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European Workshop
Vocational Training and Employment of Visually Impaired


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Introductory Lecture
Jouni Onnela, The Arla Institute

Central questions

Visually impaired people's situation on the labour market in the future is in part dependent on the development of the work environments.

It might be possible to be prepared for these changes through forecasting.

Is it possible to forecast the changes in working life and work environments in such a way, that they might be taken into consideration in the rehabilitation and training for blind and severely partially sighted people?

A Development project

At the Arla Institute a development project for such a forecasting method is under way. The project is supported by ESF. The project started in October 1998 and will end by the end of 1999. The goal is to create a method, which would give information on changes in work environments and work tasks and what demands they place on blind and severely partially sighted employees in particular. A central goal is also to chart the opportunities offered by assistive technology for managing the information environment in future work tasks.

The created method should produce a continuously regenerating view of the work environment's features for change, the demands working life places on blind and severely partially sighted people and the opportunities of assistive technology. On this basis it is possible to evaluate the level of knowledge aquired through trainingand rehabilitation: Do these systems offer an opportunity to develop into employees for future work environments?

The view on the demands placed by future working life and its relation to the know-how produced by the training and rehabilitation systems is meant to be offered as guideline information e.g. to be taken into consideration by visually impaired people themselves and people who work with them in developing services as well as the planning and implementation of learning and rehabilitation processes.

The structure of the work environment

The work environment can be looked at from e.g. the following aspects:

By analysing the changes in the above mentioned environments we strive to develop a picture of the demands placed on employees in the future.

Charting the development of the work environment

The foundation of the method is naturally information gathering through suitable methods. These information gathering methods are being tested and searched for at the moment.

The gathered information is primarily qualitative on the basis of themes mentioned earlier:

  1. The development features of different aspects of the work environment
  2. The demands placed by working life/work environments in the future
  3. The development of the information environment and its management
  4. The development of assistive tehnology
  5. The development of working life skills during the school, study and rehabilitation phase

Here are listed of preliminary tried information gathering methods to picture the different development trends in the work environment:

1 Theme interviews with visually impaired people

The goal has been to create a view of the present situation and possibly of the immediate future. We have strived to link the information gathering as a part of already working systems, such as:

2 Theme interviews with experts

The goal has been to navigate over a longer period of time the development in working life and work environments by interviewing both national and international experts and researchers on working life and the future.

3 "Work and the future" -seminars (to be tried this autumn)

Half-day seminars with 2-3 expert introductions with views on the directions working life is developing in. The seminars would be open to all who would be interested. Especially visually impaired people, their parents and representatives from interest groups would be invited. The goal would then be to forward direct information on future work environments and so influence e.g. the goals and arrangements of rehabilitation and studies.

4 International congresses and seminars

Participation in international congresses and happenings e.g. to assess the opportunities of assistive technology.

5 Litterature

Litterature and research on the development of working life

Development of working life skills in rehabilitation and training

In combination with the development of the forecasting method it is also supposed to test methods, with which the development of skills demanded by working life in present-day training and rehabilitation systems could be assessed. Here follows some tried methods, the results of which will be ready during the autumn.

1 Theme interviews and questionnaires

2 Evaluation of physical functionality

Carried out as trials e.g. during the applicants' selection process at the Arla Institute

3 Charting of study technical (also work) skills

E.g. writing and reading technique and the use of assistive devices related to them. Always carried out with each applicant to the training at the Arla Institute.

4 Observation

In addition to the tests mentioned above the accuracy of the results can be assessed by continuously observing the Arla Institute's students during their studies.


The analysis and the conlusions are made on the basis of the charting concerning

Forwarding the view and guidline information

The created view of the aspects of the future work environment are to be forwarded to target groups through various methods, web-pages, intstruction, information situations, seminars and articles.

For visually impaired people and interest groups the central source should be the Arla Institute's internet-homepages, from which it would be possible to get information that is up to date at any time. In our experience for example teachers who teach blind and severely partially sighted on any level need this information.

Information users could be e.g. the visually impaired people themselves, their parents, those who work in training and rehabilitation, public authorities, financiers, employers, producers of virtual environments, etc.

Preliminary results

The development of work environments is not that researched. The research is often slanted towards the needs of the workforce. The necessary funtional environment for some work is still already interesting because of business reasons on one hand and reasons related to functional opportunities on the other.

These targets are e.g. interfaces and usability. Next some present moment observations.

