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Getting back to work

By Nathan Tree

On Tuesday 18the of August, Peter White discussed on BBC Radio 4’s ‘In-Touch’ program the implications for blind and visually impaired people going back to work as restrictions on the COVID-19 lockdown begin to lift and workplaces start to reopen. This coincides with recent news that the UK Government are encouraging businesses to call it’s staff working from home to go back to their places of work and to assure them that they are taking the relevant safety precautions.

So what can blind and visually impaired people do to work out the new altered environments and revised working practises?

Social distancing, barriers, face masks and one-way systems are among the new additions to daily life that we need to get used to, but often we are taught to navigate our environment by repetition and memory.

Here are some tips for both workers and emplpyers to help blind and visually impaired people in returning to the workplace.

Tips for workers

  • Check your route into work. Make sure that you are familiar with your transport methods, one-way systems and entrances and exits to buildings to be sure you know if anything has changed.
  • Familiarise yourself with your new working environment. There may be changes to your workstation and areas around the building that you may not be used to. Ask your employer to guide you around  and help you to work out what to do differently.
  • Use visual aids if you don’t feel comfortable with social distancing. Canes, guide dogs and signs can help people to recognise that you may not be able to social distance. Find a sign at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/please-give-me-space-social-distancing-cards-or-badges?fbclid=IwAR0GFTrtAiOs1jNW_N6uO0v_SLUKWZtc1_H8GRi0MRq3bkEvBmut_xFNg_8
  • Find a face mask that you find comfortable to wear when needed.
  • Do a mental health check. Make sure that you feel ok to go back to work. After a lot of time at home you may feel anxious about going back to work. Make sure you are ok with it and communicate with your employer if you need to.

Tips for employers

  • Consider how blind and visually impaired staff are getting to work. Are they using public transport? Are there any one-way systems they need to navigate? Offer help where possible.
  • Be aware that blind and visually impaired staff may find new environments difficult to navigate. Offer them a guide and detailed explanation of change that have been made and be patient as they learn the difference.
  • Remember that it is very difficult for blind and visually impaired people to social distance. Consider offering them help and reviewing their role and workspace to reflect this.
  • Many blind and visually impaired people may not have been out in public much since March, check that they are feeling confident in getting out again and that they are happy with what they are expected to do in public.

If you need help in Oxfordshire, you can contact Oxfordshire Association for the Blind on 01865 725595 or email info@oxeyes.org.uk, Oxfordshire County Council Sensory Impairment Team on 01865 894935 or nationally RNIB on 0303 123 9999 or go to ACAS at https://www.acas.org.uk/.

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