Accommodating for Vision ConcernsMay 18, 2023
Many of the everyday activities we take for granted, such as watching TV, reading, driving, and working, present difficulties for those with visual dysfunction. An estimated 1.5 million Canadians identify themselves as having sight loss, and another 5.5 million more have an eye disease that could cause sight loss.1
Just like going to the dentist for regular cleanings, it’s important to go to the optometrist for regular eye exams. One of the main reasons people don’t get regular eye exams is because they think that if there were something wrong with their eyes, they would know it. This isn’t always the case – you don’t necessarily need to have blurred vision or constant headaches to need to check in with your optometrist. Eye exams should occur annually – with even more importance as you age. Of course, eye exams are known for detecting your visual capabilities and will determine if you need glasses to see properly or to fix astigmatism, but eye exams can also provide early detection for several diseases, such as cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, and rheumatoid arthritis.
Being proactive in keeping your eyes healthy can help save your vision in the long run. Some eye conditions, however, are unavoidable, and eye injuries can occur for employees in any profession, either on or off the job. If an employee is experiencing functional difficulties in completing work tasks due to vision concerns, they should be assessed by an Occupational Therapist to determine possible accommodation strategies. The goal of implementing these strategies is to help reduce how hard the brain has to work to take in information and ultimately increase the tolerance for tasks.
Visual impairment is vision loss of a person to such a degree that it cannot by corrected by conventional means, such as refractive correction or medication. There are different levels of impairment that will require different strategies to support optimal function in the workplace.
- Partially sighted indicates some type of visual problem; low vision generally refers to a severe visual impairment, not necessarily limited to distance vision.
- Low vision applies to all individuals with sight who are unable to read the newspaper at a normal viewing distance, even with the aid of eyeglasses or contact lenses.
- Legally blind indicates that a person has less than 20/200 vision in the better eye after best correction (contact lenses or glasses), or a field of vision of less than 20 degrees in the better eye.
Common conditions that cause visual impairment:
- Computer vision syndrome
Computer vision syndrome, or digital eye strain, afflicts those who use computers or screens for long periods of time. It can cause significant pain and discomfort, including symptoms such as headaches, blurred vision, dry and itchy eyes, back aches, and muscle fatigue. Symptom aggravators include glare from computer screens, poor lighting, improper viewing distances, poor posture, and uncorrected vision problems.
Assessing the Employee
A comprehensive assessment of an employee’s physical, visual, cognitive, and behavioural capabilities can determine their fitness for work. Through visual ergonomics, Occupational Therapists can help optimize visual function in the workplace by modifying the physical environment, work processes, and/or workstation to match the ability of the employee’s eyes. An ergonomic assessment can also help ensure the employee is practicing healthy and safe eye protocols. An accommodation assessment or Visual Demands Analysis can help determine the gap between job demands and worker abilities, as well as what tools and workplace changes are necessary to assist an employee with specific visual needs.
Accommodation Strategies for Vision Concerns
When determining the best accommodations for those with vision impairments, consider the following:
- Visual acuity – The ability of the eyes to distinguish shapes and details at a distance. Consider the size of the object/font, distance to the task, ability for magnification, and lighting.
- Contrast - Makes use of your eyes' ability to distinguish objects and their surroundings based on differences in brightness or colour, rather than shape or location. Consider placing light objects against dark backgrounds or dark objects against light backgrounds for high contrast.
- Depth perception – The ability to judge how far away an object is. Consider creating cues to indicate distance, such as colour.
- Visual field – The total area in which objects can be seen in the peripheral vision. Consider the placement of objects so that they within the field of vision.
- Colour discrimination – The ability to distinguish between colours. Consider using alternative signals to colours in your signage or use easily distinguishable colours with high contrast.
- Lighting – Position lighting so that it is aimed at what you want to see and away from your eyes. Consider adding extra light in dim areas and using window coverings to adjust natural light.
- Work environment – Keep the work area free of tripping hazards. Arrange your furniture so it doesn't stick out into areas where you need to walk. Keep your workstation and computer clean and organized to reduce visual overload.
These low-tech devices are relatively easy to learn and use and may help with performing day-to-day activities:
- Handheld and stand magnifiers that are either non-illuminated or illuminated
- Reading glasses, sunglasses, or prism glasses
- Talking clocks and watches
- Colour identifiers and large-print labels
- Large print keyboard
- Text-to-speech apps, such as Siri on the iPhone
- Paint/signs with high contrast
- Screen anti-glare filters
These high-tech items may require minimal to extensive training and practice, but most people can get the hang of them with help from specialists:
- Specialized glasses (such as headmounted electronic glasses)
- Closed-circuit televisions (CCTVs)
- Computer screen magnification software, computer screen readers, and digital talking book players, such as DAISY, ZoomText, JAWS, Read & Write Gold, etc.
- Large screens
What Can Employees Do?
Here are some strategies that employees can use to maintain their vision health:
- Take breaks when doing tasks that rely on vision. Follow the 20/20/20 rule: every 20 minutes look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds.
- Reduce glare on your computer screen by making changes to your physical environment (adjusting your monitor, closing the curtains) or by using non-glare filters on your screen.
- Apply proper ergonomics to your workstation. Set your screen within arm’s reach and make sure the top of the screen falls in line with your eyebrow. This will ensure that you are the proper viewing distance from your screen and will help you avoid eye and body strain.
- Use magnifying devices to increase the size of text or increase the font size on your screen.
- Use eye drops to keep your eyes moist, at the discretion of a healthcare professional.
- Reduce visual overload on your screen and in your physical environment.
- Protect your eyes with goggles, safety glasses, or your regular prescription glasses.
How Can Gowan Consulting Help?
If employees are having visual complications and it is impacting their ability to succeed in the workplace, Gowan Consulting can help! Our Occupational Therapists can help employees who have visual impairment perform their work duties by making changes to the workstation or environment or with tools and other accommodations. These solutions can be put in place after a comprehensive assessment of the work, workplace, and employee.
If you need an optometrist or low-vision specialist with the expertise to do a comprehensive assessment of an employee’s vision, Gowan Consulting will connect you with a qualified specialist who can determine an individual’s visual ability in relation to a job’s requirements. To ensure a healthy fit for employees working in more visually demanding positions, such as technology, quality, inspection, or precision manufacturing, Gowan Consulting can develop a preplacement vision screening process.
Make a referral or contact us to learn more about what we can do to help employees with visual impairment.
 CNIB. Blindness in Canada. (n.d.). https://www.cnib.ca/en/sight-loss-info/blindness/blindness-canada?region=on