The Meaning and Importance Attributed to Work for Visually Impaired People of the Metropolitan Area of Quebec

By Véronique Garcia, Sarah Porlier, Sabrina Faleschini, and Normand Boucher

Véronique Garcia is a sociologist and a research professional at the Center for Interdisciplinary Research in Rehabilitation and Social Integration (CIRRIS), Institut de réadaptation en déficience physique de Québec (IRDPQ).

Sarah Porlier is an undergraduate student at the School of Psychology, Université Laval and a research assistant at the Research Unit on Child’s Psychosocial Maladjustment at Université Laval.

Sabrina Faleschini is a master candidate at the School of Psychology at Université Laval and also a research assistant at the CHU de Québec Research Center.

Dr. Normand Boucher is a sociologist and political scientist at the Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in Rehabilitation and Social Integration (CIRRIS), Institut de réadaptation en déficience physique de Québec (IRDPQ). Since 2003, he has been developing his research program on social policy, disability and citizenship. He is also adjunct professor in the School of Social Work at Université Laval and an active member of national and international research teams.


Objective: This study aims to determine the significance that visually impaired people give to their work and to define the obstacles and facilitators related to their integration into the workforce. Methodology: 52 adults with a visual impairment in the census metropolitan area (CMA) of Quebec, Canada, participated in a study aiming to learn about their professional trajectory, the meaning they give to work, and the perceived influence of the social and physical factors of their environment. Results: The analysis shows that it is important for work to be stimulating and for it to allow self-realisation. The respondents assert that work is an activity which is not accessible to all, but which still permits autonomy. Technical help and technology are considered facilitators to work integration, while limited access to information, the attitude of colleagues and employers, and the difficulty of adapting to the labor market are seen as obstacles. Conclusion: Results show the importance of sensitizing employers and the work environment to the reality of visually impaired people to foster their integration in an optimal manner.


Work, visual impairment, visual disability, blindness, employment, meaning of work, obstacles/facilitators at work, labor market participation, attachment to the workforce, participation in the workforce


One of the major life obstacles met by people with a visual impairment is the limitation or even incapacity to participate in tasks linked to wage labor. As Duquette and Baril (2013) suggest, historically speaking, blind and visually impaired people have always been underrepresented in the workforce. Indeed, numerous physical and environmental obstacles limit their access to the labor market and their social participation (Dugas & Guay, 2007; Duquette & Baril, 2013). Nevertheless, wage labor seems to nowadays permit individuals to acquire not only a salary in order to live, but also an identity, a status, and legitimacy in society (Dugas & Guay, 2007; Galer, 2012; Méda, 2004). Wage labor is also socially associated with personal autonomy (Drulhe, 2004; Mercure & Vultur, 2010), and with the integration and participation of these individuals in society (Dugas & Guay, 2007; Méda, 2004). It also possesses a meaning for them (Galer, 2012; Mercure & Vultur, 2010; Morin, 2008). This paper focuses on the meaning that visually impaired people give to their work in addition to the factors that influence their participation in this activity. To do so, a literature review of these two elements and the results of an exploratory research study on labor among blind and visually impaired participants are presented in this paper. Finally, the scope of the findings relevant to practitioners who accompany people with a visual impairment affecting their integration or retention in employment will be discussed.

The Meaning of Work among People with a Visual Impairment

According to researcher Chris Baldry (2013), work refers in a larger sense to “the activities by which human beings build, maintain and transform their physical and social environment” (p.576). The meaning attributed to work, except for a few exceptions (Galer, 2012; Gillies, Knight, & Baglioni, 1999; MacGregor, 2012), is a topic that was very rarely studied by social sciences researchers in populations with physical disabilities. This research is based upon the work of sociologists Daniel Mercure and Mircea Vultur who studied the conceptualization of the meaning of work among a population of workers without disabilities in the province of Quebec. Their concepts, being clear and rigorous, are used in this research and provide an adequate backbone to the demonstration in this paper.

In their 2010 book, La signification du travail (The Meaning of Work), Mercure and Vultur conceive that the intrinsic value attributed to work (i.e. the centrality of work) and the meaning given to it by the individual (i.e. the finality of work) form the two dimensions that permit comprehension of the relationship one has toward work. They also distinguish between two large groupings of principal finalities that individuals usually associate with work: the economic finality and the experiential finality. Economic finality represents a “tool of acquirement,” namely a means for individuals to carry out material exchanges; it corresponds to the classic principle of economic instrumentality. Experiential finality, for its part, references various finalities that have in common being primarily centered on the very nature of the experiences lived through work, on the substance of practice; the primary significance of work thus resides in the nature of what is done and what is experienced at work (Mercure & Vultur, 2010).

