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.
There are many different types of sight loss, each one affecting people in different ways. The most common forms include:
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.
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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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
If you’re looking to make your website more inclusive and accessible for visually impaired individuals, here are some of our top tips:
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 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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
Sarah underwent a workplace assessment with Visualise Training and Consultancy. The following recommendations were made:
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.
To learn more about workplace assessments for your employees living with sight loss, please visit https://visualisetrainingandconsultancy.com/workplace-assessments/workplace-assessments