scanners with OCR (optical character recognition) software available that can easily convert printed materials into electronic text for listening to on a computer or on a stand-alone reading machine.  An internet search using keywords such as “reading machines for the visually impaired or blind” or “screen readers for the blind or partially sighted” plus your geographical location should direct you to a range of vendors.

Some of the most common workplace accommodations being used in office, school, or retail settings can also be seen on virtual worksites on CareerConnect.

To learn more about reading, writing, and calculating with braille or auditory access, you may also want to visit the Communication skills section and review the reading, writing, and calculation tip sheets.

The following is a partial listing of tools, equipment, and devices that may be helpful to someone who is blind in a work setting:

Accessible mobile phone
Audible call identifier
Audible level
Bar code scanner
Braille embosser
Braille labeler
Braille translation software
Braille signage
Color identifier
Digital recorder
Electronic notetaker (PDA)
External speakers
Liquid level indicator
Manual brailler
Money identifier
Refreshable braille display
Slate and stylus
Speech output software
Tactile maps
Tactile markers
Talking calculator
Talking cash register
Talking dictionary
Talking scale
Talking thermometer
Talking watch/clock