According to the study Mercure and Vultur (2010) carried out in the province of Quebec, Canada, individuals seek experiential finality at work more than instrumental finality. Values of self-actualisation (self-realisation, personal development, autonomy, learning new skillsets, etc.), authenticity, subjective implication, not to mention the search for balance between life at work and private life are what nowadays define the meaning that individuals give to work (Drulhe, 2004; Ehrenberg, 2000, 2011; Linhart, Rist, & Durand, 2002; Méda, 2004; Mercure & Vultur, 2010; Morin, 2004). For many sociologists, the presence within occidental societies of these values at work can be explained by the fact that the old ethics of work – asceticism, work being seen as a social duty and a means to acquire a higher social status – are being little by little replaced by a new set of ethics centered on responsibility and autonomy. Mercure and Vultur (2010) also expose in their study that at the same time these changes in values associated with work are operating, labor is regarded more and more as a right rather than a social duty.

Still, in spite of the prevalence of these values, they are not shared by all individuals; but rather they seem to vary according to an individual’s socio-professional situation (Baldry, 2007; Méda, 2004; Mercure & Vultur, 2010). In fact, people with a relatively high socio-professional status adhere more strongly to the dominant values at work of self-actualisation, authenticity, and subjective implication (Mercure & Vultur, 2010). Inversely, those who are situated at the base of the socio-professional hierarchy, meaning part-time workers, contract workers, the unemployed and workers earning less than CAD $20,000 per year, adhere to it more weakly. Concerning salaried workers with disabilities, a study by Galer (2012) carried out in Toronto and in the north of Ontario showed that they also strongly share the values of self-actualisation. Many of the participants consider their jobs to be a means to exceed oneself, and a number of them confer to their work a sense of surpassing the low social expectations they must contend with in regard to their capacity to practice this activity (Galer, 2012). As with experiential finality, the centrality of work seems to vary as well according to socio-professional situation, the importance of work being stronger in socio-professional categories with a slightly higher status and being less strong in people with children (Mercure & Vultur, 2010). Finally, according to the results of these authors, work, while considered important to people’s lives, is placed behind family in terms of importance in life.

In opposition to the authors cited above, Baldry (2007) argues that individuals still seem to possess more of a tendency to give to their work an instrumental finality rather than an experiential one, meaning that they hold a job first and foremost to gain a salary rather than in a goal of self-actualisation. In this sense, work is generally perceived by individuals to be a restraint, notably because of the time it consumes (Baldry, 2007). Baldry also opposes Mercure and Vultur (2010) in the sense that he believes that the concept of work as a social duty still remains a “powerful hegemonic idea” (Baldry, 2013, p.577). Finally, in contrast to these two authors, Baldry (2007) does not seem to conceive that work now occupies a central importance in the lives of individuals.

Mercure and Vultur (2010), along with Morin (2008), were likewise interested by individuals’ satisfaction at work. According to Morin (2008), “if the individual perceives in a positive way his work (concrete daily activities), the conditions in which he accomplishes it and the relationships established, then he will tend to find meaning within it” (p.40). For this author, a job with meaning must be done within a context of established rules and duties, be inspired by moral and/or spiritual values, be stimulating, not to mention give recognition, allow positive relationships with others, and offer security at work (Morin, 2004). Mercure and Vultur (2010), on the other hand assert that dissatisfaction caused by work can lead individuals to detach themselves from their jobs and refuse to give it a meaning of self-actualisation, granting it instead a lesser centrality in their life project. Still, as the studies of Dugas & Guay (2007) and Uppal (2005) demonstrate, people with disabilities seem to perceive their work or principal activity more negatively than people without disabilities (13% vs. 4.9%, in short a proportion that is 2.6 times higher for people with disabilities, see Dugas & Guay, 2007). As the studies of Uppal (2005) suggest, this dissatisfaction could be directly linked to the obstacles experienced at work by people with physical disabilities.

