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3 Context for Change The conference addressed the issue of keeping older workers in the work force longer, given the many changes that occur in vision with age. But, as Robinson pointed out, keeping older workers in the work force must be studied within the context of two opposing pressures. The first is the effect of government action to encourage the retention of older workers, which can be seen in the Age Discrimination In Employment Act amendments of 197S, recent changes in social security retirement benefit provisions, and the recent changes in mandatory retirement laws. The second and opposite pressure is the ongoing trend toward early retirement being fostered by the practices of business, labor, and older workers themselves. Attempts to extend working years by solving problems related to vision may be less than totally effective on a large scale if in fact working years are being reduced for reasons unrelated to · ~ vlslon. We also need to look at the overall employability of people- their physical, and mental ability to perform a job. It is very im- portant to understand how changes in vision relate to performance in the workplace ~ order to determine the job-person match. In order to make it possible for workers to maintain their productivity despite declining visual functions and to remain em- ployed (if they so wish) despite visual unpairment, it will be Feces sary for scientists, employers, and different levels of government to form a partnership for change. Such a partnership would encour- age scientists to pursue the research needed to provide elements in the design of an appropriate vision-based employment program. Employers might then have at their disposal the components for 38
39 a program that would be sensitive to the vision needs of aging workers and suited to the tasks performed by their workers. The federal government could facilitate this academ~c-industrial ex- change through its programs and policies. Each element of this three-part framework for change is taken up in the sections that follow. THE POTENTIAL OF SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY After many decades of research on the aging eye, the vision community is on the threshold of contributing significantly to the improvement of conditions surrounding the employment of older workers. Conferees described new directions for research to meet that challenge. These include increased emphasis on research re- lated to basic visual processes for performing visually guided tasks, developmental or life-span research related to vision, research to promote suitable vision screening procedures for older workers, and further research on retirement decisions and employer prac- tices. To the extent that manufacturers produce devices used by older workers on the job, they should emphasize the development of new technologies to meet the vision needs of older workers. Each of these goals is described in more detail in the pages that follow. Research on Basic Visual Functions A broad consensus emerged from the conference that the re- search system that has yielder} so much information about the aging eye should be strengthened to promote the emergence of new information about the visual processes related to visually guided tasks. As suggested earlier in this report, such research might arise from a number of different quarters: survey analy- sis, laboratory research, on-site task analysis,~and analysis using large statistical data bases. Emphasis should be placed on the identification of those aspects of vision that are involved in the performance of visually guided tasks and are susceptible to the effects of aging. I`ife-Span Analysis Although much information is available about normal visual processes, data are limited regarding the impact of basic changes
40 in vision, such as reduced visual acuity, decreased powers of accom- modation, increase sensitivity to glare, reductions in the visual field, and loss of color sensitivity on the performance of daily living activities or specific tasks such as visual inspection. In ad- dition, data are limited regarding strategies that can be used to help compensate for the loss of visual performance. As Czaja told conferees, ewe need to take a developmental view of design and allow for developmental changes which occur as a natural function of the aging process. - Therefore we need data on the type and extent of these changes and their implications for the performance of everyday tasks and activities. Life-span or developmental research can play an important role In understanding the subtle interaction between changes in vision with age and task performance. Life-span research may enable us to tease out the effects of experience from the effects of physiological changes in assessing worker performance of vi- sually guided tasks and, as Walsh suggested, might also include an assessment of the differential effects of health and life-style in reducing the impact of age-related changes in vision on employ- ment and performance. Expansion of developmental research to the area of work, aging, and vision might also have application in the training and retraining of older workers. As Czaja pointed out, the msue of training older workers has received little research attention historically: This ~ partially due to the commonly adhered to belief that because of changes In cognitive functioning, older people are resistant to or incapable of learning new tasks. Examination of the literature regarding aging and cognitive functioning suggests that there are age-related declines in efficiency of information processing. For example, most of the research examining memory functioning suggests that proficiency in remembering declines with age; deficits in primary memory appear to be marginal. Older persons also experience decline in perceptual ability; they have increased difficulty in dealing with complex or confusing stimuli. In addition, learning skids dimorph or become rusty with age, and therefore the elderly are likely to have specialized needs. The research results so far regarding training and aging are encouraging and suggest that given sufficient training, age-related
