CEO Holiday Letter

Striving for a better 2021 and beyond

Although this holiday season will be different from the others, the recurring need to pause and reflect has found its way to me once again.

As I think about 2020, my mind focuses on two connecting things. The first is the low vision community. The second is the term normalcy. A word that’s risen in popularity since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic; and a state of living I wish never returns.

My passion for supporting the low vision community runs deeper than being CEO of eSight Corporation. Before holding the position I now have, my mother was diagnosed with macular degeneration. And I watched as her world she once navigated with confidence became filled with unforeseen barriers. This experience was not unique to her. There are 246 million people globally who are visually impaired – many of us will surely increase this number due to age-related vision loss, and face obstacles unknown to sighted people. This includes, but certainly not limited to:

  • Lack of information accessibility. With a quick scan of our surroundings sighted people are able to see pertinent information that is only made available visually (e.g. stop signs, train station timetables, navigational arrows).
  • Digital divide. As we rapidly evolve into a more digital society, the interfaces and platforms being made are not always designed with the low vision community in mind, causing grave accessibility issues.
  • Social stigma and discrimination. Sadly, in our society low vision and legal blindness is often equated to incompetence, incapability and unintelligence. This could not be further from the truth; but is a dangerous reality that can seriously impact a person’s livelihood.

Over half of working-age people who are blind or visually impaired are not in the labor market, compared with fewer than a quarter of people without disabilities.

The American Community Survey

The study suggested that one of the reasons why there is a large gap is individuals with low vision have given up on finding a job due to numerous factors  like the ones forementioned.

This was the world in its “normal” state. 

Now we face a pandemic, and while it has caused immeasurable suffering it’s also made it clearer that our world is not built for the low vision community.  

For many individuals with visual impairments “touch” was a critical way of navigating unfamiliar surroundings. Although public spaces have minimized touchpoints for safety reasons, they have not provided alternative methods to support the low vision community. Additionally, with social distancing practices put in place, many people with serious eye conditions can no longer be accompanied by a caregiver or family member in public settings. Not to mention, many support networks either have limited access or are closed indefinitely due to a lack of digital resources.  

The temptation to wish for things to “go back to normal” is understandable but it’s evident that our normal state of being is not good enough. We need to do better in creating a more inclusive world.

So how do we accomplish this goal?

From an individual perspective, I’ve collected a few tips while working with partners within the low vision community and eSight staff who have visual impairments:

esight-4 kids at school
  1. Educate yourself on visual impairments, low vision and legal blindness. The onus is on the sighted community to learn and be more inclusive.
  2. Trust that individuals with low vision know their capabilities and limitations. If they say they are able to handle a specific task, let them do it.
  1. Talk to people with visual impairments the same way you would sighted people.
  2. Know that their eye condition does not define them. Get to know people with low vision. I guarantee you will find endless similarities, which will reinforce our common humanity.
  3. If they use assistive technology, politely ask questions to learn how it works and how you can be an inclusion-ally.

Also looking at inclusivity from a business perspective is critical.

Tony with eSight 4 at office

I constantly see job adverts seeking professionals who are creative and adaptable. What better person to hire than someone with a visual impairment? Having to constantly navigate a world that is not built for individuals with low vision, they truly exemplify the definition of adaptability and creativity. Given the chance and proper assistive technology, individuals with low vision can do amazing things. It’s for that reason why we created eSight Workplace.

This program promotes inclusivity in a professional sense, while enabling many employees to achieve 20/20 visual acuity with our eSight device. In doing so, eSight users are able to do even more for their companies, and by extension the world with this life-changing device.

Companies identified as leaders in disability employment and inclusion had an average of 28% higher revenue, double the net income and 30% higher economic profit of their peers.

Accenture

The low vision community is an untapped talent pool. And for corporations who have yet to even consider hiring individuals with visual impairment, they are missing out. I speak from experience. Working alongside staff with low vision has been inspiring, educational, and has ultimately made me a better CEO. With a vaccine on the horizon, the arrival of 2021 will certainly have talks of pre-COVID normalcy. But I urge you to rethink your definition of the term and strive for something better for next year and beyond.

We at eSight aim to make the world a more inclusive place for the low vision community and I hope you will join us in making this goal a collective normal.

Happy Holidays,

Robert Vaters
eSight Corporation, Chief Executive Officer

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