Factors Influencing the Participation at Work of People with a Visual Impairment

People with a visual impairment who hold a job seem to generally profit from larger and more positive social support than those with no work (Cimarolli & Wang, 2006). They also seem to present a lesser prevalence of symptoms of anxiety (Cimarolli & Wang, 2006); they likewise have a better sense of self-esteem (Goertz, van Lierop, Houkes, & Nijhuis, 2010). However, the consulted literature exposed that numerous personal and environmental factors can constitute obstacles – or facilitators, depending on the situation – to the participation and the integration to work of blind or visually impaired people. Among the personal factors that cannot be modified, the following can be found:

  • The severity of the visual impairment (Bell & Mino, 2013; Darensbourg, 2013; Duquette & Baril, 2013; La Grow, 2003; Lee & Park, 2008; Leonard, D’Allura, & Horowitz, 1999);
  • Age (Bell & Mino, 2013; Clements, Douglas, & Pavey, 2011; Darensbourg, 2013; Duquette & Baril, 2013; La Grow, 2004);
  • Gender (Bell & Mino, 2013; Clements et al., 2011; Darensbourg, 2013; Duquette & Baril, 2013; La Grow, 2004);
  • The age at which the visual disability appeared (Clements et al., 2011; Duquette & Baril, 2013; La Grow, 2004);
  • And the presence of one or several other secondary disabilities (Duquette & Baril, 2013; La Grow, 2004).

Meanwhile, the modifiable personal factors that also have an influence on the probability of obtaining and maintaining work are:

  • The use of diverse means of communication (Bell & Mino, 2013 ; Crudden, 2002; Duquette & Baril, 2013; Goertz et al., 2010; Lee & Park, 2008; Leonard et al., 1999; McDonnall & Crudden, 2009);
  • The behaviours of the individual ( Crudden, 2002; Duquette & Baril, 2013; Golub, 2006; McDonnall & Crudden, 2009); O’Day, 1999);
  • His or her mobility (Bell & Mino, 2013; Duquette & Baril, 2013; Goertz et al., 2010; Golub, 2006);
  • His or her responsibilities (Duquette & Baril, 2013; Shaw, Gold, & Wolffe, 2007);
  • And his or her level of education (Bell, 2010; Bell & Mino, 2013;  Clements et al., 2011; Duquette & Baril, 2013; La Grow, 2004; Lee & Park, 2008; McDonnall & Crudden, 2009).

In the same vein, environmental factors can have a notable effect on the integration to work of people with a visual impairment. They are:

  • The rendering of specialized schooling services (Capella-McDonnall, 2005;  Duquette & Baril, 2013; Goertz et al., 2010; Lee & Park, 2007; Leonard et al., 1999; McDonnall & Crudden, 2009; Shaw et al., 2007);
  • Living environment (Bell & Mino, 2013; Duquette & Baril, 2013; Goertz et al., 2010; Shaw et al., 2007);
  • Place of residence (Duquette & Baril, 2013; Lee & Park, 2008);
  • And the workplace (attitude and accessibility) (Duquette & Baril, 2013; Golub, 2006; McDonnall, O’Mally, & Crudden, 2014).

It also has been demonstrated that social support at work can be a facilitator for blind and visually impaired people (Crudden, 2002; Goertz et al., 2010; Kempen, Ballemans, Ranchor, Van Rens, & Zijlstra, 2012; Papakonstantinou & Papadopoulos, 2009). Nevertheless, when it is not adequate, it can represent an important source of difficulties for these people (Crudden, 2002; Dugas & Guay, 2007). The exclusion by colleagues at work or peers at school (Naraine & Lindsay, 2011; Pfeiffer, Pinquart, & Münchow, 2012) and the negative attitudes of employers (Crudden, Sansing, & Butler, 2005; McDonnall, Zhou, & Crudden, 2013; O’Day, 1999; Shaw et al., 2007) can be harmful to people with a visual impairment. According to Slade and Simkiss, cited in Duquette and Baril (2013), the attitude and behaviour of a potential employer can constitute an obstacle to being hired, as 24% of visually impaired persons have experienced. Additionally, most employers possess a limited knowledge of resources that can help visually impaired people, often showing ignorance toward aspects surrounding their capacities and security at work (Duquette & Baril, 2013; McDonnall et al., 2014; O’Day, 1999). In fact, as the study by McDonnall and colleagues (2014) revealed that the majority of employers proved unable to identify the severity of the disability of their employees. According to Duquette and Baril (2013), this lack of knowledge concerning the reality of visually impaired people can potentially bring fear and resistance from the part of employers. However, participation at work can be otherwise facilitated if the employer receives information about visual impairment (Duquette & Baril, 2013).


