Work, employment, and technical and vocational training

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Persons with deafblindness have the right to work on an equal basis with others, which includes the opportunity to gain a living through work that is freely chosen or accepted in the labour market. This includes the right to access technical and vocational training, equal opportunities for career advancement, opportunities for employment in the public sector, reasonable accommodation, and just and favourable conditions of work, such as equal remuneration for work of equal value, safe and healthy working conditions, and protection from harassment[i].

However, the attitudes of employers, family members, technical and vocational education and training (TVET) institutes, local government officials organising livelihood programmes, and others are often the biggest barrier, as there are many misperceptions about the capabilities of persons with deafblindness and a lack of understanding of their communication requirements[ii]. Other barriers include lack of educational opportunities, transitioning from school to work, lack of opportunities for TVET, lack of reasonable accommodation or access to interpreter-guide/Deafblind interpreting services, and forced retirement due to the acquisition of deafblindness[iii].


One respondent from WFDB’s survey noted that “the majority of people with deafblindness (in my country) work independently or in a family business or small business”. This is because TVET is often provided without access to interpreter-guides/Deafblind interpreters or teaching assistants, making it only accessible to persons with deafblindness who have a high degree of functioning in communication. Many rely on courses and programmes offered by NGOs, encouraging self-employment through communication skills, training in a specific trade, coaching, and/or seed money to set up income-generating activities[iv]. These programmes are often in the form of sheltered workshops (i.e., segregated programmes) that are not aimed at the formal job market. While persons with deafblindness should be supported in seeking self-employment if freely chosen, working in the informal sector should not be the only option for persons with deafblindness. This is because sheltered workshops isolate persons with disabilities from the rest of the workforce, rarely result in independence or social inclusion, and often do not provide marketable skills or fair wages[v].


The lack of legally recognising deafblindness, gaps in legislative and policy frameworks to ensure employers provide reasonable accommodations, and inadequate or non-existent interpreter-guide/Deafblind interpreting services leads to the systematic exclusion of persons with deafblindness in work. Furthermore, barriers to accessing banking services (e.g., due to restrictions of legal capacity) may also prohibit access to employment that is not on a cash-only basis. [vi] In addition, some social protection systems eliminate the disability allowance if persons with disabilities receiving the benefit get a job. This is because social protection systems often do not distinguish between the effects of unemployment and the extra costs of having a disability (e.g., many employers do not provide reasonable accommodation for interpreter-guide/Deafblind interpreting services, accessible transportation, assistive devices or technology, etc.)[vii].


Tax incentives and national quotas are an increasing trend to encourage employers to hire persons with disabilities but are unlikely to lead to the employment of persons with deafblindness, especially if other measures are not in place to support their employment. This is because some employers will hire them to claim the tax break and either not provide meaningful work or tell them to stay home due to stigma and the lack of reasonable accommodations and access to interpreter-guide/Deafblind interpreting services[viii].

[i] Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, A/RES/61/106, 13 December 2006, Article 27.

[ii] World Federation of the Deafblind, At risk of exclusion from CRPD and SDG implementation: Inequality and Persons with Deafblindness,, September 2018, p. 24.

[iii] Ibid., p. 21.

[iv] Ibid., p. 23.

[v] Carter, Gill. “Lessons on deafblindness form research in East Africa”, DBI Review, Issue 63, April 2020, p. 52-54; Neumann, Erik. BBC World Service, “Sheltered Workshops for People with Disabilities: A Reliable Opportunity or an Outdated System?”,, 8 April 2019.

[vi] World Federation of the Deafblind, At risk of exclusion from CRPD and SDG implementation: Inequality and Persons with Deafblindness,, September 2018, p. 24.

[vii] Ibid., p. 19.

[viii] Ibid. p. 24.

Good Practices

Employers should be encouraged to support mainstream, waged employment of persons with deafblindness. This starts with education, and if persons with deafblindness do not receive a good education, they are unlikely to be prepared for work. Education builds the confidence, soft skills, and independence required for the workplace. Adolescents with deafblindness may require additional supports in education to understand how to transition from secondary school into work, and some adults with deafblindness may require remedial or adult education on communication methods, literacy, numeracy, basic skills, job-readiness, and secondary school qualifications[i]. Adolescents and adults with deafblindness are also likely to require rehabilitation services from a cross-disciplinary team across all aspects of independent living related to employment, such as support for communication, orientation, mobility, learning to use assistive devices and technologies, and vocational training. The rehabilitation support may vary for each individual (e.g., some may require advice on how to interview for a job or how to address issues or barriers in the workplace).


