Preparing an office environment for a visually impaired employee
March 17, 2017
Here at Switchboard, we’re constantly thinking about how we can improve the accessibility of the things that we create. One of our favorite notes on this topic is from Adam Morse, who said “When we build things – we must think of the things our life doesn’t necessitate. Because someone’s life does.” In PR, a lot of the conversations about accessibility tend to center around web and graphic design – colors, font sizes, navigation, information architecture, alt-tags – the list goes on. However, accessibility considerations shouldn’t stop there. Today, we’re pleased to welcome guest blogger Jackie Waters of Hyper-Tidy.com who shares some ideas about what business owners and office managers can do to make their spaces more accessible for employees with visual impairments.
More and more companies today are realizing the benefits of having a rich and diverse group of employees. This is a step forward, because freedom from discrimination is actually something guaranteed in our Charter of Rights. The American context is governed by the Americans with Disabilities Act. This means that more workers with disabilities are finding employment where they can put their talents to use.
When someone with a disability moves into a new home, typically the homeowner modifies it to match the needs of their impairment. The same should hold true for an office, with one important difference: In B.C., the duty to accommodate is on the employer, meaning it is not up to the employee to make the pre-existing environment work for them. When an organization hires an employee with disabilities, it’s important to adjust the workspace they will be using to fit their needs. The Switchboard office, for example, is a vision-friendly office. For those who are visually impaired, here are several steps you can take to ensure your hire has the most appropriate workspace.
Widespread misinformation about disability issues can lead colleagues to make comments that, while well-meaning, are insensitive. This is why it’s helpful to educate your current employees on best practices for approaching their new co-worker, perhaps through a training session that helps with visual-impairment awareness. Also it’s critical that employees realize the disability does not define their new co-worker. Their new co-worker was hired on the merits of his/her skills, so there should be no question of their ability to perform the assigned job. One practical way to help others reframe their thinking, is to encourage a person-first approach and person-first language. Is your new colleague a “blind person?” Try “person with visual impairment” instead. Or, better, consider whether their visual impairment is relevant to the conversation. If it’s not, don’t reference it at all.
Depending on the visual impairment, different types of lighting might be necessary. Additionally, a workspace that can be easily navigated is a must. There should be no clutter, and walkways should be clear of obstructions to avoid accidents. Documents and resources should be well-organized, and physically accessible without barriers. It’s always best to ask your new employee for help with any necessary accommodations. More than likely they will already be prepared to let you know if there is a special keyboard, telephone, chair or desk that they require.
An abundance of great technology is readily available to help those with visual impairments. There are specific types of Assisted Technology, or AT, that enable the visually impaired to meet the demands of their jobs. Things like magnifiers, braille embossers or computer programs that enlarge or speak text are just a few of the devices employers might need to acquire. And remember, as an employer, it is your responsibility to provide this type of technology to your employee.
When it comes to the hiring of a visually disabled employee, the human resources department will be able to fill in any information gaps. If you do not have an HR department, there is a wealth of information online. It’s imperative that employers pay close attention to the requirements of disability-related legislation in an effort to protect your employee and your company.
By hiring a visually impaired employee, you are broadening the diversity of your organization and helping your new hire take part in the benefits and accomplishments of working. Do you have a creative accessible office idea? Let us know on Twitter or Instagram.