Tips to support an effective engagement process with people who are blind or who have a vision impairment.
The term ‘vision impaired’ is generally accepted by most people. The term ‘blind’ may not be acceptable, particularly among those who consider they are vision impaired, are partially sighted or have low vision. The term ‘legally blind’ has different meanings in New Zealand (eg, within the Social Security Act 1964 and within the Blind Foundation’s criteria). Therefore, although some people may use this term to describe themselves, you should avoid using it as a generic term.
As a general principle, when you are undertaking engagement with people who are blind or vision impaired, let people know what is happening. For example, let people know where their chair is, and where you have placed their tea or coffee, or what food is available.
Where possible, keep pathways clear to allow people to easily navigate throughout the room.
In creating accessible materials for people who are blind or vision impaired, follow these guidelines.
- Consider providing written information in advance in large print format, as a Word document (so that it may be read aloud using screen reader software), in Braille or in audible format.
- In electronic publications, provide descriptions below images, or, alternatively, use Microsoft’s feature for screen readers called Alt Text. Alt Text allows the writer to include a title and description of the image. The screen reader will read the title of the image and allow the person to choose whether or not to hear the description of its content. Alt Text is accessed by right clicking on the picture, selecting Format Picture, then selecting Alt Text. Other software programmes may offer similar features. See Using images, diagrams, graphs and tables accessibly.
- Information provided in table formats is sometimes incompatible with screen reader software packages used by blind people or those with vision impairments. Again the Alt Text function can be used to give the table a title and description which can be read by the electronic screen reader.
- Tables are also difficult when producing large print – think about ways you could present the same information without a table. See Using images, diagrams, graphs and tables accessibly.
- Expense claim and feedback forms need to be accessible. If possible provide these to people in advance or accept feedback in alternative forms, such as electronically after the meeting.
- Microsoft Office 2010 and Acrobat Pro (and some other programmes) have an ‘Accessibility Checker’ feature that will check a document for accessibility issues. Note that it cannot check for all potential issues (eg, it cannot check for colour contrast).
In planning presentations for people who are blind or vision impaired, follow these guidelines.
- At the beginning of a meeting, facilitate a round of introductions. If it is not possible to introduce everyone, ensure you note key people and presenters. One important purpose of this is to help people who are blind or those with low vision know who is in the room.
- Read presentations in full, and describe images, diagrams, graphs and tables. Do not tell the whole room that this is for the benefit of people who are blind or have a vision impairment. See further Using images, diagrams, graphs and tables accessibly.