The key elements to supporting persons with deafblindness in work include:


  • Legal recognition of deafblindness as a distinct disability so that the disability-specific supports are easy for persons with deafblindness to access


  • Strong anti-discrimination laws and legal and policy provisions that require employers to provide reasonable accommodation for persons with disabilities, including deafblindness. This includes ensuring that employers understand their obligations and how to apply a reasonableness test to individual cases, which may require tools, trainings, and impartial advice from UN agencies, private consultants, government departments, statutory bodies, national disability councils, national human rights institutions, OPDs, and/or trade unions


  • Access to affordable interpreter-guide/Deafblind interpreting services and assistive devices and technologies, and acknowledgement of interpreter-guide/Deafblind interpreting services and accessible technologies as a reasonable accommodation for persons with deafblindness. Because interpreter-guide/Deafblind interpreting services are costly for employers, governments should provide a free service to persons with deafblindness to enable their employment and independence beyond work


  • National accessibility standards and guidelines for employers to make workplaces and work environments more accessible to persons with disabilities, including persons with deafblindness


  • CBR services linked with employment programmes to ensure that persons with deafblindness have the communication skills, independence, confidence, and strategies for adapting to a new working environment and to provide support in retaining work


  • Targeted training for employers, family members, TVET providers, local government, and other employment stakeholders on reasonable accommodations and the capabilities of persons with deafblindness to tackle stigma and misperceptions. For example, employers may be targeted through Business Disability Networks (i.e., networks comprised of OPDs and local employers aimed at increasing employment of persons with disabilities)


  • Access to inclusive mainstream TVET and employment programmes, including career advice, employment pathways with a gradual approach for those that are hard to reach, and assistance in finding work that matches individual profiles and aspirations. TVET and employment programmes must move away from sheltered workshops or programmes that segregate persons with deafblindness from those without disabilities, and persons with deafblindness may require teaching assistants or interpreter-guides/Deafblind interpreters to access TVET or employment programmes. CBR services may be integrated to support persons with deafblindness who require a targeted approach to increase autonomy and independence, allowing for a more gradual transition


  • Removal of barriers to access banking and other financial services (e.g., loans to start a business)


  • Access to TVET and employment programmes for family members in tandem with persons with deafblindness. Family members often are unable to work for long periods because of caring responsibilities. As persons with deafblindness transition into work, carers should also receive support to help them transition into work, as family members may take control of employment and TVET programmes intended for persons with deafblindness, especially in countries with few economic opportunities. To support the wider family and the independence and autonomy of persons with deafblindness, a more holistic approach may be required[ii].


Some persons with deafblindness may wish to run their own businesses, and this should be encouraged and supported if it is freely chosen. Entrepreneurial programmes aimed at self-employment should include business management skills, such as budgeting, procurement, record keeping, advertising, etc., and should be aimed at entrepreneurship in the formal economy rather than mere labour market participation. This also involves ensuring that information about self-employment is available in accessible formats[iii].


Some tips for employers to make their workplaces more inclusive of persons with deafblindness include:


  • Commit to equality and non-discrimination through policies and explicit reference to this in job adverts and recruitment processes


  • Conduct internal sensitisation trainings for staff on persons with deafblindness to tackle stigma


  • Develop reasonable accommodation policies and procedures and accessibility standards for a more inclusive recruitment process and workplace, including access to interpreter-guides/Deafblind interpreters


  • Adopt a more flexible work environment, including flexible hours and opportunities to work from home, which can help to include persons with deafblindness


  • Identify internal ‘mentors’ or peers that are available to persons with deafblindness to ask informal questions and to ensure they are included in the workplace culture


  • Provide planned and supported employment experiences for persons with deafblindness who are hard to reach and provide a community-based approach to ensure supports are in place for communication, transportation, transition into work, safeguarding policies, etc.


  • Link with OPDs of persons with deafblindness to better understand their accessibility requirements, reasonable accommodations, and advice on retaining persons with deafblindness[iv].


