Technology in the Workplace–All People Who are Blind or Visually Impaired Use It: The NRTC is Hoping to Tell Us How

woman's hands reading a braille display
(photo by Beth Wynn / © Mississippi State University)

For people who are blind or visually impaired (B/VI) to be competitive in the labor market, they must have digital proficiency. Digital proficiency requires people to have access technology skills. Access technology (AT) includes both traditional assistive technologies created for people who are B/VI (e.g., screen reader) and mainstream technology with built-in accessibility features (e.g., smartphone offering voice-to-text).

The use of AT in the workplace serves as a critical equalizer for workers with vision loss. Unfortunately, we know very little about AT use in the workplace or the challenges people who are blind or who are visually impaired may experience in that mingling of AT and an employer’s existing technology solutions.

Recognizing the critical importance of technology and digital proficiency; The National Research and Training Center on Blindness and Low Vision (NRTC), housed at Mississippi State University, has a long-term project to learn more about how people who are blind or visually impaired who are employed, seeking employment, and unemployed are using technology. They also want to help everyone understand how AT is evolving in the workplace, challenges people experience with current AT, where there are gaps, and how those gaps might be filled in the future. 

This important project will help the NRTC to better understand issues and concerns around workplace AT. In turn, this will allow the NRTC and its partners to make recommendations for AT users, technology companies, vocational rehabilitation professionals, AT specialists, and employers. The NRTC has partnered with a number of technology companies, including Microsoft, Google, Vispero, Aira, and OrCam. The plan is to empower these companies to address identified gaps by sharing the survey findings and feedback from participants with these companies.

The primary purpose of this study is to determine which AT are being utilized in the workplace and how they are being utilized by people who are blind or visually impaired. Because AT changes constantly, this is a long-term study so the team can gather information about changes in technology and applications over time. The NRTC also realizes that different people have different levels of experience and skill with different types of AT; so, the secondary purpose of the study is to compare AT use, skill, and self-efficacy among employed and unemployed people who are B/LV.

Does this sound like a project you’d be interested in helping with? The NRTC is recruiting people who are blind or visually impaired (age 21+) who are working or interested in working to be part of a 5-year study about access technology (AT) use, particularly in the workplace. Some questions we will seek answers to are:

  • What AT do you most commonly use?
  • How do you decide whether to use a specific AT?
  • What are your AT challenges?
  • What AT do you need that isn’t currently available?

You might be asking yourself, why should I participate? Here are some answers to that question:

  • Your answers to the survey questions will help identify gaps in AT – what is needed but not available, which our technology company partners are interested in!
  • Your input will help NRTC make recommendations for AT users, VR professionals, AT specialists, and employers.
  • You’ll receive a small gift card after completing each survey and the NRTC will share study results with you.

Do you want to have your voice heard and help with the NRTC’s 5-year study? Complete the online pre-screening survey or call 662-325-2001 to schedule an appointment for a telephone screening. Contact Michele McDonnall (m.mcdonnall@msstate.edu) or Emily Damm (edamm@colled.msstate.edu) with questions.