Managing Blindness or Low Vision at work
Blindness or low vision can affect an employee’s ability to be safe, productive and independent at work. Levels of vision, and how this affects work, can vary depending on:
- a person’s familiarity with the job or task
- the assistive technology that is available
- the support at work
Blindness or low vision may affect an employee’s ability to read, operate a computer, drive vehicles, operate machinery, handle money or navigate safely around the workplace.
Complete vision loss or blindness means severe loss or absence of vision. A person is legally blind if they are not able to see at six metres what someone with normal vision can see at 60 metres, and if their field of vision is less than 20 degrees in diameter (a person with normal vision can see 180 degrees).
The term 'low vision' means a person has some degree of sight loss and may use a white cane, guide dog and/or a GPS navigating device to help them get around.
Blindness or low vision can be caused by many different diseases, conditions or accidents. Some eye conditions are congenital (present at or near birth). Others are caused by disease or infection, accidents or through exposure to damaging UV rays (sunlight) or chemicals.
Some types of vision impairment can be corrected using glasses, contact lenses or surgical and medical interventions. Some vision conditions cannot be corrected.
Workplace adjustments and solutions
There are various factors that can help people with vision loss to better manage their condition at work. This could include changes to work tasks and the environment. Changes and adjustments will vary depending on the level of vision loss. Employees who have low vision can be helped at work through simple changes to the environment, like using tactile markers or signs, adjusting lighting and marking edges of steps with a contrasting strip. Orientation training may also benefit employees, enabling them to become familiar with their surroundings.
Some suggestions for workplace modifications include:
- evaluation of workplace lighting to ensure it meets Australian Standards with the addition of specific task lighting if required for increased brightness or contrast
- placement of all frequently used items within easy reach
- magnification software to assist with computer screen magnification or text to speech software
- larger computer monitor to assist with viewing text, along with modification of contrast, screen versus text colours and brightness levels
- magnification aids and devices either portable or desk based to magnify hard copy documents or panels such as that on a photocopier
- specialised scanning software which allows rapid scanning of hard copy documents which are then saved to computer for enlarged viewing or listening to via text to speech functions
- adaptive technology to overcome workplace barriers such as barcode scanners for labelling items for easy location or Braille equipment
- large button phones or mobiles with text to speech software to allow for use of text messaging
- GPS equipment or smartphone GPS applications with speech output to assist with navigation when traveling for work
- If colour discrimination is required as part of the role, identify solutions to this or avoid tasks that requires good colour discrimination
- avoidance of glare by use of a hat or sunglasses or, if inside, changing placement of workstation or the installation of blinds or curtains over windows
- facilities and accommodations within the workplace if a guide dog is used to assist with safe navigation in and around the workplace
- regular eye rest breaks in which the eyes are closed
The Employment Assistance Fund provides financial assistance for work-related modifications, equipment and services to help people with disability to get employment and perform their work as independently and productively as possible. To determine eligibility, please refer to the full guidelines: Employment Assistance Fund
Further information on deaf blindness or dual sensory loss can be found through Able Australia’s website.