Supporting Employees with Visual Impairment – Employer Guide

Supporting Employees with Visual Impairment in the Workplace – A Guide for Employers

Introduction

According to NHS data, more than 2 million people in the UK are living with sight loss. Of these, around 340,000 are registered as blind or partially sighted.

It’s predicted that the number of people with sight loss will double by 20501 meaning over 4 million people in the UK will be living with decreased vision. With this in mind, it is paramount that employees with vision impairment are fully supported at work. 

girl with computer

Common Types of Visual Impairment

There are many different types of sight loss, each one affecting people in different ways. The most common forms include:

  • Loss of Central Vision – Where a blur or blind spot occurs in the central line of sight, making tasks like reading and recognising faces difficult.
  • Loss of Peripheral Vision – The opposite of central vision loss. People can see directly ahead of them, but nothing to one or both sides – and perhaps anything directly above or below eye level too. Sometimes referred to as ‘tunnel vision’, this makes reading difficult as it is only possible to see a few words at a time.
  • Blurred Vision – Despite excellent modern options for corrective lenses in spectacles and contact lenses, this form of sight loss is so severe that objects in both near and far focus fields become blurred.
  • Generalised Haze – The entire viewing field is obscured by a film or glare that makes objects impossible to focus on properly.
  • Extreme Light Sensitivity – Often resulting in pain or physical discomfort; those with extreme light sensitivity see ‘washed out’ images and/or bright glare in their line of vision.
  • Night Blindness – The inability to see in dimly lit areas in both indoor and outdoor settings.
  • Deafblindness – often referred to as ‘dual sensory loss’. It is characterised by the loss of sight and hearing to the point where communication and access to information are impacted.
  • Colour Vision Deficiency – Often referred to as colour blindness, colour vision deficiency is an inability to see colours in a normal way, which includes being unable to distinguish between certain colours (usually greens and reds, but sometimes blues too.)
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The ​​Emotional Impacts of Visual Impairment

It’s essential to understand the emotional impacts of sight loss. If a staff member loses their eyesight suddenly, they may find the adjustment overwhelming. It can be hard to adapt to the limitations that sight loss brings and some have likened it to the grieving process, with the person experiencing shock, anger and denial. Additionally, if the person finds it harder to embrace the technology and adaptations available to support them, the loss of independence can be harder to endure.

There can also be emotional aspects for those who have lived with sight loss since birth. Individuals who have been managing their condition for a long time can become quickly frustrated when they encounter a lack of understanding or support. For example, someone proficient in using JAWS software may become frustrated when the software is experiencing accessibility issues with the company’s IT systems. This means they keep having to ask their sighted colleagues for support which can be exasperating as it reduces their independence.

Another example could be someone who has developed a visual impairment later in life and now has to adjust to a new way of working as a deterioration in vision can be a daunting and overwhelming experience. They can no longer drive and will need to get used to software that will enable them to see their computer screen. They may find what was once a simple task – like opening a Word document – takes them significantly longer than before. 

As an employer, it is vital to understand that your employee may need emotional support and compassion as well as technological adaptations. Employees who develop sudden vision loss can become extremely anxious that their new-found difficulties will put their jobs at risk. Therefore, employees must be reassured that this is not the case.

Another consideration is that people with visual impairments may be embarrassed by their sight loss and not wish to do anything to draw attention to it. This can prevent them from accessing support because they do not want to highlight the challenges that they face. As an employer, it is imperative to ensure that staff feel comfortable asking for help and that managers who know they have a staff member with a visual impairment regularly liaise with them to provide opportunities to discuss any challenges privately.

man with dog

Why Should You Support Employees with a Visual Impairment?

Employees with sight challenges are often forgotten when discussing website accessibility, yet there are several good reasons they shouldn’t be…

  • Recruitment– Modern recruitment processes rely heavily on digital technology. However, 1 in every 5 people in the UK2 has a disability which makes searching for work and applying for jobs online challenging. This means hidden talent is going undiscovered because people with vision impairment may not have the tools to navigate application processes effectively.
  • Revenue– Diverse businesses benefit from increased revenue and profit because improved inclusion leads to an increase in productivity. Also, innovation progresses at a faster rate thanks to the wider perspective gained by having a more diverse team.
  • Brand value – Brand value is improved by showing customers and other businesses that you are committed to equality in the workplace.
  • Remote Working – The trend toward remote working in recent years means that to work productively and efficiently, many employees require adjustments in their home office as well as on-site. 