Studies in the social sciences concerning the meaning accorded to work by people with a visual impairment being rare, the primary goal of this exploratory research is to produce information about this subject. First of all, this study aims to analyze the meaning blind and visually impaired people give to work, as well as the aspects considered as the most important by them. It will also attempt to corroborate and establish comparison with the results obtained by other studies pertaining to the meaning of work among people with a physical disability or people with no physical disability. The second objective of this study is to establish the principal barriers and facilitators to work, as well as to job searching that visually impaired people will be faced with.



The methodology of this research has been approved by the ethics committee of the Institut de réadaptation en déficience physique de Québec (IRDPQ). The participants have been selected by the method of convenience sampling in the Canadian census metropolitan area (CMA) of Quebec, which regroups the administrative regions of Capitale-Nationale and Chaudière-Appalaches. Recruitment has been done through the intermediary of the Regroupement des personnes handicapées visuelles (Group of visually impaired persons), of job centers, and of diverse regional organizations operating in the field of visual disability. The data was collected by phone or in person through the completion of a questionnaire by selected participants.


The 52 participants who were recruited completed the questionnaire Profil sociogéographique, expérience personnelle et trajectoire professionnelle (Socio-geographic profile, personal experience and career trajectory) specifically created for the project, which has been validated among the team and with the participation of practitioners of the IRDPQ program and other associations. This tool contains three sections. The first aims to establish the social-demographic profile of the participants, while the second endeavors to document the job, the job search, or the failure in the latter process, along with the personal experience linked with market labor. In addition, this second section includes questions about difficulties and facilitators at work. The third section concerns the meaning and the centrality (i.e. the importance) of work among people with a visual impairment. For the second and third sections, an assortment of statements was developed on the themes of facilitators/obstacles at work, the importance of work and some of its characteristics, and the meaning of work. The participants were invited to indicate their degree of agreement towards each of the statements on a Likert scale. The second tool used for measuring was the Measure of the Quality of the Environment (Fougeyrollas, Noreau, St-Michel, & Boschen, 1999). It assesses the perceived influence of the physical and social environment of the individual in the function of their capacities and limits in the realization of their daily activities (Boucher, Roy, Rioux, & Charrier, 2008). It is a scale of measure where the participant is invited to classify elements according to the level of their perceived influences from -3, which corresponds to a major obstacle, to +3, which corresponds to a major facilitator; an absence of influence is noted as zero (0).

Statistical Analysis

Concerning the statistical methods used to analyze the data, the proportion in percentage of the respondents listed within each of the class intervals of the variables were first evaluated in order to compare them. Afterward, to analyze the statistical relations between the variables, the Fisher's exact test was employed – chosen here because of the small number of respondents within the sample – and the test of Cramer's V. The threshold of statistical significance used for all analysis carried out in the present study is 0.05.


Participants’ Profile

The fifty-two participants interviewed in the course of this study come from the CMA of Quebec in the province of Quebec; 44.2% are in the labor market while 34.6% are students or unemployed. It is also worth noting here that within the unemployed respondents, 54.5% [n = 11] have given up looking for work for four years or more. The proportion of respondents still searching for a job, on the other hand, is 45.5%.

For the purpose of the analysis, the respondents were also classified into two categories according to the severity of their disability: legally blind and partially sighted. This exercise has been done in order to account for the different realities experienced at work according to the severity of the respondents' visual disability. This division also follows the two categories set apart by the Régie de l'assurance maladie du Québec (RAMQ). This organization is responsible for the remuneration of the health professionals of the province as well as the public health and drug insurance plans; thus, the RAMQ is also in charge of supplying visual aid to admissible people. According to the RAMQ (2013, 2014), one is considered legally blind if each eye possesses a visual acuity equal or inferior to 6/120 or a continuous visual field inferior to 10°, including the central fixation point which is measured horizontally or vertically. In both cases, this makes the person unable to use print magnification in a functional manner (RAMQ, 2014). In the category containing partially sighted people, the RAMQ includes people who have in each eye a visual field lower than 60° in the meridians of 180° or 90° and individuals with a visual acuity lower than 6/21 (RAMQ, 2014). Most of the respondents who participated in the survey have been affected by their visual disability since birth (67.3%). They are classed as partially sighted or legally blind [n = 51] in rather equal proportions, with 54.9% being identified as partially sighted and 45.1% being legally blind. Finally, the median age of the respondents is thirty-six, and the proportion of men and women who were interviewed is relatively the same (57.7% men and 42.3% women.)

