As a result of an environmental scan of the current research landscape around Aging and Vision Loss, AFB is prioritizing its initiatives and engaging partners to create systemic change to ensure there are No Limits for older adults experiencing vision loss.
Playing to AFB’s current strengths and capacity, the focus of the environmental scan on Aging and Vision Loss was narrowed to issues affecting employment opportunity. Loss of employment is a key contributor to economic insecurity and social isolation in older adults experiencing vision loss. While most employment programs to date have focused on the traditional working age definition of 18-64, employment remains relevant at age 65 and beyond. Many older adults need to or want to continue working. Some of the same solutions apply to gaining and retaining a job, regardless of age, such as easily available and affordable transportation, mainstream and assistive technology skills, daily living skills, and early access to vocational rehabilitation (VR) services. We recognize that, through an employment lens, these aging initiatives will skew toward the younger cohort of “older adult,” but knowledge-building on issues such as transportation and technology solutions for people with vision loss is transferable to a wide range of age groups and areas affecting quality of life.
Of particular interest from the scan results are pilot programs that have been launched, such as extending paratransit services through transportation network (ridesharing) companies. Many of these trial programs are leveraging technological advances as well as low-tech innovations to test solutions that challenge the status quo. To date, there is limited data available on the results of these potential solutions and little academic research associated with best and promising practices, especially with regard to older people with disabilities including those with low vision and blindness. AFB is tracking and supporting the emergence and assessment of these programs.
Within the scope of older adults with vision loss who wish to retain or re-enter employment, we have identified and prioritized four focus areas for Aging and Vision Loss:
A wide variety of studies on aging, vision loss, and mobility impairments point to transportation as a barrier—to receiving medical and rehabilitation services, to maintaining social networks, and to attaining and retaining employment. Many of these studies define the problem, but there have been fewer that evaluate potential solutions. The most discussed transportation-related trends at present are around ridesharing services, public transportation, and “mobility on demand;” self-driving vehicles are also on the horizon.
The ability to maintain independence and employment is highly dependent on obtaining rehabilitation services quickly. In many instances, older adults experiencing vision loss are not properly referred to services, they are denied services due to age or degree of vision loss, or they have long waiting periods for receiving services as a result of limited funding for programs. Circumstances vary widely by state.
Employers value employees with exceptional technology skills. As vision declines, those who are most comfortable with technology are likely to best adapt and remain most productive. Degree of vision loss and rapidity of onset are important variables in success strategies for learning new ways to accomplish tasks with technology. Receiving instruction on adaptive technology is challenged by the limited availability of training personnel and access to the accessible hardware and software.
Job Retention Practices:
People are afraid to talk with their employer about diminishing vision and simply leave their job without realizing they might have stayed, with the appropriate training, technology, and facilitation. Employers are often unaware of access technologies, the capabilities of people with visual impairments and the resources available to help them retain good workers who are getting older and losing vision. Where vocational retraining programs exist, it is generally more difficult for an older person to find a new position than it might have been to stay with their current employer. It is unclear the extent to which Diversity & Inclusion programs address job retention for employees who are older.
AFB has chosen to concentrate first on its transportation initiative, as a key to removing barriers for older adults who choose employment. The other issues identified will, for now, be addressed by ensuring that older adults are represented within AFB’s broader initiatives on employment and technology. In addition, we are collaborating with our partners to identify and facilitate further research and projects needed on these critical topics. This blueprint is an important next step toward ensuring No Limits for older adults with vision loss.