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Accommodating Workers who are Blind or Visually Impaired

The Employment Standard under the AODA requires employers to accommodate workers with disabilities.  This article will specifically look at accommodating workers who are blind or visually impaired and outline the kinds of accommodations workers might need. Individual workers will know which accommodations will be most helpful for them.

Accommodating Workers who are Blind or Visually Impaired

Moving Safely Around the Workplace

Workers will often have training to navigate their surroundings safely, called orientation and mobility (O and M) training. Some workers may need to memorize routes from one important workplace location to another, such as:

  • From the front door to their work stations
  • Between their work stations, washrooms, and break rooms

Some workers might invite an O and M specialist to show them around, while others may request that a colleague does so. Once workers have memorized these routes, they will walk around the workplace without help.

White Canes, Guide Dogs, and Sighted Guide

Workers may use white canes to find out about their surroundings and to locate or avoid obstacles like furniture and stairs. Colleagues should not touch a white cane without its owner’s permission.

Workers may also use guide dogs. Owners receive training to work with their dogs, which must learn to follow their owners’ directions about where to go, look out for obstacles, and behave appropriately in public places  where non-service-dogs are not allowed to go. Colleagues should never touch a worker’s guide dog without its owner’s permission.

In addition, workers may sometimes ask colleagues to act as sighted guides: individuals use a technique in which they grasp the guide’s arm near the elbow to feel and follow where the guide is going. Whether colleagues use sighted guide or provide verbal directions, they can be most helpful by:

  • Saying “left” and “right” rather than “over here”
  • Audibly tapping the object or region that the worker is trying to find
  • Describing important elements of their surroundings

Recognizing Colleagues

Many blind and visually impaired people learn to recognize others by their voices. Colleagues should identify themselves by name whenever they start a conversation with their new coworker until that person tells them not to do so. They should also alert the worker if they are leaving the room.

Accessing Written Information

Workers will access written information in different ways. Workers who have enough vision to read print may read in a large font or 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 Braille displays which present text on a screen in 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 using this technology will be able to read textual information they receive in files, emails and many websites. Employers can make other information accessible by giving workers advance copies of any information not available online, so that they can convert it into an accessible format. For example, an employer might:

  • Send a worker the electronic version of a print handout
  • Photo-copy a handout in a font size the worker can read
  • Give the worker a hard copy early so the worker can use their own software to make an accessible version

Individual workers will explain which of these options will be most useful for them. They will also say how far in advance information should be provided.

If a large portion of a blind or visually impaired worker’s prospective job would involve reading handwriting, especially in a team environment, the employer should consider arranging job responsibilities so that the worker only needs to use digital information. In this way, the worker is accommodated while doing the same amount of work as colleagues.

Productivity

Although workers who are blind or visually impaired perform some job tasks differently than sighted workers, they are equally productive. By accommodating workers who are blind or visually impaired, employers will have access to a pool of independent, competent, conscientious, and creative workers.