Access: Sensory Impairment

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This section looks at means of improving access to your services for people with sensory impairment (either vision or hearing).

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Blind and visually impaired users
Deaf and hearing impaired users

Blind and visually impaired users

Many of the adjustments to premises made to help people with impaired mobility will also help those with poor or no vision. For example, ensuring that trip hazards are cleared away, and that passages and doorways are wide and uncluttered.

Image of Braille/tactile Push signMake sure that steps and changes in level are clearly marked, for the benefit of those with some vision. Signage that is clear and highly visible will be helpful to all customers, and for those with no sight, alternatives such as tactile signs, Braille (though reading Braille is not by any means a universal skill amongst blind people, particularly those who have lost their sight later in life) and talking signs. The latter include a flat audio speaker in the signboard, enabling the information to be relayed in a form convenient to the visually impaired.

Automatic doors, which open as the person approaches them, make it easier to enter and leave the premises. If these are too expensive, or otherwise impractical, then another means of assistance must be offered.

Accessible toilets are another essential. As well as very clear signs to locate them, facilities should be designed to assist users with poor sight. For example, all white decor may look clean, but use of colour contrast is more helpful. In particular, doors, locks, grab rails and loo seats should all stand out clearly from their surroundings.

Simple aids, such as guides to show where the signature should go on a cheque, should be offered, to help partially sighted customers at point-of-sale. Although cheque books are not being used nearly so often now that many of us are comfortable with credit and debit cards, the customers most likely to use them are elderly, who also often have poor vision.

Virtual businesses, operating on the Internet, have the same obligations as traditional bricks and mortar establishments. Any website should be accessible for people using alternative browsers, such as screen readers, which read aloud the content. Equally, it should be possible for people with poor vision to enlarge the text, to make it more legible.

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Deaf and hearing impaired users

Image of induction loop systemTechnology has made big leaps forward, with digital hearing aids and hearing loops enabling those with hearing impairments to participate more fully. An induction loop can be installed in large spaces, such as theatres and conference rooms, or in small areas such as a bank counter. A cable encircles the area, within which sound is picked up by a microphone and is fed to a loop amplifier, which transmits the sound to a hearing aid switched to the ‘T’ setting, having filtered out any of the surrounding noise or acoustic quirks of the environment.

Of course, any alarm systems for smoke and fire should be suitable for hearing impaired customers. Bright flashing strobe alerts, combined with vibrating pads under the pillow for hotel guests, can be combined with commercial fire alarm installations.

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