Employers hiring and working with individuals with disabilities are becoming aware of AODA legislation that is mandating accessibility accommodation, but they may be less aware of what accessibility entails. This article provides a few suggestions when accommodating visually impaired workers. It is important for employers and workers to know:
- How to communicate properly with workers who are visually impaired
- How workers who are blind move around the workplace safely
- The types of equipment visually impaired workers may use
- How visually impaired workers access written material
Learning about a wide variety of accessibility requirements might seem off-putting. At first, this may be especially true for employers who must choose between hiring a worker who needs accommodations and hiring a worker who doesn’t appear to need accommodations.
Accommodating visually impaired workers can be as simple as stating your name when first striking up a conversation to being a sighted guide on your way to the boardroom. Below we provide suggestions on how to accommodate workers with visual impairments.
Accommodating Visually Impaired Workers
When a worker with a visual impairment starts a new position, co-workers should identify themselves by name whenever they start a conversation. Co-workers should always introduce themselves until that person tells you not to do so. As well, the co-worker should alert the person if they are leaving the room. Many blind and partially sighted people learn to recognize people by their voices so that self-identification eventually becomes unnecessary.
Moving safely around the workplace
People with varying degrees of sight have orientation and mobility training to navigate their surroundings. From the boardroom to the kitchen, and the washroom to their workstations, blind and partially sighted workers need to memorize routes from one workplace location to another. Some people might invite an orientation and mobility specialist to show them around the workplace, while others may request that a co-worker does so. Once workers with visual impairments have memorized these routes, they will walk around the workplace without help.
Devices and assistance etiquette
A person who is blind or partially sighted may use a white cane to locate or avoid obstacles, such as furniture and stairs. You should not touch a white cane without its owner’s permission.
As well, people with visual impairments may sometimes ask workers to act as sighted guides. The use of sighted guides is a technique in which a person with a visual impairment grasps the guide’s arm near the elbow to feel and follow where the guide is going. Whether co-workers act as a sighted guide or provide verbal directions, verbal direction should include “left” and “right”, rather than “over here”. Direction can be provided by audibly tapping the object or region the person is trying to find and by describing important elements of your surroundings.
People with visual impairments may also use guide dogs. Owners receive special training to work with their guide dogs. Guide dogs are trained to follow prompts on:
- Where to go
- What obstacles to look out for
- When to sit, lay down, and stay
Co-workers should never touch a person’s guide dog without its owner’s permission. If the owner has taken off the dog’s harness, it is a sign that the dog is not currently working.
Accessing written information
Workers with a visual impairment will be accustomed to accessing written information in specialized ways. People who have enough vision to read print may read in a large font. They may also use technology that magnifies the text on a page or computer screen. People who do not read print often read Braille. They may use computer technology that displays electronic Braille, or programs called screen readers which vocalize text-based information. Funding for these assistive devices in the workplace is available through provincial or federal government programs.
Workers with visual impairments are able to read the textual information they receive in emails and most websites. You can make other information accessible by creating text-only versions of PowerPoint. Co-workers should give detailed descriptions of important pictures in image-heavy presentations. Handwritten information should be delivered to the worker in person, by phone, or by email.
Accommodation Can be Easy
Employers may be surprised to know how easily accommodating visually impaired workers can be achieved. Those who take the time to learn a little about different kinds of accommodations will feel more comfortable when workers disclose that they have disabilities.