In addition, because of technology’s increasing importance in the workplace, technology companies should take steps to make digital tools and equipment more accessible to persons with disabilities. For example, many computer-operating systems are not compatible with screen reading software programmes and often need to be uninstalled and replaced by another operating system. By adopting a more inclusive approach to technology innovation and development, persons with deafblindness can more easily use workplace technology.

[i] Ibid., p. 28. See the chapter on Inclusive Education for more information on remedial education of adults with deafblindness.

[ii] International Labour Organisation, Disability Inclusion Makes Good Business Sense,, accessed June 2022; Light for the World, “Skills development for youth with deafblindness: fostering inclusion through skills training”, Disability Inclusion Insight Series No. 5, 2019; National Centre on Combined Vision and hearing Impairment / Deafblindness, Eikholt Annual Report, October 2021, p. 8; Pertoff, Jerry, “Transition from school or quality adult life for youth with deafblindness”, DBI Review, Issue No. 63, April 2020. p. 23-24; World Federation of the Deafblind, At risk of exclusion from CRPD and SDG implementation: Inequality and Persons with Deafblindness,, September 2018, p. 24-28.

[iii] Kitching, John. “Entrepreneurship and Self-Employment by People with Disabilities”, Background Paper for the OECD Project on Inclusive Entrepreneurship,, 2014, p, 10 & 20; Sense International, Mwanaasha Case Study,, accessed October 2021.

[iv] Pertoff, Jerry, “Transition from school or quality adult life for youth with deafblindness”, DBI Review, Issue No. 63, April 2020. p. 23-24; World Federation of the Deafblind, At risk of exclusion from CRPD and SDG implementation: Inequality and Persons with Deafblindness,, September 2018, p. 24-25.



  • Adopt measures to increase the employment of persons with deafblindness as an example to other employers (e.g., reasonable accommodation policies, sensitisation trainings, accessibility standards, flexible work environments, mentors, links with OPDs, and a planned and supported work experience for persons with deafblindness)
  • Amend NGO-, OPD-, and government-led TVET and employment programmes to move away from sheltered workshops and adopt more inclusive models for persons with deafblindness
  • Ensure that entrepreneurial programmes aimed at self-employment of persons with deafblindness are focused on the formal economy, and not aimed at mere labour market participation, for a more sustainable impact



  • Develop a strong legal and policy framework prohibiting discrimination in employment on the grounds of disability, recognising the requirement of employers to provide reasonable accommodations, establishing accessibility standards for employers, and recognising deafblindness as a distinct disability and the need for interpreter-guide/Deafblind interpreting services. These measures should be prioritised over tax incentives or affirmative action programmes requiring quotas of persons with disabilities so that persons with deafblindness have a fair chance of securing and retaining work
  • Strengthen inclusive education in mainstream schools for children and young people with deafblindness
  • Form linkages between employment and CBR services for persons with deafblindness and adopt a gradual employment pathway for those that are hardest to reach
  • Require the banking sector to remove barriers to banking and financial services and strengthen legislation and regulations on legal capacity to be in line with CRPD Article 12
  • Establish interpreter-guide/Deafblind interpreting services and ensure affordable access to assistive devices and technologies for persons with deafblindness
  • Ensure that social protection benefits for persons with disabilities are separate from unemployment benefits and are aimed at covering the extra costs of disabilities
  • Adopt a holistic approach to employment programmes for persons with deafblindness to help family members who were carers transition into work


OPDs and NGOs

  •  Work with government and other stakeholders (e.g., Business Disability Networks) to sensitise employment stakeholders on the capabilities and requirements of persons with deafblindness in the workplace
  • Develop information tools and resources on accessibility requirements, reasonable accommodations, and advice on retaining persons with deafblindness in employment to share with government and employers
  • Advocate to technology companies to make digital tools more accessible to persons with disabilities, including persons with deafblindness, and to adopt a more accessible and inclusive approach to technology innovation and development


Donors and Research Institutes

  •  Conduct research on the common barriers to employment and challenges within work for persons with deafblindness
  • Transition away from funding sheltered workshops or livelihood programmes that are segregated and aim for the informal economy. Instead, establish programmes aimed at tackling the main barriers, such as access to interpreter-guides/Deafblind interpreters, awareness raising on stigma, anti-discrimination measures, and reasonable accommodations.
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