AUSTIN (KXAN) — Despite being able to work a wide variety of jobs, people who are blind or visually impaired tend to have low job placement rates, according to data from the Journal of Blindness Innovation and Research. The journal found 76% of people who are blind are unemployed.
At age 16, Blake Steinecke suffered severe vision loss due to a genetic condition called Leber Hereditary Optic Neuropathy.
“Definitely had a huge impact on my life,” he said. “I had to learn lots of new technology to keep up in school and work.”
Nowadays he works full-time for Clusiv, an Austin-based startup offering an e-learning platform for folks who are blind or visually impaired.
“It made me realize that I wish I had this years ago, when my vision loss happened,” Steinecke said. “It’s something that I could still benefit so much from.”
Through a mobile app and website, Clusiv has classes that help individuals, including Steinecke, get hired into the workforce.
Both platforms read everything aloud, Clusiv founder Lukas Simianer said.
“Nowadays, you need to learn how to use email, cloud storage, multiple digital meeting platforms, all these things which are not designed with blind people in mind,” he said. “No one has created a training, much less training the skills to teach people how to do that.”
More than half of Clusiv’s employees are blind or visually impaired, said Tom Jackson, the company’s chief operating officer.
“We hire people who have a firsthand experience with this problem and solving it,” he said. “That’s what’s paramount.”
For Steinecke, he said this e-learning platform is a game changer.
“I found that technology was the biggest tool to help empower me,” he said.
Since its launch in 2021, Clusiv has helped more than 150 users and sold its software to seven state vocational rehabilitation facilities.
“The goal is to make people who are blind or visually impaired in the workforce a norm and not the exception,” Jackson added.