The ADA Turns 30

In the 30 years since President George H.W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) into law, the accessibility gap for people with disabilities—including people who are blind— has narrowed in every aspect of public life.

Among the accessibility features for which we can thank the ADA are audio cues in crossing signals on busy street corners, safer subway platforms lined with raised dots, and braille on elevator panels and ATMs. While this historic act has guided organizations in making improvements for people with disabilities, we need to both celebrate progress and reaffirm our commitment to equality and accessibility.

The ADA encouraged significant advancements, but there’s still work to be done to level the playing field and ensure true equality for people with disabilities, including in access to employment. Research shows that nearly 70% of working-age Americans who are blind are not employed. National Industries for the Blind (NIB) is working to change that figure by educating employers and human resources professionals about the unlimited potential of people who are blind.

One of the lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic has been about the nature of work and the capabilities of a remote workforce. As the world has transitioned to teleworking, employers have adopted Zoom video conferencing, Microsoft Teams, and other co-working platforms to accommodate teleworkers. Many of these platforms have accessibility features built into the technology, making jobs accessible for people with disabilities with no additional costs for assistive technology.

Doug Goist, program manager for workforce development/services technology at NIB explained in a recent Opportunity Magazine article that people who are blind have been asking employers for flexibility, such as the ability work from home, for years, but employers have been reluctant. “I think it’s mostly because of a lack of experience with the disability … few interviewers have first-hand experience with a person who is blind.” Goist advises people who are blind to explain to interviewers up front how they use technology to do their jobs.

“Zoom had accessibility on their radar screen early on, and within the last five years, Microsoft has put in a lot of effort too—Microsoft Teams is accessible, and those apps work really well on iPhones,” said Goist, who notes most smartphone users who are blind use iPhones.

As the nation’s largest employment resource for people who are blind, NIB continues to challenge employers to make decisions about their workforce that empower people who are blind to reach their full potential. NIB can help employers tap into a pool of talented and dedicated prospective employees who are blind, assessing candidates’ skill levels and assistive technology needs, educating managers and employees on working with people who are blind, and identifying resources for new employees and employers.

“NIB is here to guide companies by helping them understand the capabilities of people who are blind and how easy it is to include them into their workforce,” says NIB’s CEO, Kevin Lynch. “With the advances in technology today, many positions can be performed by people who are blind simply by accessing built-in features in the tools all employees use to get a job done.”

As the nation celebrates the ADA’s 30th anniversary, NIB continues to expand its efforts to enhance the personal and economic independence of people who are blind, primarily through creating, sustaining, and improving employment. Learn more about NIB and the 30th anniversary of the ADA in the new issue of Opportunity Magazine.