It’s also essential to remember that changes and adjustments don’t just benefit visually impaired employees, they benefit everyone. It is estimated that the average worker spends around 35 hours per week staring at a computer screen. Therefore, it’s hardly surprising that many people experience screen fatigue which may lead to blurry vision, irritated eyes, headaches, or a drop in colour perception. 

Disability Legislation 

The Equality Act 2010 in Great Britain and the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 in Northern Ireland provide legal protection from discrimination in the workplace and equal opportunities in wider society.

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A disability under the Equality Act is defined as:

“A physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long-term adverse (negative) effect on your ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.”

This imposes legal responsibilities on employers to make reasonable adjustments to ensure that people with disabilities can work comfortably and efficiently and are not disadvantaged.

Many adjustments can be made for employees with visual impairment. A few examples include:

  • Allowing flexible working
  • Providing additional aids like screen reading software
  • Making physical alterations to the premises
  • Adapting workplace policies
  • Reviewing job duties
  • Allowing ample time off for medical appointments

An invaluable way to ensure that people with visual impairments are supported in their roles and provided with all the support they need to succeed is to commission a workplace assessment.

Employee with visual impairment in a meeting using assistive technology to read a document

Types of Adjustments

Technology

In today’s modern world, there is a broad range of technology solutions designed to support people with visual impairments. The majority of available software uses magnification and speech to enable users to see and interact with their surroundings. There has also been significant development in wearable technology to support visually impaired employees. For example, a range of glasses that use AI to read documents, identify people and differentiate bank notes by providing discreet speech output to the user.   

Whatever the appropriate solution for each individual, an experienced professional must provide an assessment to ensure the appropriate support. There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to visual impairment because everyone’s needs are different.

Magnifiers

There is a broad range of magnifiers available on the market and the one that’s best suited in each case will depend on the tasks that individual users need to complete. Some magnifiers are small, portable devices to help users on the go, while others look more like tablets and have bigger screens to interact with a lot of paperwork. These offer a significant level of zoom and allow the user to change colour contrasts to make images easier to see.

Magnification software

Some inbuilt software tools can magnify the entire computer screen. Specialist magnification software is also available to ensure a more powerful zoom, fewer compatibility issues, and additional functionality (like document readers, the ability to customise a computer’s colour scheme, etc). 

Screen Reading software

Some users may require screen reading software in the form of tools that allow users to navigate using an automated voice that reads all the menus and text on the screen for them.

Best Practices for Website Design 

If you’re looking to make your website more inclusive and accessible for visually impaired individuals, here are some of our top tips: 

  1. Content management – Adopt a content management system that supports accessibility, and double-check that your layouts, themes, widgets, and plugins are compatible with WCAG standards.
  2. Headings– Using headings correctly to structure and organise page content helps visually impaired users scan a page to see if the information is relevant to them.
  3. Text – To be readable, the web copy should be based on accepted text colour, background colour, and text size combinations. WCAG recommends a contrast ratio of 4.5:1 for normal text (14 point) and 3:1 for large text (18 point +).
  4. Images– Include alt text for all images, making sure they are suitably descriptive and contextually relevant. Where text is overlaid onto images or videos, the image opacity should be increased to make the text readable.
  5. Colour– Provide sufficient contrast between the text and background colour, and never use colour alone to convey meaning. For example, links and call-to-action buttons should be easy to identify without relying on colour or hovering over the text with a cursor.

Workplace Assessments

Workplace assessments provide opportunities for specialists to review the needs of employees with visual impairments and make recommendations for specific actions that should be taken to support them. This may involve investing in technology, software, non-medical help, or some other kind of reasonable adjustment. Assessments must be conducted by qualified and experienced assessors. Bespoke assessments ensure people with visual impairment have access to the specific adaptations required to remove their barriers.

There are two types of workplace assessments: Access to Work Assessments and Private Workplace Assessments. Any person with a disability can apply for Access to Work funding.

Access to Work

Access to work is a government-funded scheme to support disabled people and their employers. It is designed to help overcome the barriers that prevent people from accessing employment due to their disability. To ensure this, the government may fund any additional costs for support arising due to disability. Here’s how the process works:

  1. The employee submits an application form with supporting evidence of their disability.
  2. Once processed and accepted, the employee is invited to a workplace assessment (either face-to-face at the workplace or remotely). 
  3. The assessor asks questions to determine the challenges the employee does/may face in their role as a result of their disability and makes recommendations for adjustments, including technology, software, support workers, etc. 
  4. A report is sent to the Access to Work caseworker, who will approve or reject the recommendations.
  5. Any agreed recommendations are approved for funding and direct discussion with the employer.

