Are you struggling at work because of poor vision? Maybe you can’t read small print on your screen clearly, or are struggling with your keyboard, struggling to get around in the dark, not recognising colleagues and this is causing you headaches and eyestrain? And yet you haven’t discussed the issue with your manager, for fear of what the consequences might be. If this sounds familiar, then it really is time you addressed this and one of the most effective ways of doing so is to request a Workplace Assessment.
Far too often, employees with visual difficulties suffer silently and unnecessarily when small, reasonable adjustments to their working environment could make all the difference to their ability to do their job well. Often these changes not only benefit them by allowing them to work with less stress and more focus, but they also benefit their colleagues, managers and the business they work for through a resulting increase in productivity. Businesses also gain by being recognised as the sort which employers and staff want to work for, and by being recognised in the wider business community as reputable employers. In terms of PR, what more could a company wish for?
So many reasons to change
Employees with vision difficulties may feel uncomfortable acknowledging their condition and its impact in the workplace for several reasons. In the case of someone struggling with reduced sight for example, their disability may not be immediately apparent to colleagues and bosses; it may also be information they are reticent to share for fear of being judged, or even dismissed, if their condition is discovered. Ironically, by concealing their condition they are far more liable to jeopardise their position by not performing to their optimum level. They will also experience the stress of concealment, which only exacerbates the other physical impacts of eyestrain such as headaches, migraines and extreme fatigue, whilst having an impact on their mental health.
It is vitally important if you find yourself in this position that you understand your legal rights. As someone working with a disability you cannot be summarily dismissed because of your condition. What’s more, you are legally entitled to expect that your company will make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to your working environment to ensure you can do your job to the best of your ability. This responsibility, or duty of care, is enshrined in The Equality Act 2010, which states that all employers must change their procedures and remove barriers faced at work by someone with a disability, and that they – not you – must bear the costs of these reasonable adjustments. Don’t worry about spending your budget on ensuring you get the correct adjustments, remember your employer has a legal duty.
To get the ball rolling
A Workplace Assessment involves a ‘disability in the workplace’ professional coming into your place of work and performing an assessment of your duties and your workspace. From the results of this, they can suggest a range of improvements and adaptions to make your experience at work safer, easier, more pleasant and more productive.
An assessment will look at equipment you may need to carry out your role more effectively, your mobility, your wellbeing at home and work, your working surroundings accessibility, travelling to and from work and your support network.
Private and confidential
If you are at all concerned that this will be in an invasive visit, we can reassure you that all assessments are conducted in an unobtrusive way and are thoughtfully organised for the least amount of inconvenience or disruption. All assessors are trained to recognise and be sensitive to issues relating to your privacy and confidentiality.
What happens next?
Following on from this initial assessment, your disability in the workplace advisor will write to you and your employer with a list of recommendations on potential improvements to be made. As I have already mentioned, these may be in terms of your role and the support you receive, the general office environment or specific technologies for people with visual impairments.
Discussing some of the assistive technologies that currently exist is a good place to start. Many people with visual impairments find that these can have a genuinely life-changing impact on their working environment and it’s worth giving them attention even if you are a little tech-phobic.
Common assistive technologies for people with visual impairments
There is a wide range of assistive technologies for people with visual impairments, with new products being developed all the time; these are proving particularly beneficial for people working in a vast range of environments.
Digital technology has led to the development of some superb products for people with low vision; even more good news is that new and exciting digital tools are increasingly being created with visual impairment in mind. These generally offer advanced magnification and text presentation options that can be adapted to every visual need, and for every kind of screen. Whether you work from a laptop, a tablet or even from your phone, they can be programmed with bespoke settings to optimise text presentation for your condition.
And cutting-edge digital technology can also do so much more. The latest generation of software includes ‘read out loud’ text functions that do the reading for you, so you can sit back plug your earphones in and listen. Rather than get a headache or eye strain.
Back to basics
Now for those who shy away from digital stuff there is more good news. Getting extra support is not always about cutting-edge technology. As with so many things in life, sometimes the most effective adjustments are the simplest. Many low-tech, non-digital types of magnification can make a huge difference to a screen user. Sometimes adjustments can be as simple as just providing a larger screen, or one with high definition, or even implementing the use of clearer or larger fonts, or large print keyboards.
Away from the screen
It is also important to remember that the adoption of assistive technologies is just one element of any reasonable adjustment assessment. Other types of adjustment can prove just as effective in assisting an employee with low vision such as the implementation of different types of lighting, or even the use of different types or colours of paper.
