15 Great Jobs for Blind People: How to Succeed With a Visual Impairment
By Laura Slauson
| Last Updated October 28, 2020
The number of potential jobs for blind people keeps rising, a trend that will likely continue. That's because new technologies and changing attitudes are opening more and more doors for visually impaired people in the workforce. In fact, the American Foundation for the Blind has identified over 300 careers in which people with visual impairments are thriving.
But the variety and "cool factor" of careers for people with visual disabilities are just as amazing as their quantity. For instance, you've probably heard of famous blind people who are performers, such as Andrea Bocelli and Stevie Wonder. And you may know that legally blind chef Christine Ha won the third season of television's Master Chef. But did you know that some people who are visually impaired also succeed as photographers, architects, ballet dancers, lawyers, physicians, nurses, and much more?
It's true. So instead of passively wondering whether jobs for the blind exist, remind yourself that they absolutely do. Take a proactive approach by thinking about which jobs you want to do. Then, research any accommodations or assistive technologies that can help you achieve that goal.
This article lists several examples of jobs that allow people with visual impairments to use their special strengths. You'll learn about some of the barriers that blind people can face when entering the workforce, but you'll also find out how to overcome those challenges. Plus, you'll learn about the laws that protect people with visual impairments and the assistive technologies that help when you're on the job.
- What jobs can blind people do? Here are 15 great examples
- Am I legally blind? Can I work? (Facts and myths about visual disabilities)
- What rights do I have? (Laws and resources)
- What do I need? (Assistive technologies and accommodations)
- How will I get to work? (Transportation options)
- 5 job-search tips for people who are visually impaired
What Jobs Can Blind People Do? Here Are 15 Great Examples
First things first: Don't limit your career options based on your visual impairment. Instead, think about—and place value in—your unique interests, skills, experiences, and ambitions. Remember that workers with visual disabilities are found across all industries.
It's true that some jobs require more accommodations than others, but your career possibilities are probably more varied than you realize. And you can definitely create your own path. So let the following careers inspire you. They all stand out as being good opportunities for blind workers.
The average salaries cited below are based on May 2019 estimates from the Occupational Employment Statistics program, rounded to the nearest thousand. The numbers for predicted job openings for the period from 2018 to 2028 come from the Occupational Outlook Handbook.
Do you have strong people skills? Do you enjoy analyzing trends and following current events? In this career, you can help clients create strategies to meet their short- and long-term financial goals.
A bachelor's degree in a business or economics-oriented field can help you break into this career.
- Average salary—$120K
Network engineers (also called computer network architects) must be adept at imagining complex networks and routers that are often set up in other locations. Many people with visual impairments have learned to excel at this type of internal visualization.
In this type of career, you could design networks ranging from small-scale links between a company's different locations to a whole cloud-based infrastructure. A bachelor's degree in computer science or networking can help you get started. As well, some people in this career have an MBA.
- Average salary—$115K
3. Applications software developer
Screen-reading software and other adaptive technologies make it possible for visually impaired professionals to code and perform the other work involved in developing apps and computer programs. In fact, a worldwide survey found that one percent of computer programmers are blind.
- Average salary—$112K
Imagine helping people cope with or recover from injuries or medical conditions that cause pain or decreased mobility. You could work with patients from a wide range of age groups, and this profession offers many different specialties to choose from.
Plus, the number of job openings for physical therapists is expected to grow through 2028 as more and more people seek treatment for pain or loss of mobility related to conditions like diabetes, obesity, and age-related ailments.
- Average salary—$90K
5. Occupational therapist
Have you ever been helped by occupational therapists and occupational therapy assistants as part of your journey toward becoming self-sufficient? Would you like to help other people with disabilities or chronic illnesses acquire more independence so that they can live full lives too? Your own experiences with obstacles that get in the way of independent living can provide excellent insights into your clients' challenges.
You'll need to earn a master's degree, and all states require certification.
- Average salary—$86K
6. Speech-language pathologist
Communication is complex. And you've probably experienced some of the nuanced challenges of communicating with a disability in your own life. So why not use some of the skills you've acquired in dealing with those challenges in order to treat others' speech difficulties?
The job outlook for this career is expected to be strong through 2028 since the average age of Americans is rising and more people are experiencing speech problems due to issues like strokes or dementia.
- Average salary—$82K
Want to help organizations make their websites accessible to everyone? You could specialize in an area such as accessibility auditing, user-interface design, or backend development.
- Average salary—$82K
You can pursue all kinds of great nursing careers—in many different settings. So if you're interested in this vocation, set up some informational interviews with nurses in various specialities. That way, you can gain some insight into which path may be best for you. (Some medical environments are tricky to navigate with a disability.)
