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Supporting Employees with Visual Impairments

Guest blog from Peninsula – providers of award-winning HR and health & safety support for small businesses

Lots of office workers at desks staring at screens

In 2013, there were just over 2.9 million disabled people in the UK workforce and the employment rate for people with disabilities was at 44%.

Fast-forward to 2017, the government’s Labour market status of disabled people survey carried out by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) found the number of disabled people in employment rose to 3.5 million with the employment rate also rising by 5% over the same period.

The figure rose to 3.7 million in 2018 and the ONS predicts that it’ll keep rising. With this in mind, employers need to support their employees with disabilities.

In this piece, we’ll focus on staff members with visual impairments. We’ll highlight the perceived challenges to employers and include tips on how organisations can support workers to maximise their potential.

Visual impairments in the workplace

In modern life, there are more opportunities for people with disabilities to earn a living. Historically, those with full or partial sight loss were restricted to certain types of jobs due to assumptions of what they can or can’t do.

Like the rest of the population, people with disabilities are now employed in a variety of industries including construction, education, finance, etc.

According to the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB), there are currently over 80,000 registered blind people of working age in the UK.

The government’s Labour Force Survey puts that figure at 190,000, including those with self-reported ‘seeing difficulty’ but aren’t qualified for registration.

RNIB also commissioned an investigation relating to blind and partially sighted people. One of the key findings was people within the working age with long-term visual impairments are twice as likely to find paid employment compared to the rest of the population.

Equality Act obligations:

In the UK, the Equality Act 2010 addresses issues previously covered under the 1995 Disability Discrimination Act. It protects workers against unfair dismissal and discrimination and covers various aspects of the employment process including:

  • Recruitment.
  • Retention.
  • Terms of employment.
  • Reasonable adjustments.
  • Provision of accessible information.

While there are perceived challenges to supporting employees with visual impairments, such as expenses, time and labour, it’s essential to encourage diversity and inclusivity.

This helps to boost morale and loyalty and helps to avoid claims of discrimination. Some perceived challenges of hiring visually impaired employees include:

  • 54% of hiring managers felt there weren’t many jobs at their company blind people could perform.
  • 44% of employers believe accommodating for visually impaired employees is considerably expensive.
  • 42% of managers felt adding a blind person to their workforce would involve hiring another person to support them.
  • 34% believe blind workers are more likely to be involved in work-related accidents.
  • 19% of hiring managers believe blind people have a higher absence rate.

Tips for supporting visually impaired employees

To start with, speak to your employee and commission a workplace assessment  to ascertain their needs and the most appropriate solutions that will maximise their productivity and job satisfaction.

The various technological advances we’ve seen over the years mean blind and partially sighted people are now able to overcome most challenges that may arise in work and life.

Below we highlight some things you can do around the workplace to make it more disability confident.

Educating colleagues:

To change perceptions and stigma, ask your employee to explain to colleagues what he/she is and isn’t able to do once adjustments have been made so everyone understands how to offer and provide support if needed. Visual Impairment Awareness training is invaluable and a provides a great team building opportunity too.

Accessibility:

Another step towards attracting and supporting visually impaired employees is giving them the opportunity to find, learn about and apply for any job. There are a number of tools available for employers to make their digital content readily available and accessible to individuals with visual impairments.

Computer use:

You can make it easier to use computers by making simple adaptations such as changing display fonts, icons size and the colour scheme and provide larger monitors, magnification software, adapted keyboards, etc. For employees with no vision at all, consider screen reader software, voice recognition or electronic braille display. For reading, there are scanners with Optical Character Recognition (OCR) that convert print to electronic text and read aloud with synthetic speech.

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