General development

Quite a preliminary observation is that the demands of working life seem to generally lean towards flexibility, functionality, interaction and co-operation skills. Information environment management again demands of blind and severely partially sighted people special skills related to the use of specific assistive devices and software. On the level of applications again information accessibility and usability as concepts seem to shape into central factors of observation.

Information accessibility

With information accessibility is here understood a blind person's possibility to read saved or presented information and so gain access to it with available assistive device solutions.

Information accessibility is dependent on the screen reader's ability to dismantle the presentation form into one that is readable by the assistive device. Saving and presentation forms that cause problems when working with a screen reader are e.g. pictures, multimedia and various "exotic" saving /presentation forms (such as pdf).

On web-pages problems are caused by e.g. pictures, frames and spreadsheets without a parallell text option.

With many tools (e.g. JAVA and Visual C++), with which apples and applications are made, it is already possible to use so called accessibility-characteristics, with which the apple and the application can be made suitable for the assistive device user.

In the near future it is possible to discern factors, that might influence information accessibility one way or the other. Wireless network connections and mobile devices that can be carried along, such as the media mobile phone (WAP) and the development of voice recognition bring new challenges. Getting interactive speech as a characteristic in a moblie phone is important from the point of view of blind people. It is possible that the use of pictures either increases or on the other hand might slow down. Mobile devices might at least in the beginning require text-based communication in managing the netwotk environment. On the other hand transmitting speech and text may become virtually free, when business in the area of information transmission may be made by increasing the use of images.

New versions of operating systems bring both relief and new problems. For example Windows 2000 includes a screen reader, Narrator (works only in Windows-programs), and a speech synthesizer, Texas Speech (works in all programs with Microsoft's speech port SAPI). Unix and Linux operating systems' graphic user interface (X Window) becoming more common again causes a new problem for users of assistive devices.

Internet-browsers for visually impaired people are also coming. These are e.g. WebSpeak and IBM's Home Page Reader, which in part make reading web sites easier.

Information usability

Here usability means an opportunity to take advantage of existing information on a personal level.

Usability on the part of partially sighted and blind people means among others

Usability can mean changing information into a suitable form even as a separate task. Gerenally speaking in the future specialists in forwarding information might be needed to pick, sift through, mold and forward information for a desired purpose. Also visually impaired people may need this kind of information tailoring, which might provide employment for visually impaired people as well.

Otherwise analysing the test results from the trials is not yet finished, so they cannot be presented here.


    1. What fields/professions do you estimate will employ visually impaired people the best?
    2. Which fields/professions seem problematic and why?
    1. What practical methods are in use to strive to take into consideration the demands placed by working life on rehabilitation and training?
    2. Which factors could in the future cause difficulties for rehabilitation and training to answer the development and demands of working life?
  1. How do you see the development of information management?
    1. What changes in the general development of the information and virtual environments do you estimate will cause problems for blind and severely partially sighted people? Are there trends to be seen that could help?
    2. How do you evaluate the possibilities for enabling technology to ensure information management at work for blind and severely partially sighted people?
    1. What tangible subjects are there that should be addressed immediately and which should be influenced in order to secure visually impaired people's position in working life? A list of subjects and a brief explanation.
    2. Is European co-operation needed here? What kind?

Summary of the Discussions

The groups could not agree on any specific professions, that would employ visually impaired people the best, but rather saw a broad spectrum of professions that could be available to a visually impaired person, depending on his preferences. Technical aids, support education and adaptation to being visually impaired also play a role in choosing a career. The groups see future work in both technological fields and handicrafts for visually impaired people. Problems can arise in rapidly changing multiskilled work, customer service work that relies on visual cues. Multi-skilled occupations require more training for visually impaired people.

Being in contact with former students was suggested as a way of taking working life into consideration during training. Teaching students the concept of life-long learning to match changes in the work situation was also mentioned as well as teaching students flexibility, versatility and a positive attitude to change. These are skills that have to be addressed already when the students are children. More information is needed in order for the training to match the labour market when the students graduate and also to offer different career possibilities.

Managing the amount of information flooding people was seen by several groups as difficult. Some information, especially on the Internet is in graphic form and therefore not accessible. A need for more developed software applications for visually impaired people was stated as well as software versions for visually impaired people simultaneously with the regular version of the software. The assistive technology should also be easily portable.

The groups also discussed the large group of visually impaired people who don't have the education or capacity to work in high technology fields. There seems to be renewed interest in traditional handicrafts as corporate gifts, which could be a good market for visually impaired handicraftsmen. Here quality of life also emerged as an important factor.

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