The job outlook for nursing is very strong, particularly in outpatient and long-term care facilities.
- Average salary—$77K
Would you like to advise companies on the best ways to sell their products and services? By conducting research, interviewing potential customers, and gathering and analyzing data, you could help shape sales strategies and promotional campaigns. Plus, the job outlook for this career is strong, with 20-percent job growth expected through 2028.
As well, people with visual disabilities form a largely untapped but potentially huge market. That's because over 26.9 million people in the U.S. have experienced some loss of vision. With that number expected to rise as baby boomers age, a blind person like you could provide insight into reaching that growing consumer group.
- Average salary—$72K
Visually impaired teachers can thrive at every education level. In fact, blind teachers have their own association that provides resources, support, and job postings.
- Average salary—$58K (for all educational instruction and library occupations)
11. Social worker
Has your disability taught you how to navigate the world of social services? Do you want to use your experiences to help others overcome their own challenges? You can specialize in many different areas of social work, including medical social work.
- Average salary—$54K
Well-developed empathy and the ability to learn from life experiences are two qualities that help counselors relate to their clients and provide effective emotional support. That's why many people with visual impairments thrive in this kind of role. (They have learned to be careful listeners, which is a valuable skill for counselors.)
- Average salary—$53K
Your ability to pay close attention to tactile sensations could help you deliver effective massage treatments. (Although it's considered a myth that the other senses become more enhanced with vision loss, people with visual impairments do often learn to pay more attention to sensations like touch.)
- Average salary—$47K
14. Personal trainer
Are you enthusiastic about physical fitness? Do you want to share your passion with others? This is a flexible career option since you can often choose your own hours and clients. You could even specialize in helping blind clients and act as a role model for other people with disabilities who want to stay fit.
- Average salary—$45K
15. Customer service representative
Customer service reps often work over the phone or via live online chat, answering customers' questions and solving problems for them. So if you're friendly and tech-savvy, this could be a great job option that also offers flexibility. (Some people in this career get to work at home.)
If you're interested in telecommuting, check out the National Telecommuting Institute (NTI), which helps connect people with disabilities to work-at-home customer support jobs. NTI also offers training.
- Average salary—$37K
Am I Legally Blind? Can I Work? (Facts and Myths About Visual Disabilities)
As you can tell from the list above, people with vision loss are capable of working in many kinds of industries. That's partly because advances in assistive technology have opened the doors to more jobs for visually impaired workers. However, the overall employment rate for people with limited vision or legal blindness remains relatively low. (Only about 37 percent of people with a visual impairment have a full-time job.)
So, what holds people with low vision back from entering the workforce? Misinformation is one significant barrier. For example, some employers have outdated concerns about workplace safety, productivity, and the cost of making accommodations. But many workers who are disabled make valuable contributions. And studies have found that:
- Disabled workers actually have comparable safety records to workers without disabilities.
- According to the Job Accommodation Network (JAN), about half of the accommodations requested by workers with disabilities cost nothing.
- JAN also reports that the average cost of accommodations that do require an investment is only about $500.
But the main barrier for people with visual disabilities is that many hiring managers aren't fully aware of how much visually impaired people are capable of doing. And they may not know about all of the assistive technologies that are available.
Even the terms that we use to talk about vision problems lead to misconceptions. For example, did you know that the "visual impairment" definition is different than the "legally blind" definition—or that only about 15 percent of people who are legally blind can't see anything at all? Take a look at these definitions to learn more:
1. Visually impaired people's eyesight can't be corrected to normal levels. That means even if you need very strong glasses, you aren't necessarily considered visually impaired. (Your poor vision isn't considered a disability if your glasses bring your vision up to normal levels.)
"Visually impaired" is an umbrella term which can encompass:
- Legal blindness
- Low vision
- Total blindness
- Color blindness
- Night blindness
2. "Legally blind" isn't a medical term. Rather, it's used by the government to determine things such as who is eligible for disability benefits. So, what's the criteria for legal blindness?
Here's what you need to understand: Eyesight is often described in terms of visual acuity, which is a measurement of how clear a person's vision is. Visual acuity is usually determined by using an eye chart in an optometrist's office. To be considered legally blind in the U.S., visual acuity must be 20/200 or worse in the best eye while wearing corrective lenses. A person is also legally blind if his or her visual field (the area that he or she can see) is 20 degrees or less. (In comparison, a person without visual impairments can see about 140 degrees without turning his or her head.)
