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Best Practices for Communicating with Blind / Visually Impaired Colleagues

The WTIA Diversity Equity and Inclusion Center of Excellence and Apprenti are working together to transform workplaces by focusing on disability inclusion, dismantling barriers to access, and building a strong and diverse talent pipeline that includes individuals with disabilities. To promote the retention and advancement of people from diverse backgrounds, we continue to develop solutions to create more equitable and inclusive workplaces. 

An important part of our work is creating opportunities for learning about the experiences of employees with disabilities. In 2022, the U.S. commemorates the 32nd anniversary of the American with Disabilities Act, the groundbreaking law that ensured that people with disabilities have the same rights and access to opportunities as everyone else. While the breadth of disability inclusion is wide, we wanted to devote this post to the experiences of people who are blind and visually impaired. We draw upon the expertise of Apprenti’s Access Team to present best practices for creating an inclusive work environment.

Visual impairments are one of the most common disabilities among adults. About 12 million people in the U.S. age 40 and older have a visual impairment.1 In the age of hybrid work, the probability of working alongside a colleague with a visual impairment at some point during your career is high. Even though visual impairments are more common than most think, many feel uninformed about best practices for interacting with someone who is blind or visually impaired. While every individual is unique and may have their own preferences, we outlined best practices for communicating with a colleague who is blind or visually impaired. 

Introduce yourself, surroundings, and visuals in presentations. 

  • Announce your presence at the beginning of an interaction with a colleague who is blind or visually impaired, in both virtual or in-person environments. For example, if you enter into a room state, ““Hi ____, it’s [your name].” Do not ask your visually impaired colleague to play “guess who.” When facilitating meetings, ask everyone to introduce themselves at the beginning and state their name each time they begin speaking.
  • For in-person meetings, communicate visual elements in the environment. Note the layout of furniture in a meeting room, location of the door and window, or unique wall designs. Knowing about how a space is configured will not only enable your visually impaired colleagues to navigate more independently, but it will also provide potential topics to connect over.
  • Describe all visual components (charts, tables, and images) during a presentation. If your presentation includes videos, add “audio descriptions” so your vision-impaired colleagues can access information to visual elements. 

Communicate in multiple formats. 

  • Send electronic materials such as the agenda and related documents prior to a meeting or presentation, and ensure they are accessible. Sending documents beforehand allows individuals with visual impairments to review the information at their own pace using their preferred technology.
  • Be a good partner in communication by sharing information in multiple channels and formats. For example, if the office TV monitor announces a special team lunch, also share the event via Slack or email.

Allow extra time and describe gestures in conversations. 

  • Provide extra time for individuals to respond in conversations or meetings. Periodic pauses can help individuals process the intricacies of a conversation, including content, person speaking, and the tone while still allowing time for the individual to respond. Also, in an online context, the additional time gives individuals time to unmute themselves.
  • Verbally describe gestures. For example, if you’re in a meeting and someone responds to the speaker’s question with an emphatic fist pump, announce the action. Similarly, instead of merely pointing in the direction of the restroom and saying, “It’s over there,” describe the location in relation to landmarks in the room and using clock face references such as, “The bathroom door is at 3 o’clock.” Gestures and non-verbals provide contextual cues and help us more accurately interpret the meaning behind words.

Be mindful of everyday idioms.

  • Visual language is integrated into many everyday phrases such as “It’s great to see you” or “Did you watch a show last night?” These are common phrases and appropriate to utilize when speaking to someone who is blind or visually impaired. 
  • However, it’s best to use alternative phrases for “blind interview” or “blind leading the blind.” For example, using terms such “non-biased interview” and “the helpless being led by the clueless” may be more appropriate.

It’s okay to make mistakes. It is better to try to include someone and make errors than be inaccessible and exclude people. Seek feedback from all participants – don’t just single out those with vision impairments – about how you can better meet their access needs in future meetings. Ultimately, you will learn best by collaborating with your colleagues who are blind and gain a new perspective on your work.  

If interested in learning more about ways to integrate disability inclusion practices into your organization, the Apprenti Accessibility Team is hosting upcoming workshops as part of WTIA DEI COE programming. Stay connected via the WTIA events page or the DEI COE site.

 

1“Fast Facts of Common Eye Disorders.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, June 9, 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/visionhealth/basics/ced/fastfacts.htm#:~:text=Approximately%2012%20million%20people%2040,due%20to%20uncorrected%20refractive%20error.

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