- Rachel Christian is a journalist and personal finance writer based Central Florida.
- As someone who is legally blind, Christian says remote work has been a game-changer for her career.
- At home, she can control her work environment and not worry about transportation or feeling self-conscious in front of coworkers.
- See more stories on Insider's business page.
As someone in the blind and low-vision community, the expansion of remote work has been an economic game-changer.
Normally, people with visual impairments face major hurdles in the workforce, from overcoming hiring discrimination to securing reliable transportation - less than half of US adults with visual impairments were in the labor force in 2019.
Transportation is often a major barrier to steady employment for the blind and visually impaired
A survey by the American Federation for the Blind found that 38% of people with blindness or low vision had turned down a job because of transportation concerns.
I experienced this first-hand as a 21-year-old college student. I was a year-and-a-half from graduation and a prestigious daily newspaper internship was at my fingertips.
I'd been freelancing for the paper for a semester, and had built a rapport with the news editor. I submitted my resume and clips, and cinched the interview.
Completing an online application was the final step. It was just a formality, the editor told me.
I breezed through it until I hit a seemingly mundane question: Do you have a valid driver's license?
My heart sank. My vision has been deteriorating since I was 15 years old due to a rare retinal disease called cone dystrophy. There's no cure. But I've adapted. I learned how to adjust the contrast, brightness, and zoom on my computer and smartphone to be able to excel in college.
Despite overcoming these challenges, I still didn't have a driver's license. I still don't. I've never even driven a car.
I told the truth on the application. A few days later, the editor informed me the internship was off the table. The driver's license requirement was corporate policy. Interns often went out on assignment - you had to have a car. His hands were tied, he said.
I went on to land a different internship, but that missed position still haunted me. I'd been so close to my goal, and was disqualified simply because I couldn't drive.
Transportation remained a chronic pain point throughout my career. Without a car, certain opportunities were eliminated. If a job wasn't near a bus or train stop, it didn't matter how well qualified I was. It wasn't an option.
About six months after starting a job at the marketing firm, the pandemic hit. My company went fully remote, like so many others across the country.
The transition to remote work changed my life - for the first time, I could completely control my work environment
I no longer struggled to see my computer screen in the sun-drenched window-filled office. I could keep my apartment as dark as a cave without inconveniencing anyone, and if I needed to lean forward and squint at my monitor, I didn't feel self-conscious or worry about what my coworkers might think.
My writing speed spiked. I made fewer mistakes. I picked up extra assignments and added two hours to my day previously lost to commuting.
The shift to remote work can make disabilities much less visible. My accommodations are already on my computer, so my coworkers don't even realize assistive technology is in place.
In the past, companies only hired people who lived within commuting distance of the office
This capped the pool of candidates to a tight geographic area, limiting the employment options and the earning potential of workers - especially those with low vision.
Due to the pandemic, that's no longer the case. Now, having a polished online portfolio and web presence goes much further than handshakes at happy hour meet-ups.
I experienced this firsthand about a month ago when a recruiter messaged me on LinkedIn about a senior writer position with a personal finance website. The office was an hour and a half away, but to attract qualified candidates, the company had made the position fully remote.
I applied and got the job because of my experience, skillset, and personality - the way it's supposed to be.
I haven't told my new employer about my vision impairment because, for the first time, it doesn't matter
My home office is customized and adapted to my needs. I've mastered the technology that helps me do my job. I still have occasional hiccups with Zoom, but hey, don't we all?
There's no need to hide my disability - but there's no need to disclose it yet either. A lack of transportation won't hinder my ability to write or get to work on time.
Of course, the pandemic hasn't leveled the playing field for all blind workers - only those who are proficient with technology and work a desk job. Still, more jobs than ever are going remote, from customer service to writing to data entry.
To expand inclusivity to more people in the blind and low-vision community, companies need to do their part. Employers should audit their own accessibility capabilities and establish inclusive initiatives for remote employees with disabilities.
It's also on the employee to educate themselves and their employers on accessible technology. If you have low vision, work with state agencies and nonprofits such as the Lighthouse to gain the proper training, education, and equipment you need to succeed. Don't be afraid to ask what low-vision aids or other devices your company may provide you.
Working with a disability is never easy. But the current labor market positions people impacted by vision loss to excel in a remote work world. For the millions of US adults with a vision impairment, inclusion and newfound economic opportunity may be the greatest perk of a remote work world.
Rachel Christian is a journalist and personal finance writer in Central Florida.