The Meaning of Work and its Importance among Visually Impaired People

The obtained results show that the near totality of the respondents (98.1%) consider work to be important. However, when asked to classify in order of importance the different spheres of their life – on a scale of 1 [most important] to 5 [least important] – family is often put in first position (42.3%), followed by work (26.0%) [n = 50] and studies (21.4%) [n = 42], while inversely, community life (35.0%) [n = 40] and spare-time activities (24.0%) [n = 50] are often placed last. Furthermore, it seems that the gender of the participants exerts a certain influence on the importance they grant to work [n = 50] when this activity is compared to the other spheres of their life (V Cramer = 0.416, p = 0.014). Indeed, men generally put work in first or second position in order of importance in comparison to other spheres of their lives (66.7% [n = 30] compared to 45.0% [n=20] for women), while women place it more often in fourth or fifth position (50%  compared to 13.3% for men) (Table 1). Inversely, the results reveal that having children does not seem to affect the importance granted to work (p = 0.057) [n = 50] or family (p = 0.491) among the respondents when it is linked to the other dimensions of their life. Finally, the results indicate that the level of importance granted to work seems to vary in function of the professional category of the respondents (V Cramer = 0.418, p = 0.028) when it is not positioned in relation to the other spheres of their life. Effectively, when asked to specify whether or not work is important to them – on a scale of extremely important to not at all important – unemployed individuals consider work to be extremely important (54.5%) [n = 11], more so than those who are employed or still studying (22.0%) [n = 41] (Table 2).

Table 1. Importance of Work According to Gender

Rank in Order of Importance

% Female

% Male

Last or second to last rank



Third rank



First or second rank



Note. For all orders of importance, n = 50, p = 0.014, and V Cramer = 0.416.

Table 2. Importance of Work According to Professional Situation

Level of Importance

% Employed workers or student

% Unemployed workers

Not at all important






Very important



Extremely important



Note 1. The dash indicates that the data could not be obtained for this category.
Note 2. For all levels of importance, n = 52, p = 0.028, and V Cramer = 0.418.

Concerning the meaning accorded to work, the characteristics of work that are considered as the most important and the least important by the respondents (Table 3) were first analyzed. Since most of the aspects that were addressed in the questionnaire are considered to be at least important by the respondents, a focus on the elements that are classed as extremely important has been made; in other words the ones which were attributed the highest level in importance. Within the latter, it has been first noted that more than half of the respondents (53.8%) desire a connection between their professional occupation, their interests, and their competencies. The importance they assign to the possibility of being able to realize themselves at work (51.9%) and to occupy a job that is adapted to their capacities (50.0%) was also observed. The participants often report as well that they more highly appreciate a job that gives them a sense of usefulness (44.2%), that offers them employment security (42.3%), that ensures a salary high enough to meet their basic needs (42.3%), and that gives them a feeling of being appreciated (34.6%). In comparison, they give little importance to the prestige that a job can grant them (46.2%). The results also stress the importance of noting that the importance of keeping busy varies according to the fact of being employed or not (V Cramer = 0.434, p = 0.043) [n = 51]; the unemployed respondents more often consider work to be extremely important (50%) [n = 10] than employed respondents or respondents who are still studying (9.8%) [n = 41].

Table 3. Aspects of Work Considered Most Important

Aspects of Work Considered Most Important


Matching their interests and skills


Making them realize their potential


Being adapted to their capacities


Giving them the feeling of having a value


Providing them with job security


Ensuring a wage to fill their essential needs


Giving them the feeling that what they do is appreciated


Note 1. The categories of this table are not mutually exclusive.
Note 2. For all aspects, n = 52.

Table 4. Aspects of Work Considered Least Important

Aspects of work that are considered the least important


Giving them some prestige


Note. For all aspects, n = 52.

