How To Be More Inclusive and Helpful to Co-Workers Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired

By Envision Marketing • May 13, 2022
A women who is visually impaired collaborating with another woman who in a black shirt.

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The workplace is an environment that should be inclusive to all. For those with a disability, misconceptions and stereotypes might create obstacles to achieving a welcoming, inclusive environment. The most important thing to remember is that a person with a disability is a person first and foremost. Their disability is just one detail about them.  

“First of all, relax. We’re just people and conversing with us is the same as conversing with anyone else,” said Charles Wilks, Customer Care Specialist, Envision Workforce Innovation Center. “Invite us to events and social gatherings that aren’t taking place in intensely loud settings. If you see something cool or interesting tell us about it so we can engage in the moment. Don’t tell us we’re inspiring for doing normal everyday things. Expect excellence and productivity at all times for all people.” 

We have heard from our Envision colleagues that their sighted co-workers can be very helpful in the workplace. One of the easiest ways to be more inclusive to co-workers is to never make assumptions. When you make assumptions, it actively excludes people from that situation. A great way to overcome this is to simply ask questions and listen. 

“Since I am totally blind, I really enjoy when my team members who are sighted, describe to me what they see wherever we may be,” said Blake Lindsay, Manager, Outreach, Envision Dallas. “I feel as if I am seeing through their eyes, and the perspective of their description is fun for me. Also, if I have misplaced something, I appreciate borrowing the eyes and receiving a little help from my sighted colleagues to find an object that may be closer than I realize. It seems like more than half of the time; we are able to locate the missing item together. I also enjoy carpooling with my sighted colleagues when we need to travel somewhere offsite. Of course, I can get menus through my (Be My Eyes) app on the iPhone, and various other help from people with sight through this technology.”

With vision loss, blindness is a spectrum and all people see differently. Sighted coworkers can be very helpful to their coworkers who are visually impaired. Whether it be describing the placements of common items in a room (i.e., trash cans, sinks, tables, etc.), to explaining visual cues to them. The best way to understand your co-worker is to have a conversation to get to know how you can best assist each other. 

“What I appreciate is when I hear my sighted coworkers informing me and my other BVI coworkers when there are snacks laid out or assisting in letting us know when things have been moved around and we are unaware (we tend to travel via memory),” said Roshunda Holt, Customer Care Specialist, Envision Workforce Innovation Center. “I like to volunteer a lot, so when there is an opportunity to do as such, getting a ride from one of my sighted coworkers that may be heading to that same event is helpful, so I do not have to spend money on an uber to go to the same places. Just speaking up when you see we may be struggling (we too can be a prideful people who try to maintain as much independence as possible, so at times we do not ask for help until we really need it, and even then, we still may not ask). Also, if we do ask for assistance, please be aware of the tone used when agreeing to help. We can hear agitation, annoyance or frustration, the heavy sighs can be heard even if the rolling of the eyes cannot be seen.”

“In my opinion, sighted co-workers can be a great help in the workplace if they know any BVI employees on a personal level and have spent time with them, have any BVI family members or friends, or have gone through some type of sensitivity training that includes using a white cane while wearing sleep shades and/or doing other activities while under sleep shades,” said Brandon Murphy, Customer Care Specialist, Envision Workforce Innovation Center. “The reason behind this is for sighted co-workers to better understand what it is like to be BVI by walking a mile in our shoes. Sighted co-workers are a big part of helping us in the workforce—there are simply just some things we may need help with. In conclusion, as a BVI employee, ask for help if you need it. And, as a sighted co-worker, be open and receptive to your fellow BVI co-workers.” 

For more information on how to cultivate a more inclusive workplace or schedule sighted guide IDEA training, please contact the Envision Workforce Innovation Center at workforceforall.com/Business-Services/Workplace-Accessibility-Services or call (316) 440-1513.