41 differences in performance on some tasks can be minimized. Life- span research could certainly contribute to this goal. Research on Visual Screening Procedures Vision screening may be a major event ~ the life of older workers: the results of vision tests can make the difference be- tween being employed and not being employed or between doing the job one has always done or being reassigned to a new one. Furthermore, vision screening may point out visual problems that an older worker was completely unaware of a phenomenon re- ported by Johnson. In Johnson's study (reported earlier), nearly 60 percent of all individuals tested who had visual field loss had no idea that they had a vision problem. As Michaels remarked to conferees, vision is a process that takes time, a factor usually ignored in practice not because it is irrelevant but because there are no convenient clinical tests to measure it. "Dynamic visual acu- ity, flicker fusion frequency, perceptual span, reaction time, light adaptation, and masking are examples of theoretically important but clinically unexplored functions. Exceptions are time delay in optic nerve conduction manifest as the Marcus-Gunn pupil or the analogous Pulfrich phenomenon, time delay of glare recovery in macular disease, and the focusing time inertia patients complain of in early presbyopia.~ Results from research on automobile driving provide the clear- est indication of the types of screening procedures that might be suitable to estimate the visual capabilities of older workers. The issues associated with licensing, license revocation, insuring, and tra~ning/retraining older drivers provide a highly informative test bed for an examination of the broader issues associated with as- sisting older people in remaining productive in the workplace. As Kline pointed out, it has been estimated that over 90 percent of the information used in driving is visual; visual functions possibly related to accidents in which the driver was at fault include: lim- itations of acuity, contrast sensitivity, visual field, visual search, visibility due to poor illurn~nation, inability to find information in the midst of visual clutter, and of course the interaction of these factors. With some exceptions (for example, Johnson's research on vi- sual fields), research attempts to relate visual functions to effective driving have not been particularly successful. This may be due
42 to the fact that vision, although a major factor, is only one of many factors affecting driving performance, or that the tests used in research may measure visual characteristics not closely related to those used in driving. Kline told conferees: Still, a great deal can be done to enhance the efficacy of visual screening procedures, and research directed to this end is needed. Some research areas that appear to hold particular promise for developing more valid visual screening criteria for the older driver include: (1) visual search effectiveness as a function of driving condition and information load, (2) age differences in the visibility of signs as a function of type and spatial frequency characteristics at different lurn~nance and contrast levels, (3) visual testing under high and low illumination conditions, (4) visual testing of the peripheral fields, using targets covering a range of sizes, luminances, and spatial density, (5) impact of veiling glare and photo-stress recovery on visual target identification, and (6) assessment of more dynamic or transient visual functions (including angular and in-depth motion sensitivity). This research agenda may have application in the design of screen- ing activities for older workers performing visually guided tasks other than driving. Research on Factors Affecting the Retention and Retirement of Older Workers The major factors that affect the degree of retention of older workers in the workplace may be classified into at least three categories: economic, social/psychological, and health/work ca- pacity. Harold Sheppard told conferees that if these three broadly conceived factors are taken together, the ideal conditions for con- t~nued employment would consist of: a high demand for labor, inadequate pension expectation, rejection of public images assm elating chronological age with diminishing work capacities, high job satisfaction, aversion to lengthy full-time retirement, and good health. Any attempt to unprove the employment continuity of older workers, especially those with handicaps such as visual impair- ment, must go beyond the levels associated with these conditions,
