Creating an Inclusive Workplace

The next step after hiring someone who is blind is making them feel comfortable and included in the workplace, which is a lot easier than most people think. All it takes is a little flexibility and consideration.

Learn the Sighted Guide technique

Employees with vision loss can and do navigate their work environments independently throughout their day, just like their sighted colleagues. But there may be certain times when a sighted guide comes in handy; for example, in crowded situations like office parties or large meetings. That's where the "Sighted Guide" technique comes in.

Download a step-by-step guide to the Sighted Guide Technique here, or watch our video instructions starting with the video below:

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How to hold an accessible meeting

Holding an "accessible meeting" means ensuring that participants with vision loss are able to have the same experience as everyone else: fully understanding who's speaking and what information is being shared. Making that happen is actually pretty simple. Here are a few tips for making sure your next meeting is accessible:
  • Introductions: Participants with vision loss may not know who else is in the room, or how many people there are. Have everyone at the table introduce themselves, in the order they're seated, so that people with vision loss know who's at the table and where. Make sure that everyone announces themselves when entering or leaving the room as well.
  • Speaking during a meeting: Ensure that each person states his or her name each time before speaking, throughout the meeting. “This is Steve speaking,” is sufficient. When group discussions are happening, state the name of the person to whom you're speaking and let it be known when the conversation is at an end. For example, “Sarah, could you please outline your ideas…Thanks, Sarah. That answers my question.”
  • Side conversations and noise: Don't engage in side conversations if there is a main speaker. Not only is it rude to the main speaker, but since a person with vision loss relies on hearing to obtain information, extraneous noise is distracting. You'll also want to keep other noise to a minimum. Rustling papers, tapping fingers on the table, etc., are distracting and interfere with communication.
  • Non-verbal communication: Remember that participants with vision loss will probably not notice non-verbal communication such as rolling your eyes or expressive facial expressions. Avoid relying on them to make a point.
  • Sharing materials: If you're handing out materials in a meeting, make sure you have copies available for someone with vision loss in their preferred format. If this isn't possible, send the person your materials in advance electronically. When in doubt, ask the person what they need and when they need it in order to participate.
  • Visual aids: Verbally describe any charts or visual materials (like PowerPoint presentations) you are using so that people with vision loss are able to understand the information contained in them. If possible, provide a copy of the slides, charts, or overheads in alternative format to the participant with vision loss before the meeting to allow him or her to follow along with the presentation. Participants with vision loss may not be able to see information presented on a flipchart or whiteboard, so ensure that the presenter regularly summarizes key points.
  • Written material: Be prepared to read aloud any written information not made available in alternative formats, such as print handouts. Read in a normal speaking voice, at a normal pace, without skipping any information.
  • Leaving the meeting: At the end of the meeting, let people with vision loss know if they've left anything behind. Offer to assist the person with vision loss in finding their way out (to the elevators, exits, etc.) if needed, and don’t forget to say “goodbye” when you leave their presence.
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Blindness etiquette 101

So you’ve just met or hired a new employee with vision loss. It’s only natural to feel unsure about how to behave and to want to avoid doing something inappropriate. Here are a few simple tips to help you be more comfortable and supportive around an employee or coworker with vision loss:

When talking:
  • Introduce yourself. When being introduced to someone with vision loss, say hello and wait for them to offer their hand to be shaken. When introducing yourself, simply say something such as “Hi, my name is Michael. Great to meet you. Let’s shake hands.”
  • Don't yell. Speak clearly using your natural voice and volume.
  • Use everyday language. Don’t worry about using terms like “see” and “look” when talking about your favourite TV show or the latest blockbuster flick. People with vision loss use these terms (and watch TV and go to the movies) too.
  • Always identify yourself by name. For example, “Hi Lucy; it’s David.” Don’t assume that the person will recognize your voice. After all, that person might be meeting dozens of people in a day.
When offering assistance:
  • Ask first before you read aloud any printed material, or offer assistance of any kind. This will avoid unwanted over-protectiveness. Remember to be discreet and maintain the confidentiality and dignity of the person with vision loss. But do offer assistance if you think it's needed.
  • If you're giving directions, don’t say things like “It’s over there.” Be as specific as you can. Try “the second door on your right, about 20 feet down the hallway” or “that office is located north in the direction you’re already going, about 10 feet away.”
When socializing:
  • If the person has a guide dog, do not pet it while it's wearing a harness. Guide dogs are working animals, and distracting them can be hazardous for the people they're guiding. If the dog is out of its harness, you can ask its handler for permission to pat it, but be prepared to respect the answer either way.
  • At a social gathering like an office party, let the person with vision loss know when someone else has entered a room or circle of conversation. You should also tell them when you're leaving a conversation or room.
  • Take the time to help someone with vision loss mingle by offering to connect them to people they may know or introduce them to new people in a social gathering.
  • If you're talking one-on-one with a person with vision loss, never leave them stranded. If you have to leave, introduce them to someone else, or offer to guide them to a reference point.
  • If you're having lunch with someone with vision loss, use the clock method to describe where certain foods are located on a plate. For example, “Jim, your sandwich is at three o'clock and your salad is at seven o'clock.”
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Learn the Clear Print Guidelines

Not everyone who has vision loss experiences complete darkness, and many people still read traditional print with the help of magnifiers and other vision aids. For them, it's important that all text is presented in a clear, accessible way.

The Clear Print Guidelines are an accessible design standard for printed items ranging from magazines to computer screens. Not only employers, but anyone creating text for print or web should follow these guidelines to ensure their materials are fully accessible.

Learn more about Clear Print and download the guidelines here.