See the Opportunity with Assistive Technology
Education and Advocacy Assistive tech helps people with sight loss excel despite their visual challenges — so why don't more employers know about the available resources?
The buzz of a busy Monday morning in downtown Toronto is in the air as Kai Black enters the Canadian Broadcasting Centre for his production meeting, latté in hand. An award-winning executive producer at CBC Music, Kai has one of the most coveted jobs in music broadcasting. His ability to generate original ideas with equal doses of strategic and creative flair put him in high demand on big national projects like Searchlight, the hunt for Canada’s undiscovered musical talent. He also happens to be legally blind.
"Slightly different tools"
Technology has been key to Black’s success in the workplace. He manages his day with business tools just like anyone else — they’re just “slightly different tools,” he says. He uses ZoomText to read emails, digital magnifiers to enlarge print materials, and VoiceOver to describe his computer screen. He records meetings instead of taking written notes.
“Working with someone who is blind is no different than working with anyone else — especially with today’s technologies.”
– Kai Black, CBC Music
“Kai has been with CBC Music for over 10 years and is a joy to work with,” says Mark Steinmetz, Senior Director, CBC Music. “Each day, he brings great big ideas, a passion for music and public broadcasting, a dedication to his team, and a positivity that is downright infectious.”
Employers need to be more informed about available resources
Unfortunately, far too many employers aren’t as informed as Steinmetz. While Black exemplifies how technology levels the playing field for people with sight loss, outdated misconceptions still persist about abilities and accommodation needs. The unemployment rate for these Canadians is triple the national average.
“Employers need to look past their misconceptions,” says Steven Ricci, Manager, Commercial Accessibility at Frontier Solutions, a CNIB enterprise. “The reality is that working with someone who is blind is no different than working with anyone else — especially with today’s technologies.”
New technologies help open doors
Approximately 1.5 million Canadians live with some form of sight loss, representing a significant talent pool for employers in diverse fields such as science, law, broadcasting, and high tech.
Today, leading-edge technologies exist to enable people with sight loss to overcome their unique visual challenges and excel in these jobs, including artificial intelligence, wearable devices to enhance sight or act as vision replacement, wayfinding devices such as beacons and integrated GPS, smart devices activated through speech, and accessible apps on smartphones.
“When I was in school and started losing my vision and technology didn’t exist yet, I struggled with how I was going to fit into the world.”
– Kai Black, CBC Music
However, for employers who have never worked with someone with vision loss, it can all seem a bit confusing, as each person’s needs are different. Studies show that two-thirds of Canadians don’t know what type of workplace accommodation is required, and more than half don’t know where to find the information. Organizations like Frontier Solutions have stepped up to meet this need, providing technologies, paired with hands-on support and training from experts with sight loss, and simplifying the process of creating inclusive workspaces.
As Kai heads home on Toronto’s busy transit system using a GPS navigation app on his smartphone, he reflects on his work-day. “When I was in school and started losing my vision and technology didn’t exist yet, I struggled with how I was going to fit into the world. The incredible advancements since then have opened the world to me.”