~3 according to Sheppard. "What is required are special interven- tions ranging from education and persuasion of employers, unique labor-management agreements, tailor-made training techniques, to creative technologies that facilitate the workability of the hand- icapped.~ Sheppard suggested that we need to learn such things as: (a) What special arrangements and adaptations, if any, can be made to facilitate employment? (b) Are there empirical data that can shed light on the relative cost-effectivene" of such practices, with special care taken to encompass all costs and benefits, including social costs and benefits as well as those experienced by the employer or employee? (c) What transfers and adaptations from ergonomic job-related technologies can be applied to improving the employment of the visually impaired? How much has been put into practice already, and how could information about this be effectively disseminated? (d) Related to the above, what are some of the cost-effective- ness considerations? (e) Many companies in manufacturing industries have em- ployed ~handicapped" workersindustries that have sum sequently been experiencing severe work force lay-offs and shutdowns. What ~ the labor market and job hunting ex- perience of Handicapped workers who have been laid off, relative to the displaced workers as a whole? What factors are associated with success in finding jobs? (f) What are the attributes of organizations, beyond the type icaDy examined ones such as industry characteristics, that form a basis for hiring or retaining older workers in general? Impaired ones in particular? The answer to these and related questions may help to determine those policies and practices that meet the needs of both employers and older workers. Research on Technological Change Research wiD yield answers to many questions regarding the role of vision functions that change with age and worker perfor- mance. The results of those research efforts can be expected to
44 have application In a wide variety of ways in the use of more relevant vision screening procedures for older workers, in appro- priate job design and job placement, and in the design of a more efficacious working environment. Research and development activ- ities to understand visual functions that change with age should also be pursued by those companies responsible for the design of equipment used by older workers. Such activities might pre- vent the exacerbation of problems associated with declining visual functions among older workers. For example, portable work units might permit the adjustment of lighting leveb by older workers to suit individual needs; more contrast between symbols and background might be added to the manufacturers of keyboards or panels. Similarly, those manufacturers engaged in the production of corrective devices (visual prosthetics) may wish to pay special attention to the visual needs of older workers, if they have not done so-already. As Arnold Small told conferees, The consideration of work- station design includes the effective matching of machine and en- vironment compatibly with older worker charactermtics including vision. The environment includes warnings, instructions, and vi- sual communication overall" clearly indicating a proper role for equipment manufacturers in meeting the needs of older workers. EMPLOYER COMMENT AS A CRITICAL ELE1!~:NT FOR CHANGE Most employers are not looking for ways to retain older work- ers. So, in proposing that they redesign workstations or jobs to meet the visual needs of older workers, we should not be surprised to find that such proposals are met with a coo} reception. Do most employers encourage retirement? Yes: at least larger firms tend to, according to Robinson. Pension plans often subsidize early retirement. gone major study found that 75 percent of the pension plans analyzed offered a fully accrued pension at some early retirement date. Many plans provide a supplemental benefit until the age of eligibility for social security. In some plans, normal retirement age is considerably below age 65. A combination of age plus service, com~nonly age 55 and 10 years of service, is frequently used for pension eligibility."
45 Why do employers encourage early retirement? Some compa- nies are bound by early retirement provisions in union contracts. Other companies, according to Robinson, cite a combination of reasons: the higher salaries related to length of service, the rel- atively high cost of benefits, declining performance of older em- ployees (identified by 37 percent of chief executives In one survey as their companies' greatest concern about older workers), skill obsolescence, and the like. Given the seemingly inexorable trend to early retirement in many companies, strategies to promote work-life extension through overcoming vision problems need to be targeted to those kinds of organizations and to those segments of the work force in which either retention of older workers or the rehiring of retirees is recognized as an econorn~c advantage. Since policies regarding the utilization of older workers de- pends in part on employer perceptions of the relationship between age and job performance, Parnes observed that it is obvious that negative perceptions function as a disincentive among employers to retain or to hire older people. Employers must be made more aware of the weak association between age and work performance and the ~rnportance of snaking decisions based on individuals, not age categories. Skill obsolescence as an inexorable phenomenon is deeply entrenched in the thinking of most of us, and it requires a healthy skepticism as to just how unavoidable it is. Greater at- tention is needed to the extent to which skill obsolescence occurs because of managerial policy and employee motivation and what are the interventions that can effectively correct it, including am propriately designed training and retraining approaches. Training and retraining are frequently resisted on the part of employers on grounds of poor cost-effectiveness (as well as stereotypes about age and learning). Some employers are sensitive to the prospect that training a 5~year-old may also be more cost-effective than training a much younger person, given the data on higher turnover among young employees. The greater reliability of older workers could be an incentive to employers for retaining individual older workers. FEDERAL PROGRAMS AND POLICIES A basic challenge for policy research in this field is to ascertain and disseminate those policies and practices that meet the needs
