There is no cost to the employer to make a workplace accessible for an employee with disability, or for purchasing assistive technology for an employee who is blind or vision impaired.
The Australian Government provides funding through the Job Access Employment Assistance Fund (EAF) to cover the costs of workplace adjustments, support and training to get your workplace ready and help an employee with disability work more productively or safely.
Job Access provides free support to help remove barriers to employing people with disability, which includes an advice service, employer engagement team, funding for workplace modifications, support and training… and much more.
You can access the Employer section of the Job Access website here.
Common types of Assistive Technology
People who are blind or vision impaired use a lot of tools to enable them to complete different tasks, these tools are often referred to as ‘Assistive Technology’. Below you will find some information on the most common types of assistive technology that someone who is blind or vision impaired might use.
To ensure that people who are blind or vision impaired can move around safely and identify obstacles that may be in their path they may use a mobility aid, such as a white cane or a dog guide.
The user will have undertaken training to ensure they can use their mobility aid safely and effectively and, that the aid they have chosen is appropriate for them and meets their needs and preferences.
A dog guide is legally permitted to enter almost anywhere that a person is, including into an office or work site.
Dog Guides, White Canes and other mobility aids are available from a number of organisations, including:
Remote Visual Assistance
Remote Visual Assistance can come in many forms. Generally speaking, the user will download an app onto their smart phone and use that app to contact the company providing the service. The person on the other end of the connection may then have access to the person’s camera so that they can see what the phone is pointed at, and possibly the person’s GPS coordinates so they can see where they are. From here, they may be able to provide the person who is blind or vision impaired with directions to a specific location and assist them to travel there safely, they may be able to assist them to read a sign, locate an object, read a document or complete a variety of other tasks. There are several services who provide Remote Visual Access, including:
Screen Readers and Screen Magnifiers
People who are blind or vision impaired can often use a computer or smart device with the assistance of a screen reader or a screen magnifier.
A screen reader will read what is displayed on the computer screen to someone and they will use a series of keyboard commands to navigate around the screen.
In contrast, a screen magnifier will enlarge whatever is already on the screen and in many cases may allow someone to invert the colours, often making text easier to read.
In many cases, computers and smart devices often have a screen reader or magnifier installed when they are purchased, and these can easily be enabled. Alternatively, specialised software can be purchased and installed. This software might include:
Beacons are small, wireless transmitters that use low-energy Bluetooth technology to send signals to other smart devices nearby. Beacon Technology can be used to provide assistance with way finding, where a person will receive directions on where to locate features within a certain location.
Beacon Technology could be installed in a workplace to assist someone to locate meeting spaces, reception areas, facilities, emergency exits and other areas of a building. Beacon Technology is not only helpful to people who are blind but anyone who may be unfamiliar with a location and needs to find a specific place or facility.
One example of a company providing Beacon Technology is Bindi Maps.
What is braille?
Braille is a system of reading and writing by touch. It consists of arrangements of raised dots which make up letters of the alphabet, numbers, and punctuation marks. The basic braille symbol, called the braille cell, consists of six dots arranged in the formation of a rectangle, three dots high and two across.
Just as computers have revolutionised writing in print today, it is also possible to produce braille more easily and quickly than ever before. Assuming that the proper equipment is available, a computer user can now send a document to a standard printer to produce a paper copy in print or to a braille embosser to produce the document in braille. And one need not even know braille to create this braille document.
What is refreshable braille or braille display?
Braille displays provide access to information on a computer screen by electronically raising and lowering different combinations of pins in braille cells. A braille display can show up to 80 characters from the screen and is refreshable—that is, it changes continuously as the user moves the cursor around on the screen, using either the command keys, cursor routing keys, or Windows and screen reader commands. The braille display sits on the user’s desk, often in front of the computer keyboard. The advantages of braille displays over synthetic speech are that it provides direct access to information; allows the user to check format, spacing, and spelling; and is quiet.
Where can I get more information?
Creating an accessible workplace
Please note that not all employees with disability will require workplace adjustments. Creating an accessible workplace for a person who is blind or vision impaired is very similar to creating a safe and accessible workplace for any other employee; it’s not hard and with some forethought and consideration, it is something that can be achieved quickly and easily.
- Ensure there is adequate lighting in all areas of the office, including in workspaces, meeting rooms, staff amenities, hallways and stairwells. Keep luminosity consistent throughout the office.
- Take steps to reduce glare from glass windows and doors and computer screens. This could involve installing blinds or arranging workspaces in a way that reduces the glare while still allowing for natural light to illuminate the space.
- Keep walkways and exit paths free of clutter and materials. Encourage employees to push their chairs in when they leave their desk and ensure they always close cupboard doors and drawers.
- Ensure that accessibility of products and equipment is considered at the procurement stage for all office items. For more information on Procurement, have a look at this document.
- Maintain accessible information. The majority of PDF’s are not accessible using screen reading technology. Ensure that electronic resources are available in word format to increase their readability. For more information on creating accessible documents, read these guidelines.
- If you’re planning a social activity, conference or event ensure that the location and activities are things that all staff can participate in.