After analyzing the characteristics of work, which are considered to be the most and least important, the way the respondents define work (Table 4) was then examined. To do so, the affirmations with the strongest or weakest proportions of answers that are totally in agreement have been retained. The results indicate that for the majority of the participants, work brings personal satisfaction (68.6%) [n = 51] and autonomy (63.5%). Most of them also perceive work as a contribution to society (61.5%), as a means to be useful to society (55.8%), and as a duty for every citizen who is able to work (55.8%). Furthermore, about half of them believe that work allows them to develop their capacities and abilities (53.8%), that it is a means for personal development (51.9%), and that it can give a sense of belonging to a group or a community (50.0%). The results likewise illustrate that the perception of work as a means to give a sense of belonging to a group or a community seems to vary according to the lifestyles of the respondents (V Cramer = 0.310, p = 0.003). Indeed, this perception seems less present in the respondents living in residence, in accommodation/lodging, or in host families (18.2% completely in agreement) [n = 11] and among the respondents living with a partner (45.0%) [n = 20] in comparison to those who live alone or with one or many roommates (71.4%) [n = 21]).

Table 5. Elements that Most Define Work

Elements that Most Define Work

Sample Size


Work brings personal satisfaction

n = 51


Work brings autonomy

n = 52


Work is a contribution to society

n = 52


Work allows individuals to be useful to society

n = 52


Work is a duty for each citizen that can perform it

n = 52


Work allows individuals to develop their skills and capacities

n = 52


Work is a means of personal development

n = 52


Work gives a feeling of belonging (to a group or a community)

n = 52


Note. The categories of this table are not mutually exclusive.

Table 6. Elements that Least Define Work

Elements that Least Define Work

Sample Size


Work is an activity that everyone can do, regardless of their condition

n = 52


Work is an obligation

n = 52


Work is a free choice

n = 51


Note. The categories of this table are not mutually exclusive.

The Difficulties and the Facilitators Influencing Participation of Visually Impaired People in the Labor Market

Concerning the factors influencing participation to the labor market, two thirds of the employed respondents (66.7%) [n = 24] argue that the degree of intensity (or the level of energy required) to accomplish their job is high or very high. The level of intensity to complete studies or participate in work [n = 42] is indeed higher among respondents with disabilities that are concomitant with visual impairment (V Cramer = 0.519, p = 0.005). In addition, the results indicate that technical aid and assistive technology are the factors that are considered to be the most helpful at work by the largest number of employed respondents (41.7%) [n = 24]. The obstacles at work that were identified include access to information, the limited capacity of visually impaired people to read (25.0%) [n = 24], and negative attitudes in the workplace (16.7%) [n = 24]. Concerning this subject, it should also be noted that among all of the respondents, more or less a quarter of them (22.7%) consider that the negative attitude of their superiors [n = 44] represents an important obstacle in their lives. Finally, most of the respondents consider hiring criteria and test selections (76.2%) [n = 42], as well as the actual availability of jobs in their community (58.1%) [n = 43] to be obstacles. The difficulty of meeting the criteria of the labor market (36.4%) and the small number of jobs that are adapted to the capacities of blind and visually impaired people in their region (36.4%) are moreover seen as significant obstacles to employment by the unemployed respondents [n = 11].

Table 7. Factors Most Facilitating at Work

Facilitating Factors


Technical aid/technology


Comprehensive/supportive working environments
(colleagues, patrons, clients)


Personal skills


Combination of psychological factors
(motivation, desire to work, personal satisfaction, self-confidence)


Human assistance


Note 1. The categories of this table are not mutually exclusive.
Note 2. For all factors listed, n = 24.

Table 8. Factors Most Damaging at Work

Damaging Factors


Limited access to information and capacity to read


Workplace attitudes


Journeys to work


Note 1. The categories of this table are not mutually exclusive.
Note 2. For all factors listed, n = 24.   


The Meaning and Importance of Work among the Respondents

The primary objective of this study aimed to analyze the perception and importance of work among blind and visually impaired people by examining the meaning and important aspects linked to it. Concerning the meaning of work, this analysis established that work can be considered as an essential component to the life of the majority of the respondents. However, they tend to place family higher than work in their appreciation of importance. These results are consistent with those of Mercure and Vultur (2010) and those of Drulhe (2004), according to which work occupies a crucial place in the life of individuals, although one that is less important than a life partner and family. These results also attest that the importance given to work does not seem to differ much among both visually impaired people and people with no disability to speak of. They corroborate as well with the results of Gillies et al. (1999), according to which visually impaired people tend to grant the same importance to work in their lives as people with no visual impairment. However, it cannot be concluded that the respondents, in particular women and people with children, are more prone to lower the level of importance they give to work, as Mercure and Vultur described in their study (2010). In turn, it was observed that the level of importance varies according to whether they are employed or not. Here, these observations concur with those of Drulhe (2004), Méda (2004), and Mercure and Vultur (2010), according to which individuals feel a closer attachment to work when they are at risk of being in a situation of economic insecurity or when they are unemployed.