46 of both employers and older workers. It may be asking too much of employers simply to adapt--- in a unidirectional fashion to the needs of workers. How does all this relate to federal concerns? According to Mc- Connell, public policy can have a great influence on the retention of older workers in the labor force. Since there are a number of in- terests involved, public policy necessarily has the task of balancing these interests. The question has been raised whether certain occupations should be exempted from the Age DiscriTr~nation and Employment Act (ADEA) of 1967, which generally prohibits discrimination in personnel practices on the bash of age except Where age is a bona fide occupational qualification (BFOQ) reasonably necessary to the normal operation of the particular business." Recent Supreme Court Sections indicate that the BFOQ ~ a very narrow exception to the general rule that age discrimination is unIaw-£ul. Age as a BFOQ can be shown in one of two ways. An employer can attempt to demonstrate that all or substantially all persons over age 40 would be unable to perform a given job effectively or safely. Alternatively, age can be used as a BFOQ if it ~ related to safety and it would be Impossible or highly impractically to measure safety-related attributes on an individual basis. This two-part inquiry has been accepted by every Court of Appeals, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Congress, and the Supreme Court when a BFOQ defense has been ramed by an employer. Gerald Barrett discussed the problem of age Recrimination in employment in terms of the example of commercial drivers. An em- ployer defending age as a BFOQ for commercial drivers because it is "impossible or impractical" to measure individual safety-related attributes must take a sequential three-part approach. First, the employer must show that older commercial drivers have more ac- cidents than their young counterparts. (This does not, however, seem to be the case.) Second, the employer must demonstrate that there are no individually ~ralid tests that predict accident involvement. Research, however, suggests that some tests, includ- ing those that assess perceptual style, auditory selective attention, dynamic visual acuity, and acuity under low illumination might be used for this purpose. Third, the employer must show that age is related to accident involvement but that it is "impractical" to use a valid test. It would be necessary to demonstrate either that age
47 is not strongly related to a valid test or that it is not practical to use the valid test for selection. Wide individual differences in test performance do not imply that a higher proportion of older adults would not fail a valid predictor of accident involvement. But at least the test, and not age as its proxy, would serve as the selection device. Legislative protection for older workers is also provided by the Job Training Partnership Act. If ogler workers with physical impairments are to be retained in the labor force, it would be desirable to expand this program. Older workers might have to learn to use new form of visual information or may have to learn a job with fewer visual demands. Finally, public policy on benefits, which has a great influence on age of retirement, is open to modification. The Section to require keeping an employee over 65 on company health plans has meant increased cost for employers. The situation is complex because reversing that decision, while benefiting employers, would increase Medicare costs. In summary, there are a number of legislative policies that could inadvertently compete with efforts to retain older workers in the work force longer, given changes that occur in vision naturally with age or through disease. A more systematic analysis of these policies than that provided by the conference wouIc! be helpful in opening the way for modifications in the employment conclitions of older workers described in this report. CONCLUSION The aging of the human eye involves a series of changes in visual performance that can be readily detected in the healthy adult. Viewed in the context of employment, reduced visual func- tioning need not have any effect on job performance. But for some individuab it will. It is obviously in the employer's interest to be responsive to the visual needs of older workersindeed, of all workers. A firm may save considerable tune and money in building and sustaining a productive work force through health care and employment policies in which vision has been given a prominent role. Evidence suggests that much has already been done by some firms to meet the vision needs of their workers. But much more work lies ahead.
48 In order to make it possible for all workers to maintain their productivity in the face of changes in vision that typically occur with age, it will be necessary for scientists, manufacturers, and employers to pursue some common goals. Scientists wiD need to give more emphasm to research which promotes suitable vision screening procedures for older workers, for example, and leads to a better understanding of the normal changes that occur ~ vision over the course of person's life. To the extent that manufacturers produce the devices used by older workers at the job site, atten- tion should be given to the development of new technologies or improvements in exiting technologies to meet the vision needs of older workers. Portable work units might permit the introduction of appropriate lighting levels by older workers, for example, and keyboards and panels offer greater contrast between symbob and their backgrounds than is presently found to benefit older if not all workers. Once advances such as these have been made, employers might then have at their disposal the components for a ~rision-based employment program which would be sensitive to the vision needs of aging workers and suited to the unique tasks performed by all workers.