Having visual acuity of 20/200 means that a person can see things that are 20 feet away with the same clarity that normally sighted people can see 200 feet away. But that definition can be hard to picture. For a better sense of what this means, think of the eye chart you look at when you go to an eye doctor. Legally blind people can often see the large E at the top, but nothing else, while wearing corrective lenses.
3. Total blindness is different than legal blindness. For many people who are legally blind, vision isn't completely erased. In fact, according to VisionAware, about 85 percent of people who are considered legally blind can see forms, colors, or shapes. But people who are totally blind can't see those things at all.
4. Low vision is poor vision that can't be corrected. A person with low vision has a visual acuity of 20/70, which means that he or she can see at 20 feet what a person without a vision impairment can see at 70 feet. But some people prefer a looser definition of low vision, in which the term describes any eyesight issue that prevents normal functioning.
It's important to realize that aside from "total blindness," none of these definitions provide a clear picture of how well a specific person can see, since eyesight has many dimensions. And a particular eyesight diagnosis doesn't tell you what someone is capable of doing.
Here's why: Sometimes, a person with very poor visual acuity needs less assistance than a person with better visual acuity. It often comes down to how much a person's eyesight interferes with the tasks of daily living.
What Rights Do I Have? (Laws and Resources)
All Americans have the right to fair treatment at work. Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act applies to companies with 15 or more employees, as well as to state and local governments. It forbids discrimination on the basis of a disability if a person is able to perform the essential functions of a job. That means a disability doesn't constitute valid grounds for not hiring someone or for firing an employee.
Under the ADA, a person with a disability must be treated the same as a person who doesn't have a disability. As well, workplaces must accommodate workers' disabilities by providing the things they need to do their jobs. (Most states also have their own laws that protect workers with disabilities. And workers in federal government jobs are protected under Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act.)
How does the ADA apply to people with visual impairments? A visual impairment is considered a disability because it interferes with normal life activities. (But people who see clearly with glasses or other corrective lenses aren't usually considered to have a disability. However, they are protected from discrimination, so wearing glasses isn't a valid reason for not hiring someone unless it directly affects job performance.) Basically, employers must make reasonable accommodations in order to enable visually impaired workers to do their best work.
For help understanding the ADA, workplace accommodations, and other issues, check out organizations like the American Council of the Blind (ACB) or the Employer Assistance and Resource Network on Disability Inclusion (EARN).
What Do I Need? (Assistive Technologies and Accommodations)
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Remember: Under the ADA, an employer with 15 or more employees must provide you with reasonable accommodations if you have a visual disability. But you play the key role in determining what those accommodations are. After all, you know what you need to succeed.
However, if you're not sure what you need or just want to try something out before committing to it, you should find an assistance technology center. This kind of service center offers training on different devices and allows you to rent an assistive device before purchasing one.
As well, the Job Accommodation Network (JAN) offers free advice on accommodations. Their database of proven tips is searchable by type of limitation, disability, or work-related function.
Many possible accommodations are straightforward and easily arranged. For example, they include:
- Adjusting lighting, which could mean adding more lights or changing the kind of lighting being used in a workspace. It could also involve reducing glare from windows.
- Communicating via voice mail or email, instead of writing information down by hand.
- Using file formats that are easy for screen-reading software to interpret, such as accessible PDF files.
- Labeling workplace equipment, tools, or other items with labels in large print, braille, or another format that works for you.
- Providing magnifying devices as needed.
In addition, exciting developments in assistive technology continue to help visually impaired workers with all sorts of tasks. Some of these technologies include:
As the name suggests, screen-reader software reads the information displayed on a computer or device's screen and converts it into synthesized speech. That information can also be rendered to a refreshable braille display on a separate external hardware device. This process allows the text to be read by deaf-blind people. Screen-reader software also provides alternate ways to navigate a screen, often through a keyboard or by speaking into a microphone.
Because different screen-reading programs use different commands, most people find a system they like and stick with it. (Screen-reader software programs are available for all common operating systems.)
If a worker with low vision needs text or graphics to appear larger in order to see them clearly, screen-magnification software can be installed on his or her hard drive or through a network. This software can be turned on or off as needed.
The screen-magnifying process is more complex than just changing the settings on a computer monitor. It works more like a magnifying glass traveling across the monitor under a user's guidance. This kind of software is also available with voice capability.
You can use screen-magnification software to read documents on a computer. But what about printed materials? That's where video magnifiers come in. They use cameras to put a magnified picture of a printed document or book onto a screen or monitor.
These tools are versatile and have a range of possible functions. For example, some portable handheld magnifiers can adjust the contrast between text and its background, in addition to magnifying it.