Private Workplace Assessment

Private Workplace Assessments can be funded directly by employers, insurers and/or occupational health providers and are therefore not restricted to solutions covered by government funding.

Visualise Training and Consultancy offers private workplace assessments to organisations in any sector. The process is similar to an Access to Work assessment but with some significant advantages.

Timings

With Access to Work Assessments, the time it takes from applying to receiving a list of recommended adjustments in the official report can take up to nine months. Due to the volume of referrals, it can take up to six months just to receive a date for an assessment once an application has been submitted. That means employees can be trying to work without any support – or may be unable to work at all. Placing employees on ‘gardening leave’ in the interim is frustrating for both employees and employers.

Recommendations

Access to Work Assessments can only recommend support for needs relating to the specific role of each employee. At Visualise Training and Consultancy Ltd, we also consider the personal lives of each employee to ensure a holistic assessment. We believe supporting employees with benefits and solutions they can access at home has a more significant impact on their performance at work.

Specialism

With a Private Workplace Assessment conducted by Visualise Training and Consultancy Ltd, companies can be sure that the assessor is experienced and knowledgeable in all aspects of visual impairment, meaning both employees and employers will receive bespoke and appropriate recommendations.

Case Study

Meet Sarah, an Administrative Assistant. She has been in her role for twenty-two years; it is computer-based and involves a high degree of data input. 

Sarah is a hybrid employee and works from both home and the office. Recently, she noticed a sudden change in her vision; it became blurry and she had lost some of her central vision. She was diagnosed with macular oedema (MO) and after a period off work, Sarah returned and experienced the following challenges:

  • It took her a long time to do simple tasks such as reading an email or finding a document in an online folder.
  • She increased the screen resolution, but this meant she could only see a few words at a time which made reading disjointed.
  • She tried to zoom in with the Windows magnifier, but some of the systems used by her company were incompatible, so she found it hard to use.
  • The colour contrasts of some of the systems she needed to use were extremely difficult to see – like a yellow background with white text.
  • She found it hard to read from the screen when the sunlight reflected on it (glare).
  • When using the computer for a while, her eyes would feel strained, and she started experiencing headaches. The brightness of the screen could sometimes cause eye pain.
  • The office lighting was too bright and shone directly onto her screen and into her eyes.
  • Travelling to the office in the winter was difficult as she could not easily see obstacles in her path due to night blindness.
  • She sometimes worked from home and found it hard to get the correct lighting as her ceiling light was bright. However, without it on, the computer screen was too bright.
  • She found herself leaning forward to see the screen, needing her eyes to be closer to see the text properly which led to neck and back pain.
  • She found it hard to ask for help and discuss her visual impairment with her colleagues because she didn’t want to appear different or make it seem that she was incapable of doing her job.

Workplace Assessment

Sarah underwent a workplace assessment with Visualise Training and Consultancy. The following recommendations were made:

  • A larger monitor – to allow Sarah to zoom in without sacrificing as much text on the screen and prevent the need to lean forward.
  • A monitor arm – to bring the screen closer and reduce the tendency to lean forward.
  • Magnification/Screen Reading software – to support Sarah with reading from the screen and using the computer.
  • A specialist keyboard – to help reduce the strain of looking at the keyboard and improve typing accuracy.
  • Glare filters – placed on her screens to reduce glare issues.
  • Task lamp – an adjustable task lamp to ensure Sarah can access adjustable lighting when working from home.
  • A light shield – to support Sarah by reducing her exposure to the glare of ceiling lights and sunlight.
  • Taxi travel – to assist with travel issues in the winter.
  • Medical breaks – time away from the screen to rest her eyes and help reduce eye strain.
  • Speech-to-text software – to encourage microbreaks and allow Sarah to use her voice to dictate emails whilst looking away from the screen.

Sight Loss Needn’t Mean Job Loss

It is essential to emphasise that sight loss need not result in job loss. With the proper support, accommodations, and mindset, individuals with sight loss can continue to excel in their careers and contribute meaningfully to the workforce. Moreover, by implementing the necessary policies, providing assistive technology and training, and promoting disability awareness, employers can create an atmosphere that allows employees with sight loss to thrive.

Find out more…

To learn more about workplace assessments for your employees living with sight loss, please visit https://visualisetrainingandconsultancy.com/workplace-assessments/workplace-assessments