In recent years, organisations have started to recognise the importance of making everyone feel safe, included, and comfortable in the workplace. As a result, the modern office has become more diverse in terms of gender, race, sexual orientation, and religion. However, we still have a long way to go when it comes to making the workplace more inclusive towards people with disabilities — especially to those like myself, who are blind or visually impaired.
There is so much discrimination people with disabilities face in the workplace. This fact is supported by the employment disability gap statistics. For over a decade, the employment gap between disabled and non-disabled people has consistently remained at around 30%.
I face multiple challenges as a business owner, but the two most apparent are the accessibility of information and people’s attitudes. There are so many businesses that do not provide information in an accessible format, and many do not offer the option of verbal contact, which is vital for visually impaired individuals who may not be able to correspond easily over web forms and emails.
People’s attitudes and pre-conceptions towards me, not only as a business owner, but as an individual, are varied, but most will assume that I will not be able to function as well as an ‘able-bodied’ person, because of my disability. However, upon meeting me, they are quick to realise that I am able to do everything that I need to do in terms of running my business effectively. I am often described as a ‘force of nature’ or a ‘powerhouse’!
There are over 2 million people in the UK living with sight loss yet only 340,000 people are registered blind or partially sighted. According to RNIB research, blind and partially sighted people are significantly less likely to be in paid employment than the general population or other disabled people.
- One in four registered blind and partially sighted people are in employment, and this hasn’t significantly changed in a generation.
- There are approximately 84,500 registered blind and partially sighted people of working age in the UK.
- In recent research, blind and partially sighted people rated employment as the second biggest barrier they face in living their lives.
Visually impaired individuals face a variety of challenges in the workplace. These individuals may experience difficulties in navigating their work environment, accessing technology and information, and communicating with colleagues. In this article, I will explore some of the key challenges that visually-impaired individuals face in the workplace and discuss strategies that can be implemented to address these challenges.
Navigating the Work Environment
Navigating the workplace can be a challenge for visually-impaired individuals. Moving around a new or unfamiliar office can be difficult, and there are obstacles that can make it challenging to move around safely. For example, furniture, equipment, and other objects can create physical barriers that make it difficult for visually-impaired individuals to navigate their work environment.
One solution to this problem is to create a safe and accessible work environment. This can be done by ensuring that there is adequate lighting, clear signage, and unobstructed pathways throughout the office. In addition, employers can provide visually-impaired individuals with orientation and mobility training to help them navigate their work environment safely and confidently.
Accessing Technology and Information
Another challenge that visually-impaired individuals face in the workplace is accessing technology and information. Many workplaces rely on digital technology, such as computers, tablets, and smartphones, to carry out daily tasks. However, these devices may not be designed to be accessible to individuals with visual impairments.
To address this challenge, employers can provide visually-impaired individuals with assistive technology that can help them access digital information. This may include screen readers, which convert text to speech, or braille displays, which provide tactile feedback.
In addition, employers can ensure that their websites and digital documents are designed to be accessible to individuals with visual impairments, such as by using clear and simple language, high contrast colours, and descriptive alt tags for images.
Communicating with Colleagues
Communicating with colleagues can be challenging for visually-impaired individuals, particularly in group settings. Visual cues, such as facial expressions and body language, can be important in understanding the tone and meaning of a conversation. However, these cues may be difficult or impossible for visually-impaired individuals to perceive.
To address this challenge, employers can encourage their employees to communicate in a clear and direct manner, using verbal cues to indicate the tone and meaning of a conversation.
In addition, employers can provide training to their employees on how to effectively communicate with visually-impaired colleagues, such as by using descriptive language and avoiding visual references.
Dealing with Attitudes and Stereotypes
Finally, visually-impaired individuals may also face negative attitudes and stereotypes in the workplace. For example, some individuals may assume that visually-impaired individuals are less capable or less productive than their sighted colleagues. This can create a hostile work environment and make it difficult for visually-impaired individuals to succeed in their jobs.
To address this challenge, employers can foster a culture of inclusivity and diversity in the workplace. This can be done by promoting awareness and understanding of visual impairments, as well as by providing accommodations and support to visually-impaired individuals.
In addition, employers can take steps to address discriminatory attitudes and behaviours, such as by implementing anti-discrimination policies and providing diversity and inclusion training to their employees.
In conclusion, visually-impaired individuals face a variety of challenges in the workplace, including navigating their work environment, accessing technology and information, communicating with colleagues, and dealing with negative attitudes and stereotypes. However, by implementing strategies to address these challenges, employers can create a more inclusive and accessible work environment for all employees, regardless of their visual abilities. By doing so, employers can help visually-impaired individuals to succeed in their jobs and contribute to the success of their organisations.
Seema Flower was voted one of the 100 most influential disabled people in the UK 2020 according to the Shaw Trust Power 100 list. She is a driven and passionate advocate of equality. She has been training organisations in Disability Awareness issues for over 30 years. She is a qualified and experienced careers advisor. She has run her own Million-pound service business in Central London for 13 years and therefore understands the importance of balancing reasonable adjustments with business needs.