4. Braille devices
Workers who read and write in braille can use a variety of devices on the job:
- Refreshable braille displays connect to a computer. They translate the information on the screen and display it in braille. A refreshable braille device changes the braille display to reflect the movement of the cursor on the screen.
- Braille notetakers enable workers to take notes during meetings or while performing other tasks. The notes can be printed in braille or saved on a computer.
- Braille printers produce braille documents. They are noisier and use more paper than regular printers, but some of them print double-sided documents. Prices vary a lot since they have many different possible functions. For example, some print tactile graphics, and some translate documents into braille.
These systems scan printed documents and convert the text to speech. Some OCR systems send the information through an earpiece, and some also have facial-recognition abilities.
How Will I Get to Work? (Transportation Options)
This can be a significant challenge for people with visual impairments, which leads to an obvious question: With so much assistive technology available today, can blind people drive to work now? The answer depends on your individual capabilities and the laws in your state. (However, people with total blindness cannot drive.)
In many states, some people with low vision are legally permitted to drive if they use bioptic lens systems. These systems use two lenses, with one lens working in a similar way to a telescope. In order to use bioptic lens systems, low-vision drivers need to complete comprehensive training and undergo thorough medical and vision tests. In general, people who qualify to drive with bioptic lenses have mild to moderate vision loss in their central vision and no vision loss in their peripheral (side) vision.
Even with bioptic lenses, drivers have to make responsible decisions about their own abilities and follow any restrictions. So be sure to check the laws in your state.
Other options for traveling to work include public transportation, taxi services, carpooling, or ridesharing through apps like Lyft and Uber. You could also hire your own personal driver or look for a volunteer driver through a local church, charitable organization, or community service center.
Your ability to get to work is protected by the ADA. Although employers aren't required to transport you, those with 15 or more employees do have to make accommodations that can help you get to work if you're facing barriers. Those accommodations could include things like adjusting your schedule so that you're able to catch a bus or allowing you to telecommute at least part of the time.
5 Job-Search Tips for People Who Are Visually Impaired
Visually impaired job seekers are a diverse group of people with a huge range of abilities and work experiences. (For example, some people have been in the workforce for a long time but are now starting to experience vision loss. Others were born blind and are now exploring potential jobs for visually impaired adults for the very first time after recently graduating from high school or college.) But no matter where you are on your own career path, the job-search process is mostly the same for people with disabilities as it is for those without a disability.
So be confident in your abilities. Don't be afraid to sell your skills and expertise. Here are five tips to help you shine:
1. Use the resources that are available to you.
2. Find a mentor.
When you're breaking into the workforce, nothing beats having guidance from someone who's faced similar situations and thrived. A mentor provides priceless guidance based on real-life experience. To find mentors in your field, search LinkedIn for professionals to potentially approach. (You'll need to sign up for a free account if you don't have one already.) Also, check out these tips from the American Printing House for the Blind.
3. Stay positive about your abilities.
Whether or not you talk about your disability when you apply for a position is up to you. It may depend on the particular jobs and employers you're interested in. But keep this mind: When you apply for a job, you are selling your skills. So focus on what you can do and how you could contribute to a successful workplace.
Some employment counselors recommend not mentioning a disability on your resume. However, it's important to make sure that a job would be a good fit for you. So if you need accommodations, it's a good idea to bring that up sometime during the application process. (An interview is often considered a good time to talk about accommodations. But, as always, use your best judgment.)
4. Know your rights.
Under the ADA, employers aren't permitted to ask applicants about health issues, including vision problems. But they can ask you whether you would need any accommodations. They can also request a non-medical test of your ability to do a job. That might include a vision test if your ability to see would be relevant to your job duties.
For example, an interviewer can't ask you whether you have a condition that could cause vision problems. But he or she could ask you whether you see well enough to do something specific related to the job—such as distinguish tiny components of electrical parts.
Even if your vision problems are obvious (for example, if you have a guide dog with you), interviewers still can't ask about the nature of those problems. But they can ask what kind of accommodations you would need.
Potential employers are also permitted to request medical exams if they have concerns about workplace safety.
5. Don't just rely on job postings.
Telling other people that you're looking for a job is a great way to draw on your network of connections. (You never know who might be aware of an excellent job opening!)
Volunteering can also help you meet people who might know about open positions. In fact, volunteering is a great way to make connections and gain valuable experience.
Take the Next Steps Forward
As you've just discovered, all kinds of jobs for blind people exist. But the best occupations often require a college-level education, regardless of whether you have a visual disability. In fact, education is one of the biggest factors in achieving career success as a visually impaired person.
So why not take a minute to check out programs that can help you realize your goals? Just enter your zip code into the following school finder to start discovering convenient programs near you!