Creating a conducive workspace for those with vision loss
- First, ensure that your application process is easily accessible for anyone who’s vision-impaired.
- Train employees on inclusivity; learn what special tools your new employee will need and provide them
- Learn more tips for specific technology, workplace design and common areas that will help your new employee.
While technology has changed many aspects of life for people with vision loss, accessing the workforce remains a challenge. That’s why we’re discussing workspace for visually impaired employees today.
More than 70% of the country’s four million adults with vision loss are without full-time jobs, says the National Federation for the Blind. These numbers are less about skill and ability, and more about employer reticence, says BeMyEyes.com. Employers are concerned as to how a person with vision loss can get the job done, and at what cost. Yet 58% of necessary accommodations cost nothing; the remainder are less than $500.
Why hire visually impaired workers? According to BeMyEyes.com,
- An untapped talent pool. Would-be employees with blindness or low vision are a capable yet untapped group. Often their limitations are very few. Of course, visually impaired people can’t fill all job roles, such as those that involve driving.
- Natural problem solvers. Vision-impaired people have learned to be creative and resilient, in order to manage their disability. They’ve learned to be innovative problem solvers. With proper instruction and clear job duties, they perform well, both independently and on teams.
- Rising visual impairment in the workforce. Our aging population, eager to remain employed, will bring about an increase in workers with vision loss.
How to create a conducive workspace for visually impaired employees
Make the application process accessible
First, offering an accessible application process tells prospective employees that you’re truly an equal opportunity employer. On the other hand, if blind or low-vision applicants struggle with accessibility to complete your application, they may become discouraged from applying at all.
Related: Employee Recruitment and Workforce Management
Help employees be inclusive
- Train your current employees on best practices for approaching their new visually impaired co-worker. Help them realize that the disability does not define their new co-worker, who was hired on the merits of his/her skills, says SwitchboardPR.
- Remember, blind and low-vision individuals lead fairly independent lives. Don’t assume they can’t do the job or take on more tasks. After all, a visually impaired person wouldn’t apply for a job they didn’t think they could do. Move beyond the mental block of how a person with vision loss could do the job.
- Use accessible tools for intraoffice messages and other communications. During presentations, verbally describe charts, graphs, and other visual aids used, says BeMyEyes. Identify yourself as you enter or leave a meeting room and encourage other employees to do the same.
- On day 1 (or even before they start), ask visually impaired workers what kind of modifications they’ll need to get the job done. Blind and low-vision workers may be accustomed to these conversations, but it’s a major sign of welcome when employers ask after the job offer is accepted. You’ll need to be sure you understand what you can and cannot ask, according to the ADA. Be ready to make adjustments as needed.
The tech world has made assistive technologies more accessible and sophisticated than ever before, creating a better workspace for visually impaired employees. An abundance of technology is readily available for those with visual impairments. There are specific types of Assisted Technology that enable the employees with vision loss to meet their job requirements, such as magnifiers, braille embossers or computer programs that enlarge or speak text. As an employer, it’s your responsibility to provide this type of technology to your employee.
Related: Top 13 preventable workplace injuries [infographic]
To design a workspace for visually impaired employees to successfully navigate, you must understand how they navigate the world with limited vision, says BigRentz. Actually, most people who are legally blind or deal with other vision conditions do have some degree of sight. They rely partially on their sight, so adding some visual cues is very helpful. They’re accustomed to using textures and audible signals to navigate, so increasing the use of these elements is also very supportive.
A workspace that can be easily navigated is a must. There should be no clutter. Walkways should be clear of obstructions. Documents and resources should be well-organized and physically accessible without barriers.
Most likely your new employee will be prepared to let you know if there is a special keyboard, telephone, chair or desk that they require, along with additional lighting.
Related: How to improve your safety climate [infographic]
BigRentz also offers these design recommendations:
- Change flooring texture to indicate doorways or openings to seating areas.
- Use color contrast on flooring to help mark the way on common walkways. Otherwise, avoid contrasting patterns of dark and light floor tiles, which can be confusing.
- On stairs, use tactile and visual signals; add textured stripes at the top and bottom steps.
- On doors, add color contrast on doorframes and on doorway flooring.
- Choose lighting as close to natural sunlight as possible.
- Sign lettering should be large and contrasting; consider tactile signage and maps with Braille.
- Restrooms: make restroom signs tactile so no one walks into the wrong one. Use contrasting colors to make the toilet, sink, paper towel and trash locations clear.