Are you one of those speakers who starts sweating, or who reaches a high nervous level when you notice you have a person with low vision in your audience? Or maybe you’ve never encountered a person with low vision and just want to be prepared for when it does happen. You may want to meet this person but you are not sure what to do.
You might find yourself asking some of the following typical questions.
- How will I shake hands with them?
- Can I talk to them?
- Can I give them a business card, like I do with all other attendees?
- How will they interact with the handouts, slides and overheads?
- Do I have to watch my language and not say, “As you can see on page 5”?
- Do I need to change the part of my presentation where I have the group watch me demonstrate the activity I’m asking them to do?
- What happens if they bring a guide dog?
Here are some tips that should help you be better prepared, and less nervous, when you encounter someone in one of your workshops who has low vision. You don’t have to be in a total panic or totally soaked with perspiration!
If you don’t know how to interact with your audience members or clients with low vision, the best thing you can do is ask them!
When you want to shake hands, introduce yourself audibly. This will allow the person with low vision an opportunity to size you up and determine where you are standing.
If they extend their hand to you, don’t make them judge where your hand is – grab it and shake. Congratulations, you have now been introduced to a person with low vision!
Follow your normal rule of thumb, which is probably “don’t go anywhere without business cards and pass them out to everyone.” I hear your wheels turning and you’re thinking, “but this person is not going to be able to read my card.” That’s not your problem!
The person with low vision will either “read” your card by having someone else transfer the data into a format that can be handled, or they will read it themselves with technology that allows them to do this independently.
When you exchange business cards, let them know what you are doing and place the card in their hand. Again, they should not have to guess where you are or where you are holding the card for them.
This is vital information the participants with low vision have come to receive from you, so don’t short-change them. Make sure they receive everything you distribute to all other participants. If they do not want your handouts, it is up to them to say so. Don’t make this decision for them.
The participant with low vision may ask you to provide information in electronic format but make sure it is compatible with screen based readers. It should be in plain text format (.doc, .txt) and in single columns.
You could also consider taping the session but make sure you seek the permission of all Workshop participants first.
Slides and Visual Aids
If you notice before you start the Workshop that you have a person with low vision in your audience, you may be asked to find someone who will sit next to them and explain what is happening visually.
If you do not notice the person with low vision until after the session starts, wait until your first break to take care of this. You want to be sure they can obtain all the information they want from your presentation. You may be asked to read the slide contents before launching into a discussion.
If a person brings a working dog to a Workshop, you will need to cater for them. You should speak to the person with low vision and ask them if they have any special requirements.
Depending on the length of the meeting, you may need to consider a safe space for the dog to sit, the provision of water, a place for the dog to relieve itself, and special breaks to accommodate the needs of the dog.
The best way to accommodate the needs of a person with low vision, and all other participants for that matter, is to treat each person in your audience as an individual.
- Most of the barriers will disappear if you concentrate on eliminating any barriers to the effective communication of your message.
- Take your focus off the fact that the person has low vision and/or is accompanied by a working dog, using a cane or travelling with a sighted guide.
- Recognise that this participant has taken time from their busy schedule, dealt with transportation challenges to come and hear the material you have prepared, and wants to be there to receive information vital to assisting them.
References & Acknowledgements
- This document is largely taken from an article by Clark Roberts (firstname.lastname@example.org), Bellevue, Washington – “Are you prepared for workshop participants who are Blind?”
- Note that this advice should only be used as a guide to the types of issues that you should consider rather than as the “be-all and end-all” of advice.