The following guidelines are designed to assist organisations to make their meeting practices and/or committee processes inclusive of the needs of blind and vision impaired people.
Meeting agendas and minutes
Blind representatives must be able to specify the format in which they choose to receive these documents (ie, large print, Braille, audio cassette or an electronic format). Their first choice should be honoured regardless of their ability to access the material by other means. Some forward planning may be needed to ensure that blind participants receive their material at approximately the same time as sighted participants receive theirs.
As a common courtesy, it is often helpful for a blind person to receive information about and/or a ‘conducted tour’ of the facilities being used. If the blind participant uses a guide dog as a mobility aid, the dog’s toileting requirements must also be considered when choosing a venue. If the venue has no grass or garden area, or such areas are not in easy reach of the venue, then some other party may need to be on hand to accompany the blind dog-handler to find a suitable area.
Every meeting should begin with a ‘roll call’ in which participants are asked to clearly identify themselves. This also indicates to the blind person where everyone is seated. If someone arrives late or departs during the meeting, this information should also be conveyed at the earliest possible opportunity. These steps are critical, since even if all meeting participants are known to one another, a blind person can often be unaware of who is in the room. The roll call should be repeated in future sessions if a change has occurred in those present or seating arrangements have altered.
Establishing the process for seeking the floor
The process for gaining the right to speak at a meeting should be made clear by the chairperson at the beginning of discussion. Unless clearly indicated, a blind person may be unclear as to whether hands are being raised to catch the attention of the chairperson, whether people simply speak up, or some other method is being used. Whatever the method, visual techniques such as catching the chairperson’s eye to get their attention should be avoided.
Use of printed or visual material in meetings
Any material distributed in print during a meeting must also be available in the blind participant’s preferred format. As the reading speed of some participants may not permit them to read the information as quickly as a standard print user, and certain computer technologies may not be portable, such material should be circulated in advance if at all possible. The use of overheads and black/whiteboards should be accompanied with copies of the material in the blind person’s preferred format in advance of the meeting. At the very least, a verbal description of the content of each overhead or white/blackboard currently displayed should be standard practice.
When a blind participant wishes to take notes of a meeting, and an audio recording is the only option available to them, they should be allowed to do so but must inform the meeting that a recording is being made. It must be clear that the audio recording is for the blind participant’s exclusive use unless otherwise agreed, that recording will take place only in those parts of the meeting when taking notes is permitted and that any misuse of the recording may constitute a breach of confidentiality.
Blind Citizens NZ is a disabled people’s organisation that provides advocacy for blind and vision impaired people. The material that appears here was originally produced by the Association of Blind Citizens NZ, and is reproduced with their kind permission.