Moreover, the results demonstrate how important it is for the respondents to occupy a job they consider stimulating and through which they can reach self-realization. Similarly, it has been observed that the majority of them consider work as something that is able to bring a sense of personal satisfaction that allows autonomy. These values attest to the significant place that the experiences lived in the labor market has for visually impaired people. In that sense, the results of the present study agree more with those obtained by the research of the sociologists Mercure and Vultur (2010), who mention that the majority of workers conceive the principal finality of their work through the direct experience they gain there (experiential finality) rather than just as a means to gain a salary (economic instrumental finality). The results also concur with those of numerous authors who say that nowadays the values of self-actualization (self-realization, personal development, autonomy, learning new skillsets, etc.) define the meaning that individuals give to work, whether or not they have a physical disability (Drulhe, 2004; Ehrenberg, 2000, 2011; Galer, 2012; Linhart et al., 2002; Méda, 2004; Mercure & Vultur; 2010; Morin, 2004).

It has also been noted that the participants of this study have contradicted themselves when asked to reply to the question of whether work was an obligation or a free choice. However, it seems that the better part of them consider work to be a contribution to society and an obligation. It is possible to explain these results through the theories of authors such as Mercure and Vultur (2010) and Linhart and collaborators (2010), according to which work is nowadays less perceived as an obligation forced by society and more like a right. Nevertheless, it is probable that the traditional ethic of work, which regards it as a duty, has not completely disappeared, and tends to still be dominant among the respondents. The results also show that work is not considered as a means to climb the social hierarchy by visually impaired people. Moreover, it has likewise been noticed that the meaning of work varies according to one’s condition (partially sighted or legally blind). As mentioned before, many authors have noted the fact that the severity of the visual disability exerts a notable influence on the reality lived by individuals at their jobs, affecting their participation in this activity. However, as Duquette and Baril (2013) pointed out, the results of the research tend to diverge on the subject, with some authors concluding that the severity of the visual loss is positively associated with participation at work (Bell & Mino, 2013; Darensbourg, 2013; Leonard et al., 1999), while others, such as La Grow (2003) and Lee and Park (2008), reported opposite conclusions. However, the results of the present research seem to corroborate the results of the latter. Indeed, as previously shown, the respondents who are legally blind consider work less as an obligation and a means to support themselves than the respondents who are partially sighted.

The Facilitators and the Obstacles Faced by the Respondents at Work

Regarding the second objective of this study, the results reveal that the principal factors that facilitate the integration of visually impaired workers are technical aid and the comprehension and support of colleagues, employers, and clients. The damageable factors at work are the limited access to information along with the negative attitudes of colleagues. These results illustrate that the accessibility of information and the adaptability of the work station still represent important obstacles in the integration of people with a visual impairment at work. Certainly, most of the respondents seem to insist on the importance of having their job adapted in function of their capacities. The results also corroborate those of Boucher and collaborators (2008), Crudden (2002), and Crudden and collaborators (2005), along with those of Shaw and collaborators (2007), which report that full access to information is often limited for people with a visual impairment. Of note, according to Uppal (2005) the absence of technical aid or technological help, not to mention the lack of accommodations from employers at the workplace, often represent an important source of dissatisfaction at work for physically disabled people. 

