How to Support a Co-Worker With a Visual Impairment
There are over 84,500 people of working age who are registered blind or partially sighted in the UK. Given the right support those with sight loss are just as capable as the rest of us when it comes to succeeding in a job. What they need is people to be understanding and supportive so that they can reach their full potential. Many people are unsure how they can support a colleague or friend who has sight loss, so here are five things to keep in mind.
Talking With People
When talking with a colleague or friend who is blind or partially sighted it is a good idea to introduce yourself by name if they require this, as if the person has profound vision loss it can be difficult to recognise faces. This can lead to embarrassing situations where people are unsure of whom they are talking to, but do not want to ask. It is equally important to let the person know when you’re leaving, as if they have little to no useful vision they may not know that you have left and continue talking.
If your colleague is in a meeting with many people it is a good idea to get everyone to introduce themselves by name before they contribute so that your colleague knows who is speaking and will not get confused.
Health and Safety
If your colleague is new to the office then it is a good idea to give them a full tour to make sure they know where everything is, but also so that they know where steps and corners etc are. Marking the edges of steps and external wall corners with contrasting coloured tape can help some people with a little useful vision make them out so that they don’t trip or bump into them. There also may be places in the office that they should not go alone because of unpredictable trip hazards that they may not be able to see.
Another thing to bare in mind is that you should never move things around on their desk without talking about it with them first, or they may not be able to locate their belongings.
You should always ask someone how they want to be guided; let them take hold of your arm rather than simply grabbing them. Make sure to point out steps and kerb sides to them so that they don’t trip. If you’re guiding them to a seat place their hand on the back of the chair so that they can orientate themselves before they sit down. Remember that when you’re leaving they should know which direction that they are facing, and that you are leaving or they may not realise you have gone.
One of the most helpful things for supporting someone with vision loss at work is making sure that they have the assistive software that they need. There is a vast range of assistive software that you can get to make computer use for the visually impaired easier. These range from a simple magnification software to a full package that can magnify your screen, read out what is on it and also support braille. This all helps a person do their job to the best of their ability.
Most blind or partially sighted people do not use a guide dog, however it is important to remember that should someone have one in the work place they will need to have a safe place to sleep near their handler’s desk, a water bowl, and a place where their handler can take them to toilet. Guide dogs are trained to sit quietly by their handler when they’re not moving around but they need somewhere to be comfortable.
Mostly supporting a colleague with vision loss comes down to common sense. And if you’re not sure, then simply ask them.