nTIDE May 2023 Deeper Dive: How Did COVID-19 Lockdown Impact Employment of Individuals with Visual Disabilities?

National Trends in Disability Employment (nTIDE) – issued semi-monthly by Kessler Foundation and the University of New Hampshire

Bearded man with brown jacket and black tie
Andrew Houtenville, PhD, professor of
economics at the University of Hampshire (UNH)
and research director of the UNH Institute on
Disability.
 

East Hanover, NJ – May 23, 2023 New data show that while individuals with visual disabilities were slow to recover employment because of the effects of the COVID-2019 lockdown, they have made headway, depending on their level of disability, almost meeting their pre-pandemic levels. Possible reasons for their slower recovery include major safety concerns due to the shortage of personal protective equipment, less access to vaccines, and their vulnerability to severe consequences of COVID, according to experts speaking during last Friday’s nTIDE Deeper Dive Lunch & Learn Webinar.

Using data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) for persons ages 16-64, the average monthly employment-to-population ratio for April 2022 to March 2023 was 59.8 percent for individuals who reported vision disabilities only, (people who reported being “blind or having serious difficulty seeing” and no other disability) compared to 40.3 percent for people who reported vision disability (plus at least one other disability). For individuals who reported vision disability with activity limitations (e.g., difficulty with self-care, leaving the house by themselves) the employment-to-population ratio was 14.1 percent. “These data show a really slow recovery overall: it took this disability segment until the third year post-lockdown to return to their pre‑pandemic employment levels,” asserted nTIDE expert Andrew Houtenville, PhD, professor of economics at the University of Hampshire (UNH) and research director of the UNH Institute on Disability.

The monthly employment-to-population ratio, a key indicator, reflects the number of people in a population who are working, relative to the total number of people in that population. A 12-month average of this indicator is used to boost statistical precision. The 12-month period of April in one year to March in the next year is used to help examine employment trends before and after the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown recession.

“In the Current Population Survey, ‘vision disability’ can be characterized in numerous ways that make a difference in subsequent employment estimates. For instance, reporting vision difficulty and activity limitation likely indicates a more severe disability, and folks experiencing more severe vision disability are much less likely to be employed,” Dr. Houtenville explained. “In the coming months, the nTIDE Deeper Dive will be looking more closely at how people experience disability using data from the six questions in the BLS survey, which asks about hearing difficulty, vision difficulty, cognitive difficulty, ambulatory difficulty, self-care difficulty, and independent living difficulty.

Impacts on Employment Recovery
The reliance on tactile input and the fear of COVID complications post-lockdown may have impacted the employment recovery time for people with blindness and visual impairment. “The COVID-2019 pandemic probably negatively influenced individuals with vision disabilities who use tactile cues to navigate,” affirmed Elaine E. Katz, MS, CCC-SLP, senior vice president of Grants and Communications, Kessler Foundation. “Personal safety issues were a huge concern. Many visually impaired individuals hesitated to go out alone due to concerns about coming into contact with surfaces contaminated by germs or encountering people without masks. People who worked in offices ended up staying home and telecommuting,” Katz concluded.  

Note on Data Collection and Language
When presenting information about disabilities, nTIDE employs the terminology found in the survey that serves as the basis for BLS data, known as the Current Population Survey (CPS).

Live Webinar on Disability and Employment
In conjunction with each nTIDE report, experts host a 12:00 PM – 1:00 PM (ET) Lunch & Learn Webinar via Zoom featuring in-depth analyses, guest speakers, and news updates from the field. Webinars include invited panelists who discuss current disability-related findings and events. On June 2, 2023, a guest panelist joins Drs. O’Neill and Houtenville, and Denise Rozell, policy strategist from the Association of University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD). Register for this upcoming nTIDE webinar at ResearchonDisability.org/nTIDE , where you will also find the nTIDE archives.

About nTIDE Updates
National Trends in Disability Employment (nTIDE) is a joint project of Kessler Foundation and the University of New Hampshire Institute on Disability. The nTIDE team closely monitors the job numbers, issuing semi-monthly reports that track the impact of economic shifts on employment for people with and without disabilities. As the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to wane and inflation persistently rises, the nTIDE team has superseded its mid-month COVID Update to a “Deeper Dive” into the BLS data for people with disabilities.

About the Institute on Disability at the University of New Hampshire
The Institute on Disability at the University of New Hampshire was established in 1987 to provide a university-based focus for the improvement of knowledge, policies, and practices related to the lives of persons with disabilities and their families. For information on the Intitute’s NIDILRR-funded Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Disability Statistics and Demographics (StatsRRTC), visit ResearchOnDisability.org

About Kessler Foundation
Kessler Foundation, a major nonprofit organization in the field of disability, is a global leader in rehabilitation research. Our scientists seek to improve cognition, mobility, and long-term outcomes, including employment, for adults and children with neurological and developmental disabilities of the brain and spinal cord including traumatic brain injury, spinal cord injury, stroke, multiple sclerosis, and autism. Kessler Foundation also leads the nation in funding innovative programs that expand opportunities for employment for people with disabilities. We help people regain independence to lead full and productive lives.

For more information, contact:
Deb Hauss, [email protected]
Carolann Murphy, [email protected]

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