Here we try to clarify some of the most commonly heard terms heard where sight loss and employment are both concerned.
This is a generic term for any tech, soft- or hardware, which enables someone to do a task in spite of a disability. In this case, this would therefore mean the tech enabling blind and partially sighted people to work. Most of the equipment described below would be examples of assistive tech.
A specialist device for Braille readers, usually those with low or no vision, which is connected to a PC or phone. The software on the master device will turn the on-screen text, be it a webpage or email, into Braille created from pins on a metal strip which rise and fall to form the dot combinations for each Braille character. As a person reads, the Braille display refreshes itself almost instantly, meaning a person can scroll through text with barely any lag and read at a natural speed. These are especially useful to blind and partially sighted people who need to read while listening to everything going on around them, while chairing a meeting for instance.
These are fairly self-explanatory. They allow a user to print a document but into Braille instead. They are quite loud and large, and fewer people than ever own their own, but some people might feel one is necessary and seek to fund it through access to work. Modern models are getting quieter, however, so managing with a bit of extra background noise once in a while would constitute a more than reasonable adjustment.
This is the term for when a person chooses to reveal or disclose their disability to an employer, with the key point being that they are not obliged to at all if they don’t wish to. It certainly is not up to an employer to tell people to do so and, if they are invited to in an application process and decide against it, there are no legal grounds upon which the organisation may withdraw a contract offer for example.
A great many people with sight loss are going to disclose at some point in the recruitment of a job, and most would certainly do so at the point of receiving a job offer, as many might then need to make an Access to Work Application.
As a rule, the more severe a person’s sight loss, or the more equipment they might need through Access to Work, the more likely they to disclose around the point of interview. In order to make interviews and any accompanying tests accessible, most candidates would be advised to do so at this point, too late for any prejudice to occur during shortlisting, but early enough for vital considerations to be made at interview and prior to any start.
This is probably the single most important range of access technology around at the moment for anybody who either cannot read by sight or welcomes a break from doing so every now and then. Simply put, they turn on-screen text, and the instructions from concurrently running software, into audible speech. This means a synthesised, electronic voice that the user can hear through the device’s speaker or on headphones. Staff members in an office would use a headset of some kind so as not to disturb others.
These exist both for smartphones and PCs and are compatible with the majority of stock office packages. Quite a few different screenreaders exist and are available across a wide price range, from free to several hundred pounds.
Webpages with moving graphics, or files which are just scanned images of text, can be tricky to manage. A screenreader needs something to lock onto before it can speak it. Solutions to these problems come along all the time and many blind and partially sighted people have a healthy interest in tech because they simply can’t afford not to keep up.
Note that screenreaders are not to be confused with voice recognition or dictation packages. Many people understandably often make this mistake. Screenreaders speak to the user, reading aloud at their control. These packages do not involve the user speaking to give vocal commands to the computer or phone. They are heavily reliant on navigation using cursor keys or learned keystrokes, while the mouse is almost redundant as is obviously relies on hand to eye coordination. Blind and partially sighted people do find dictation increasingly helpful, but it hasn’t yet come close to matching the usefulness of the screenreader.
This range of software predictably concerns the enlargement of what is on the screen. The key principle here is that they offer a richer range of enlargement options than mainstream software. It can mean that the screen must enlarge so much for some readers that they only have sight of a small proportion of the on-screen material at any given moment. This means the user has to do much more content manipulation to read text and operate software. These are nonetheless vital to anybody with partial vision, particularly if their sight fluctuates or is degenerating, because the level and nature of magnification can be easily adjusted.
As with screenreaders, there are several different products at widely ranging prices. In some cases, users can have the best of both worlds and use a screenreader and magnification in tandem.