Access to work issues for visually impaired people

People in Portugal with disabilities, particularly those with visual impairment, have serious problems finding employment. A study carried out by the Observatory of Inequalities shows that several factors affect how problematical it may be for the visually impaired to find work. These include gender, the age at which a person’s vision became impaired, and household composition. Educational attainment, however, was found to be the most important factor.

Background

The difficulties people with disabilities face when entering the labour market in Portugal are examined in a report, Disability and inequality in access to the labour market: the employment gap for the visually impaired in Portugal (in Portuguese). The research was conducted by the country’s Observatory of Inequalities, backed by the University Institute of Lisbon (ISCTE-IUL) and its research centre (CIES).

The report is based on a wider research study conducted by the same authors. The larger study (in Portuguese, 868 KB PDF) was commissioned by the Portuguese Association of Blind and Partially-Sighted Persons (ACAPO) and published under the title A Prestação de Serviços e a Promoção da Vida Independente [The provision of services and promotion of independent life].

The study is based on the analysis of 1,067 face-to-face interviews with people aged 16 to 64 who have a visual impairment. None of those interviewed was a student, and none was a member or user of ACAPO. The survey was carried out between March and May 2012.

Key findings

The survey results confirm that disability, and visual impairment in particular, is linked with serious difficulties in accessing employment. An activity gap of 37.7% and an employment gap of 47.7% were identified among the respondents.

Table 1: Activity and employment gaps among people with visual impairment
 

Working age with visual impairment

Aged 15 over with visual impairment (2011 Census)

Total working population: Eurostat figures, Q1 2012

Calculation of gap

Activity rate

46%

42.5%

73.8%

37.7%

Employment rate

32.9%

36.4%

62.9%

47.7%

Note: Authors’ calculations.

Source: Pedroso and Alves, 2013.

Given the intensity of the gap, the authors conclude that being visually impaired leads to a strong marginalisation in employment and in the labour market in Portugal. These dynamics are influenced by certain social characteristics which increase or reduce the tendency for this marginalisation of people with disabilities to take place.

A descriptive analysis was made of the relationship between indicators of social characteristics and current employment status. It looked at the social characteristics which are factors in the exclusion from employment of people with visual impairment. It found no correlation between employment status and gender among this group.

Factors that increase employment prospects

The social characteristics which make it more likely that a person from this group will find work were calculated as a percentage of the respondents who were employed. These were:

  • being aged between 30 and 40 (44%);
  • having higher (67%) or secondary (46%) education;
  • being a professional technician and associate professional (59%), a craft and related trades worker (49%), or a manager, executive and qualified professional (47%);
  • having become visually impaired before the age of five (44%);
  • not having any other disability apart from visual impairment (46%);
  • being independent in everyday life (42%);
  • being independently mobile (47%);
  • having a good knowledge of Braille (43%);
  • using a computer (47%);
  • using the internet (51%).

Factors hindering employment access

Using the same variables, it is possible to identify social characteristics that hinder access to employment for people with visual impairments. Calculated as a percentage of the respondents who were inactive, these included:

  • being aged 50 or over (69%) or under 30 (41%);
  • having the first cycle or lower education (69%) or having the second or third cycle of basic education (88%);
  • being in an elementary occupation (92%); self-employed farmer (90%); plant and machine operator (72%) or self-employed (71%);
  • having become visually impaired over the age of 30 (79%), between the age of 16 and 29 (56%) or between the age of six and 15 (51%);
  • having another disability as well as visual impairment (63%);
  • not being independent in everyday life (76%);
  • not being independently mobile (63%);
  • not having a good knowledge of Braille (66%);
  • not using a computer (77%);
  • not using the internet (72%).

Educational level a key factor

In order to understand the effect that each of the identified social characteristics may have on employment opportunities for those with a visual impairment of working age, excluding students, the authors developed a statistical model of binary logistic regression.

The results of this analysis show that education is the characteristic with the most powerful effect on participation in employment.

Table 2 shows that educational level increases the probability of being employed exponentially. People with the second and third cycles of basic education, secondary and higher education are, respectively, 4.141, 7.029 and 23.706 times more likely to be employed than those who have the first cycle of basic education or less.

Table 2: Predictors of employment of persons with visual impairment, (binary logistic regression)

Variable

Categories

B

S.E.

Wald

Sig.

Exp(B)

Visual impairment

Visual impairment

0.137

0.218

0.392

0.531

1.146

Has other disability**

-0.545

0.195

7.862

0.005

0.58

Male***

0.676

0.198

11.666

0.005

1.965

Everyday life autonomy

-0.368

0.294

1.563

0.211

0.692

Communication autonomy

-0.265

0.272

0.945

0.331

0.767

Mobility autonomy

0.255

0.201

1.61

0.204

1.291

Own household*

0.57

0.236

5.838

0.016

1.768

Good knowledge of Braille

0.428

0.232

3.411

0.065

1.534

Use of computer

0.375

0.382

0.965

0.326

1.456

Use of internet

0.487

0.352

1.916

0.166

1.628

Educational level

2nd and 3th cycles of basic education***

1.421

0.388

13.446

0

4.141

Secondary education***

1.95

0.414

22.211

0

7.029

Higher education***

3.166

0.503

39.683

0

23.706

Age group

16-29

-0.568

0.375

2.291

0.13

0.567

>50

-0.337

0.225

2.237

0.135

0.714

Age at which became visually impaired

6-15

-0.168

0.272

0.383

0.536

0.845

16-29

-0.408

0.251

0.631

0.105

0.665

>30***

-1.202

0.28

18.408

0

0.301

Notes: ***=p ≤ 0.001; **=p ≤ 0.01; *=p ≤ 0.05

Source: Pedroso and Alves, 2013.

Gender also has a significant effect. The probability of a man being employed is 1.9 times greater than that of a woman in the same circumstances.

Household structure also impacts on the likelihood of a visually impaired person being employed. The probability of employment for someone with this impairment who has moved away from home, has their own family or lives alone is 1.7 times greater than for those who still live with parents.

The probability of being employed also depends on social class. It is considerably lower among blue-collar workers.

The age at which a person became disabled is also factor, being a significant issue for those who became visually impaired after the age of 30. Multiple disability is also a factor of increased exclusion from employment.

Commentary

Education is the most effective means of giving people with a visual impairment an improved chance of entering the labour market. This study and previous research (Capucha et al, 2004, quoted in Pedroso and Alves, 2013) have shown that professional rehabilitation is no guarantee that someone visually impaired in adulthood will be able to stay in employment. These two conclusions represent important challenges to public policies.

The existing accumulated social effects hamper the employment opportunities of women, blue-collar workers and those having multiple disabilities. These conclusions also represent challenges in terms of Portugal’s social dynamics and solidarity policies.

References

Pedroso, P. and Alves, T. (2013), Deficiência e desigualdade no acesso ao mercado de trabalho: o gap de emprego dos deficientes visuais em Portugal [Disability and inequality in access to the labour market: the employment gap for the visually impaired in Portugal], Observatory of Inequalities, CIES/ISCTE-IUL.

Heloísa Perista and Paula Carrilho, CESIS

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