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New research from the CNIB Foundation, Vision Australia and the Blind Foundation of New Zealand found people with sight loss are significantly less likely to be employed full time compared to their sighted counterparts.

In a survey of blind and partially sighted adults across three countries, results showed Australia had the lowest full-time employment rate at 24 per cent, followed by Canada at 28 per cent, while New Zealand had the highest with only 32 per cent. However, the full-time employment rate among the general public in these countries, in some cases, is nearly double that.

"In this day and age, it's shocking to see such a stark disparity when it comes to full-time employment rates for people who are blind," says John Rafferty, CNIB Foundation president and CEO. "With all the technological advancements and educational opportunities available, people with sight loss shouldn't be disadvantaged when trying to find a job."

The study did offer three promising insights on opportunities to boost employment for people who are blind or partially sighted.

The survey found a strong link between educational background and full-time employment rates for people with sight loss. In Canada, only 5.5 per cent of people with sight loss who don’t have a high school diploma are working full time, versus 35 per cent with a post-secondary degree, compared with Australia, where the statistics were 10.6 per cent versus 28 per cent. In New Zealand, 15 per cent of people with sight loss who don’t have a high school leaving qualification are working full time versus 42 per cent with a degree.  

“This research tells us something we’ve known for some time in the international sight loss community: education drives employment outcomes,” says Ron Hooton, Vision Australia CEO. “Our kids need comprehensive supports delivered by specialists who understand blindness and its unique impacts on learning, to help them thrive in school and succeed in their future careers.”

The research also points to the need for a shift in employer attitudes and business practices to help make workplaces more accessible for people who are blind or partially sighted. The survey showed 43 per cent of Australian respondents identified their workplace's inaccessibility as a barrier compared to 58 per cent of Canadians and New Zealanders. Additionally, more than 60 per cent of respondents in all three countries believe employer attitudes are one of the main barriers to full-time employment – and half reporting feeling they had not been hired because of their sight loss.

“We see a great opportunity in supporting employers to make changes that result in more inclusive workplaces for people with sight loss,” says Sandra Budd, Blind Foundation of New Zealand Chief Executive. “This is the same at the government level – systemic change in accessibility and inclusion will help to move us forward.”

The three organisations are calling for national accessibility legislation and related funding programs to be strengthened and enforced in their respective countries, to effectively motivate and support employers in making their workplaces truly inclusive to people with sight loss. Moreover, pan-disability employment support models should be reviewed to better meet the unique needs of the blind community.

The survey took place from April to July 2018, with a total of 1,924 Canadians, Australians and New Zealanders with sight loss participating online and via telephone interviews.