For people with a visual difficulty, an assessment should be made of the broader working environment too. Following this, recommendations should be included for improvements that make the work space not only more navigable with better room lighting, larger signage and clearer corridor spaces, but also a safer space for people with disabilities to use. Assessments, after all, are not simply about improving an employee’s ability to perform their role at work. They are also about ensuring that there is due consideration being given to health and wellbeing while you are at work, which is also of course an employer’s legislative responsibility.
A healthy employee is a more productive one. It is in the interests of every business to ensure they are doing all they can to promote health and wellbeing among their staff, whether they do or don’t have a disability
There’s so much more
Another element of the assessment that it is often overlooked by staff and managers, is that of training. This may need to be adapted for people with disabilities to ensure that they have access to it, and that when they do access it, they can get the most out of it. Training courses may need to be made disability-specific, or it may simply be about ensuring that existing staff training is adapted to make it accessible to people with visual disabilities. How do you ensure, for example, that staff with low vision have the same access to Power Points and hand-outs?
Alongside issues of training run those of professional development, and again much of this is to do with ensuring that staff with disabilities have line managers who are sensitive to their specific needs and concerns, and are active in promoting suitable opportunities for advancement, regardless of perceived disability. How to accommodate someone with a disability to ensure they thrive within a company may focus on questions such as: should you be sharing workload with other members of staff, allocating longer breaks if these are required, or moving a member of staff to another role more suited to someone with their requirements?
It’s not all about the office
Certain workplace assessments are not about the workplace at all, but about issues that relate to, and have an impact upon it. Any report will include an assessment of working hours, and whether it would be of benefit to, for example, stagger starting and finishing times so that staff with visual impairments can commute at times that are more amenable to them. Tied into this of course is the issue of how people with a visual impairment travel into work, and whether in other ways their commute could be facilitated or ameliorated, to ensure health and safety concerns are being addressed.
Again, assistive technology can be particularly effective in this area. There have been significant advances in navigational technology in the last ten years or so and many Apps, such as The Seeing Eye GPS App, now have built-in blind-aware technology for people with low vision, which announces junctions and locations as they approach.
Just as is the case with assistive technology in the office environment, it is often the case when it comes to these navigational aids that mainstream technology can be just as useful as Apps, specifically designed with a disability function in mind. Technologies with mainstream uses, such as Uber, also offer enormous mobility benefits for people with visual impairments.
Tied in to this issue of mobility, there may well be an assessment of whether some of the work undertaken in the office or business environment could be undertaken at home. Part-time home working is increasingly an option favourably considered by employers as they begin to see the benefits of this approach in terms of staff morale and productivity. Costs can also be saved and working one or two days from home can be particularly productive for – and welcomed by – staff with disabilities.
In addition, are employees with visual impairments accessing services from the community in their personal life such as peer support or rehabilitation? This will be addressed in the assessment and the correct referrals made.
Wrapping it all up
We have looked in some detail at the types of reasonable adjustment assessments and recommendations that a professional disability workplace assessor is qualified to make. They cover high and low-tech assistive technologies to help you with screen work; disability and mainstream technologies to help you with navigation around, to and from your workplace; low-tech adaptations to your office environment; ensuring equal access to training, flexible working and professional development opportunities.
These ‘reasonable adjustments’ are every employee’s right, and yet far too often people with visual impairments are suffering by suppressing how they feel. They may and even be jeopardising their careers, because they are too frightened to speak up and ask for an assessment that could profoundly affect their working lives for the better.
Time to act
If, after reading this article, you feel that a reasonable adjustment assessment would benefit you in your workplace, then please get in touch with one of our friendly team at Visualise Training and Consultancy to discuss the reasonable adjustments assessment services we provide.
At Visualise Training and Consultancy this is what we do. It’s our specialist area. For our team, many of whom have visual impairments themselves, we see the services we provide as more than a professional responsibility; we are exceptional as a consultancy because so many of our staff have in-depth, first-hand knowledge and experience of working with a disability in an office environment. That is a huge advantage. We know, we’ve been there, and we can help you to overcome the very real difficulties you may feel compelled to ‘just put up with and get on’.
All our assessors are fully trained and experienced in reasonable adjustment assessment; they are also fully up to date with the latest assistive technologies for people with low vision, as well as mainstream technologies with a disability application. Because of our unique disability viewpoint, you can be confident that reasonable adjustment reports to employers will always be presented from an employee-centred perspective; they will also give a comprehensive understanding of the obstacles and challenges you face in the workplace, and the most effective strategies for overcoming these.
If you are struggling at work because of a visual impairment, please don’t suffer in silence: get in touch with us today for more information on the reasonable adjustments that could be made to your work environment because sight loss should not mean job loss.
For an informal chat, or to book a Workplace Assessment, you can either call us on 07472 305 268 or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Don’t let your visual impairment hold you back from achieving your goals!