Tips for blind and visually impaired students

Job hunting:

Contact your Careers Service to get some feedback on your CV and covering letter. They will be able to provide suggestions to make sure these documents are formatted nicely and look visually appealing.

Once you start to look for jobs online, you might notice that some websites have accessibility embedded. This means that on these sites you will be able to change the background to a different colour, have the text on the page read out, remove images, alter the font size and font type, and magnify the page. Some have keyboard shortcuts too. Job searching sites Vercida and Evenbreak are examples of websites that have accessibility embedded.

 However, not all websites have these customisation features. Many websites do have an Accessibility Statement section at the bottom of the page though. In that section, they provide contact details so that you can get in touch, explain which parts of the website you can’t access, and hopefully they can provide a solution.

Application forms ought to be accessible to all, but don’t be surprised if you come across online application forms that you are unable to access. If that happens to you, the best thing to do is to contact the employer and ask for the application ­­­­form to be converted into a different format.

Many employers are taking proactive steps to make their recruitment processes are more inclusive.

Although it is very frustrating when you can’t access a website or an application form, it is important that when you contact / speak to an employer about website accessibility and/or adjustments that you are friendly and professional.

You might want to use networking, speculative applications, and attending (virtual) jobs fairs as part of your approach to job searching. You can talk to your Careers Service for more information.

Some employers are moving away from traditional long-winded application forms and instead using other methods to assess candidates e.g. tests, video CVs.

Online tests:

Psychometric tests are a common part of the recruitment process. You won’t have to do an online test every time you apply for a job, but tests are standard for both graduate scheme applications and standard for (some) internship / placement applications.

These tests are nearly always timed. Once the employer knows you have a disability, giving you extra time is the standard adjustment they will suggest. Bear in mind, this is not the only possible adjustment. Having (25%) extra might work for you, but you might feel you need the timer removed altogether, want to have a reader present when you take the test, or have a modification to the test such as text to speech or larger text.

If you require an adjustment, or more than one adjustment, have this conversation with the employer before taking the test and as early as possible (i.e. as soon as you get invited to take the test)

Your Careers Service will be able to tell you more about psychometric tests and will be able to suggest some practice sites.

Interviews:

Letting the employer know you that you have a disability is sometimes called ‘disclosing’. If you require adjustments at the interview, students tend to disclose at the application stage – or disclose as soon as they are invited for interview. This is so they can the employer has time to put into place the necessary adjustments.

Video interviews:

In the interview invite, it should be clear which platform is being used for the interview. If the video platform they have suggested is one you aren’t familiar with, it’s a good idea for you to have a look at the platform’s accessibility features before the day of the interview.

If you have checked this out and it’s not going to work for you, you could enquire whether the interview could be held over a different platform and explain why.

In-person interviews:

Because of Coronavirus, interviews are mainly taking place through video platforms (or over the phone) so shaking hands isn’t something to worry about. If shaking hands is something you are worried about, and let’s imagine an interview was taking place face-to-face and in safer times, try putting out your hand first. This will hopefully prompt the employer to meet your hand.

If maintaining eye contact is difficult for you, you could face the direction of the interviewer’s voice instead.

You could ask to be met at reception, so you won’t be worrying about having to navigate the building.

Top tips:

On a CV, application form, covering letter, or at interview, remember to emphasise the skills you have gained from managing your visual impairment. These skills and strengths will be unique to you but often people have developed excellent organisation skills, communication skills, adaptability, and problem-solving.

Being blind or visually impaired might be a big part of your motivation to want to work at the company or be one of the main reasons you are applying for the role.

Pros and cons of disclosing:

You might not want to tell the employer you are visually impaired or that you are blind. This might be because you are worried about discrimination or have had a previous bad experience of disclosing. It might be because you don’t think you need any adjustments or because you don’t want to be treated differently to other candidates / employees.

There are many positive reasons to disclose: to access adjustments (both during the recruitment process and in the workplace), if you are underperforming in your job role (e.g. certain tasks are taking you longer because you don’t have the right adjustments and the employer doesn’t know that you have a disability, if you underperform the fact you have a disability might not being taken into account as the employer may not have has any reasonable way of knowing.)

You might feel that by disclosing you are being open and not hiding anything, and if you don’t disclose you won’t be able to reference your disability when talking about your strengths and motivations during the application process.

Workplace adjustments:

There are lots of workplace adjustments relating to assistive technology. These adjustments might include: a screen reader, a screen magnifier, a video magnifier, having two computer screens, text to speech software, changes to the contrast / background on the computer screen, and other specialist equipment.

It might be that your smart phone or tablet has the accessibility built-in so perhaps you could ask for a work tablet or, depending on the type of role you are doing, you might be able to use your own tablet.

If working from home, the employer should make sure you have the adjustments you need. They might suggest a remote assessment, or you might want to be proactive and explain what changes you need to have in place at home.

In terms of physical adjustments to the workplace, examples would be: guide rails, changes to the lighting, an allocated space to work from (i.e. not hot desking), more space around your desk, and tactile flooring. Depending on the building, these might already in place, but if not, such adaptions could be made for you by the employer.

Adjustments that do have a cost to implement should never be paid for by you (the applicant / employee). The employer pays for the adjustment/s. Access to Work is a grant that provides financial support should the cost not be fully met by the employer. An example of this might be Access to Work paying for taxis to and from work, if using public transport is difficult for you (particularly during rush hour).

Rather than the employer making any kind of physical adjustment to the workplace – or an adjustment to the technology you’ll be using – it might be more of case of employers embracing existing technology.

You might want to have a conversation with them once you begin your job and encourage them to make use of the Microsoft Accessibility Checker when creating MS documents, ask them to enlarge any handouts for you, and suggest that audio, drawing, diagrams or charts are used instead of heavy-going wordy documents that are going to be hard for you to read. You’ll find that lots of employees would appreciate such a change.

You might have study adjustments which would also work for you in a job setting.

Other workplace considerations might be for the employer to be aware that it’ll take extra time for you to complete certain tasks. You might like to arrange a workplace pre-visit / chat with your line manager before your first day, so you know what your day-to-day responsibilities will be.

Top tip:

HR / the people who interviewed you won’t necessarily have shared information with your line manager, so don’t assume your manager is aware of the adjustments you need.

Edmund Lewis, AGCAS Disability Task Group, University of Westminster

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