New projects focus on equality for the blind

April 22, 2019 GMT

HUNTINGTON — The American Federation for the Blind will soon embark on two projects in Huntington that aim to improve the lives of those living with blindness across the country.

AFB President and CEO Kirk Adams shared the plans last week during his trip to Huntington, the location of AFB’s only regional office outside of the Washington, D.C., headquarters. The projects are centered on ensuring equality for the blind in the workplace and in healthcare.

Thanks to a grant from the James H. and Alice Teubert Charitable Trust, AFB is partnering with the Cabell Huntington Foundation to conduct a study of how the local hospitals deliver service to blind patients.

Research shows blind patients are kept in the hospital longer than sighted patients, Adams said.

The research project will be done over a year and a half, and Adams said researchers plan to interview doctors and patients about their experiences.

Adams said some things they will look at include the digital environment in the hospital. Are the portals and websites accessible? Are the systems the hospital has in place for patients to communicate with physicians or to manage prescriptions the type that blind people can navigate? Similarly, what level of printed materials is used? Are there alternative formats?

Signage within the hospital is something else that will be considered, said Lee Huffman, Huntington-based editor of AFB’s technology magazine Access World. Are signs eye level? Would someone with low vision be able to read them?

Adams said the focus is the independence and dignity of the person.

“Can a blind or low-sighted person manage their healthcare experience just like a sighted person so they don’t have to rely on a sighted person to fill out forms, because then you enter confidentiality issues and

HIPPA issues,” Adams said. “We don’t know that any of this is an issue, but those are the areas we will be looking at.”

Adams said the hospital administration, led by Cabell Huntington Hospital President Kevin Fowler, is excited about working on the project and improving outcomes for blind and low-sighted patients.

The information learned will then be shared with similar hospitals across the country.

The second project is aimed at learning about workplace barriers and educating employers on hiring blind employees.

AFB will host employment summits in Huntington, Dallas, New York and Chicago next year to learn more about what employers need from blind employees and to educate employers on hiring blind employees.

Adams said 7 out of 10 working-age blind adults are not working, as opposed to 4 out of 10 working-age sighted adults not working.

“When we look at the numbers, salaries are lower, it’s mostly entry-level type jobs and just unacceptable outcomes as far as the people who are employed receiving promotions or the salary level people obtain,” he said. “It’s a very large problem, and it results in poverty.”

Adams said they want to understand what job openings there are and how those with blindness can be of value to employers to fill those jobs, including what skills are needed and if there are training programs targeting those skills.

“There’s been a lot of effort on the supply side, getting people ready for interviews and preparing resumes, but there has not been enough attention paid to demand,” he said.

Employers need to understand that hiring a blind person is not an act of charity, Adams said. Instead, those individuals have skills employers often list as in-demand, like problem solving, as blind people problem solve daily in regular life.

Blind employees just need the right tools to contribute just as much as a sighted employee, and Huffman said those tools are more readily available than employers realize. An Apple iPhone or iPad already has accessibility features built in, or maybe the person just needs a screen magnifier.

Adams said people are often surprised to hear there are blind auto mechanics, CPAs and engineers.

The summits will bring together employers, state vocational and rehabilitation departments, and non-profits, along with blind adults who are successfully employed, to discuss what is working and what the challenges are. The goal will be to leave the summit with an action plan that will also be shared around the country.

Adams said he hopes internships, training programs or other job opportunities may also develop out of the summits that can be monitored to see what works and what doesn’t.

“Huntington is really a wonderful place to do a summit like this because of the commitment by the community to be inclusive and to create an environment where everyone can participate in the community,” Adams said. “The mayor was the master of ceremonies at an event we had last year, and he talked about the community’s commitment to diversity and inclusion, and we see that.”

Huffman said people often think of Huntington’s Open to All campaign in terms of race or sexual preferences, but it also includes the differently abled.

To learn more about the work from the American Federation of the Blind, visit the recently redesigned website, www.afb.org.

Follow reporter Taylor Stuck on Twitter and Facebook @TaylorStuckHD.