The present study also shows that social relations in the workplace occupy the double role of positive and negative factors for the participants. In fact, the perception of social support at work seems to be a beneficial factor in this population (Kempen et al., 2012; Papakonstantinou & Papadopoulos, 2009). These results likewise support those of Naraine and Lindsay (2011) and of Pfeiffer and associates (2012) which mention that acceptance by colleagues at work or by peers at school can also be a source of difficulty for these people. Indeed, Shier, Graham, and Jones (2009) point out that workers with disabilities frequently experience insensitivity or hostility at their workplace in relation to their needs. In fact, many authors call attention to the fact that the negative attitudes of co-workers toward visually impaired people are often caused by a lack of knowledge about the disability, something that frequently causes pity or frustration on the part of the co-workers (Papakonstantinou & Papadopoulos, 2009). It is also interesting to note that the respondents consider the negative attitude of employers to be an impediment to get hired. This corroborates the studies of numerous researchers such as Dugas and Guay (2007), Duquette and Baril (2013), Louvet and Rohmer (2010), McDonnall and collaborators (2013), and Shier and collaborators (2009).

Limits of the Study

The principal limit of this study is the small size of the sample that was used, especially the low number of unemployed respondents. A second limit is linked to the generalization of the obtained results to the whole of the population of the province of Quebec. Given that the sample is composed of blind and visually impaired people living in the CMA of Quebec selected with a non-probability sampling technique, these results cannot be generalized to the whole visually impaired Quebec population. It would be more than pertinent for future studies that will address the subject of the integration to work of visually impaired people in a population-wide context to use a pool of participants that is larger than the present sample.

Implications for Practitioners and Families

This paper has shown that work generally occupies a crucial place within the lives of the respondents. The importance for them to have a job they consider stimulating and that allows them to realize themselves has also been stressed. Furthermore, the majority of them consider that it is an activity that brings both personal satisfaction and autonomy. The results of this study also show the importance of the attitudes of colleagues, employers, and clients as a factor influencing positively or negatively the participation of visually impaired people in the labor market. These results reinforce the importance of sensitizing employers and the workplace to the reality lived by visually impaired people and encouraging contacts with the latter. As demonstrated by Harpur (2014), and Crudden and colleagues (2005), increasing the amount and frequency of contact between visually impaired workers and employers may help to fight discrimination in the workplace and in the hiring process, even when it is unconscious and insidious. As Duquette and Baril (2013) specified, this sensitization must first bring employers to recognize the intrinsic value of having a visually impaired employee; they must realize that work tasks can be accomplished in more than one way, that there are times where accommodation is necessary, and that they must provide necessary material and equipment to visually impaired individuals so they can accomplish their work. Also, as mentioned by these two authors, along with Golub (2006), the employer must participate in the sensitization of the workplace, so as to break with the myths and stereotypes propagated about employees with visual impairments, thus facilitating their integration. Another means to promote the hiring of people with a visual impairment and their inclusion in the workforce is by fostering the adoption of strategies aimed at the mobilization and promotion of their capacities rather than implementing measures focusing only on their disabilities (McDonnall et al., 2013). One such strategy may be the use, in the public and professional spheres, of disability “champions”– which can be employees from the general workforce, influential administrators, etc. – who will advocate for the hiring of blind and visually impaired people and promote their potential (Hernandez et al., 2008).

Finally, it is important to briefly raise a cautionary note on the dangers of attributing more personal qualities and greater social desirability to people with a visual impairment than to their non-disabled peers when promoting their competences at work. In return, and as pointed out by Louvet and Rohmer (2006, 2010), when this process occurs, disabled workers tend to generally not be recognized for their work skills; they are depicted as courageous, likable, loyal, and tenacious, before being described as suitable employees. Promoting the potential of visually impaired people in the workplace may also be made by stating that they have a positive effect on their non-disabled colleagues by serving as a source of inspiration. Doing so, however, may reinforce the idea that disabled people are not capable of finding and holding steady employment as opposed to their non-disabled counterparts. This conception stems from the assumption that visually impaired people in the workforce are exceptional and unrepresentative of their peers (i.e. people with other disabilities). It should, therefore, be pertinent to pay attention to this phenomenon when attempting to create a more inclusive and supportive work environment.


We wish to thank every participant interviewed in the study for sharing their experiences, the Carrefour québécois des personnes aveugles, Kathia Roy, Simon Rioux, Francis Charrier, David Fiset, Jean Leblond, Guillaume Sénéchal, Andréanne Bienvenue, Patricia Turmel, Cynthia Henriksen, and Charles Meunier for his generous collaboration. Finally, this project was carried out thanks to the financial support of the Ministère de l’emploi et de la solidarité sociale and Sphère-Québec.


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i The percentages found in the results section apply to the 52 participants. Occasionally, the denominator can be different. In these cases, the denominator is specified within brackets after the percentage.

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