Nearly two million people in the UK are currently living with sight loss, and by 2050 this number is expected to have more than doubled, with statistics showing 250 people begin to lose their sight every day. The importance of looking after our eye health is particularly relevant due to it being National Eye Health Week (21-27 September 2020), and as businesses, it is also equally important that we are offering services accessible to all, including those with vision impairment. Therefore in this article we will discuss how services can be adapted to ensure your business is well equipped to meet your client’s needs.
Before the client appointment
When booking clients in for appointments, it is best practice to ask your clients whether they have any special requirements that they will need in place for their meeting. It is important to note that it may not be easy to identify if your client has sight loss when they arrive at your office, and therefore being prepared can help put your clients at ease and feel comfortable from the outset. Look out for clients wearing the sunflower lanyard to show that they may require greater assistance.
Find out how your clients will be arriving and offer any necessary assistance in accessing your office, such as through providing clear instructions on your location and meeting clients at the door to guide them to their meeting room. Check whether your clients is bringing any assistance to their meeting, such as a relative or guide dog, so that you can prepare your meeting accordingly through arranging extra seating or providing a water bowl for guide dogs etc.
Where possible, you should always offer a home visit for clients with vision impairment, as they may feel more comfortable in a known environment for their meeting.
Preparing client documentation
Those with sight loss may find it difficult to read documents in the standard format, and it is therefore also important that you check with your clients beforehand as to whether they have any preferences, such as a larger font size, braille, or electronically as they may wish to transfer text to speech. Inserting the sentence ‘End of Document’ should be included at the end of all documents, so that the client can be sure there is nothing further to read.
When the client arrives
When assisting a client to their meeting room you should always ask which side they would prefer you approach them on. Do not just assume a client with sight loss will automatically require guidance, as those with canes or guide dogs may prefer to navigate themselves, and you should therefore always ask the client whether they require assistance first.
If the client does wish for you to guide them, place your guiding arm in a relaxed position at a right angle to your rib cage, allowing the client to cup your elbow and follow behind you. Alternatively clients may wish to put their hand on your shoulder instead.
You should walk at a normal pace, noting any uneven surfaces and any doors or steps etc. When approaching stairs, place the clients hand on the handrail and let them know when they are at the start and finish of the steps. Let the client know whether the steps are going up or down, and if there are any breaks in the handrail/steps then ask your client whether they would like your arm again for these sections.
Surprisingly only 7% of our communication is purely verbal, and it is therefore very important that we are able to communicate effectively with those that may not be able to clearly see other communication, such as facial expressions etc. The following tips can help when communicating:-
- When approaching a client you should always let them know who you are. If you offer your hand, verbalise your movements so that they can be clear you wish to share hands such as ‘Hi, my name’s Rachel, I am just offering you my right hand for a handshake’.
- You should always face your client, and if others are present, make sure your voice is still directed toward the client rather than straying towards others that are sighted. This is to ensure that the client does not feel excluded from the meeting even when others have spoken.
- If you and other colleagues are all present during the meeting, you should each say your name before speaking on every occasion so that the client does not become confused.
- Let the client know if you are leaving the room, and also announce when you return.
- Verbalise your actions so that the client knows what you are doing, for example when you pause to take notes.
- Never distract any guide dogs, and always ask the owner’s permission before petting.
With the pandemic ongoing, many may be left unsure as to whether they can still assist clients in the manners detailed above, particular in relation to guiding. Government guidance has recently confirmed that partially sighted people in England can still be guided by people outside of their household. However to limit risks it is best practice that both you and the client wear masks, hand sanitise before, during and after guiding and try to limit the amount of time spent within 2m of each other. You should also ensure you have the name and contact number of anyone you have guided so that you can contact them should they need to be traced.
We hope that the above information will help your business take steps to ensure the best service is provided to all clients, if not in practice already. If you would like to find out more information on how your business can support clients with vision impairment,please see the charity Royal National Institute of Blind People via the following link https://www.rnib.org.uk/services-for-businesses/supporting-blind-and-partially-sighted-customers