World Braille Day is on 4 January 2024 and serves as an important reminder for businesses about accessibility and independence for employees who are blind or visually impaired. Here, we take a look at how employers and colleagues should support blind or visually impaired employees in the workplace, and also the legal requirements that must be complied with.
Whilst blind and visually impaired employees are capable of working in many different workplaces, there is still a disparity between those employed and the general working population. According to the Royal National Institute for Blind People, one in four registered blind and partially-sighted people of working age are in employment. This is compared to the general working population of approximately three in four people.
It is important for employers to remember that every individual is different and will face different challenges depending on their condition. However, some of the common challenges for blind or visually impaired employees may include issues with transportation to work or a job interview, difficulty drafting or reading documents, difficulty navigating around the office or unfamiliar places, difficulty recognising colleagues or clients, and difficulty using electronic devices. Additionally, blind and visually impaired employees may also struggle psychologically with the impacts of their condition.
The Equality Act 2010 (the Act) legally requires employers to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ so that people who are classed as disabled under the Act are not put at a substantial disadvantage compared to other employees.
If an employee has a visual impairment such as being certified as blind, severely sight impaired, sight impaired or partially sighted their condition will automatically be classed as a disability under the Act.
Accordingly, employers have a legal obligation to consider what reasonable adjustments could be made to support blind and visually impaired employees in the workplace and also during the recruitment process. Examples of reasonable adjustments may include:
- ensuring meetings are structured so that all important information can be communicated verbally (for example, avoiding the need to rely on presentations/ visual aids);
- specialist software (for example, screen magnification, screen reading and dictation software);
- specialist equipment (for example larger screens, high visibility keyboard, etc.);
- braille devices;
- flexibility around working hours (for example, to allow for blind and visually impaired employees to travel at quieter times); and
- allowing time off to attend medical appointments.
It’s important for employers to speak to employees who may require reasonable adjustments to understand the impact that their condition has and what support can be offered. This is likely to be different for every employee. For example, glaucoma narrows the field of vision and causes random parts of the visual field to become blank, whereas age-related macular degeneration (AMD) leads to gradual loss of vision from the central vision moving outwards. Therefore, an employee with glaucoma will require different support and adjustments compared to an employee with AMD.
If an employer fails to make reasonable adjustments, the impacted employee could bring a discrimination claim under the Act and be entitled to an unlimited amount of compensation and an award for injury to feelings.
Diversity, equity and inclusion training also plays a large part in supporting blind and visually impaired employees in the workplace. For example, employees could be asked to identify themselves if they approach or are approached by a blind or visually impaired employee. It’s important to understand from each employee’s own perspective what they need and how they can best be supported in the workplace rather than an employer making assumptions – each person and each condition will be different.
Employers have a duty to create a safe, inclusive and supportive environment for blind or visually impaired employees. The key way to achieve this is through communication; taking time to speak to employees with visual impairments will ensure that employers are making reasonable adjustments that are most useful to each employee’s specific condition.