Study Examines the Discrepancies in the Earnings of People with Visual Impairments
A study funded by the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR).
According to the US Census Bureau, there are approximately 7.6 million people living with a visual impairment in the United States. Visual impairment is defined as being blind or having serious difficulty seeing even when wearing glasses. Recent research has shown that roughly 46% of people with visual impairments are employed in the US and these studies reveal a discrepancy between how much people with visual impairments earn compared to those without visual impairments. One study showed that people with visual impairments make about one-third less than people without visual impairments; another study found discrepancies in earnings for women with visual impairments compared to men with visual impairments. Additional studies are needed to confirm and broaden the understanding of these discrepancies.
In a recent NIDILRR funded study, researchers wanted to examine the earnings of employed people with visual impairments. Specifically, researchers wanted to learn about the annual and hourly earnings of people with visual impairments and how these earnings compared with that of people without visual impairments. They also wanted to look at the pay gap between men and women with visual impairments and the impact of education levels on earnings of men and women with and without visual impairments.
Researchers with the Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Employment of People Who are Blind or Have Low Vision analyzed data from the 2019 American Community Survey (ACS), an annual survey produced by the US Census Bureau. The ACS includes demographic questions about age, education, disability, and employment, among other areas. The researchers looked at data from 1,521,934 individuals between the ages of 18-65 who had worked in the previous 12 months. This included 19,460 people who reported having a visual impairment. Researchers analyzed the hourly and annual earnings of participants with visual impairments and compared earnings based on gender and educational level of participants with and without visual impairments.
The results showed that there were discrepancies in both the hourly and annual earnings of women and men with visual impairments compared to their peers without visual impairments. There were also discrepancies between women and men with visual impairments.
- Gaps in hourly pay: Men with visual impairments earned 80 cents for every dollar earned by men without visual impairments. Women with visual impairments earned 81 cents for every dollar earned by women without visual impairments.
- Gaps in annual earnings: Men with visual impairments earned about 29% less per year than men without visual impairments. Women earned about 23% less per year than women without visual impairments.
- Gaps between men and women: Women with visual impairments earned roughly 86 cents for every dollar earned by men with visual impairments. Annually, women with visual impairments earned 77.9% of what men with visual impairments earned.
The researchers found that the gaps between the earnings of people with and without visual impairments were smaller once education levels were factored in. Higher education levels resulted in higher earnings for all groups, but there were some differences. The authors noted that women with visual impairments who had obtained a high school degree or advanced to an associate or bachelor’s degree had greater earnings increase than that of women without visual impairments who achieved the same education levels. By comparison, only men with visual impairments who advanced from high school to bachelor’s degree had greater earnings increase than that of men without visual impairments who had the same education advancement.
The authors noted that, while their findings show a decrease in the pay gap between people with and without visual impairments compared with earlier studies, there is still a substantial pay gap today. The results show a significant gender pay gap between men and women with visual impairments, but the authors noted it is smaller than the gender pay gap of the general population. While higher education has contributed to higher earnings for all the groups, people with visual impairments are still earning less than people without visual impairments at higher education levels. Although this study included data on hourly earnings, it did not consider factors such as full-time or part-time work. The authors acknowledge that this could have significantly impacted the results for annual earnings because women as well as people with visual impairments are more likely to work part-time. It may be beneficial for future research to examine occupations held and other personal and work-related factors to fully understand and improve the employment outcomes of people with visual disabilities.
To learn more
The National Research and Training Center (NRTC) on Blindness and Low Vision focuses on improving outcomes of people with visual disabilities at school, at work, and in the community. They offer a large collection of resources for job seekers and employees, hiring managers, and employers, as well as young people transitioning into the workforce.
Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) at the US Department of Labor is dedicated to increasing employment opportunities for adults and youth with disabilities and eliminating barriers to employment success. ODEP offers a range of resources for job seekers, employers, and agency personnel.
To learn more about this study
McDonnall, MC., Cmar, JL., McKnight, ZS. (2022). Beyond employment rates: Earnings of people with visual impairments. Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness, 116(4), 526-532. This article is available from the NARIC collection under Accession Number J90344 and free in full text from the NRTC.