Fred’s Head from APH, a Blindness Blog

Fred’s Head, offered by the American Printing House for the Blind, contains tips, techniques, tutorials, in-depth articles, and resources for and by blind or visually impaired people. Our blog is named after the legendary Fred Gissoni, renowned for answering a seemingly infinite variety of questions on every aspect of blindness.

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Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Navigating the Workplace

by Donna J. Jodhan

One of the first things that a disabled employee needs to do before starting a new job in unfamiliar surroundings is to learn how to navigate their workplace. For those who are blind or visually impaired, it is even more crucial and I can tell you from first hand experience that it really helps to learn the layout of one's workplace before starting off on the first day. No shocker and no shaker.

For someone with no vision, the techniques used are a bit different to those with a bit of vision and in this editorial, I am going to list some of the more general things that the employer should or could do well to be aware of and I am going to present the facts as they pertain to blind and visually impaired employees.

For the employer:

  • Make sure that the path to the employee's cubicle or office is clear of obstacles that could be a detriment to the employee; such as boxes, cases, ladders, etc. If ladders or tables need to be placed in the path, then the employee needs to be told.
  • Give the employee an orientation to their workplace before they start on the first day.
  • Be sure to show them such things as the way to the washroom, the cafeteria, to offices and cubicles of employees that they will be interacting closely with.
  • Keep low-hanging objects out of the way.
  • Always alert the employee whenever there are such things as wet floor or wet paint signs.
  • Give them an orientation that includes learning their way to their cubicle or office from the entrance of the building and from their cubicle or office to the exit of the building. Orientate them to elevators, escalators, and emergency exits.
  • Be sure to show them how to find other important locations in the workplace.
  • If possible, place braille and large print signs on doors of washrooms. Place braille and raised print numbers in elevators.

Persons without vision almost often depend on tactile landmarks such as doors that are labeled in braille. They also use a technique of counting hallways, corridors, and pathways among cubicles to help them find their way. They also use walls as landmarks and they trail the wall with their canes in order to orientate themselves. Persons with out vision also use floor surfaces to help them navigate such as using the edge of carpets.

Those with some vision use doors and walls to help them find their way but they also use colors of these to help them. In addition, they use signs as landmarks and when the signs are brightly colored, it helps them even more. For those who can see some color, it is a definite bonus.

Light is also extremely important to those with some sight. Many persons with some vision often make full use of well lit surroundings to help them navigate. They also make full use of contrasts in both color and light as well as between tiled surfaces and carpets.

I have been on both sides of the coin so to speak. I used to have enough vision to decipher landmarks visually but now with very little left, I now have to depend more on the tactile technique. Of course, there are many blind and visually impaired employees who use a combination of both tactile and vision to navigate their way around the workplace.

I'm Donna J. Jodhan your friendly accessibility advocate wishing you a terrific day. If you'd like to learn more about me, then you can visit some of my blog spots at:
Donna Jodhan! Advocating accessibility for all:
Weekly Saturday postings on issues of accessibility:
blogs on various issues and answers to consumers concerns:

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