Making Meetings Accessible for Folks with Challenged Sight.

A new stream of consciousness by Blogger Ineke Poultney

So you have decided to hold a conference or have a meeting???  Great.  You have decided what topics you are going to cover, as well as making sure everything is Health & Safety compliant???  In that case, you are good to go, aren’t you???

Actually, chances are you have forgotten about people like me – those of us with sight problems which are not immediately obvious.  Don’t worry – we are easily overlooked.

The aim of this guide is to help you help me (and people like me) to get as much out of your conference/meeting as someone with “normal” sight.

Just because I have a pair of glasses on my nose you cannot assume I can see what everybody else can see.

I have a combination of three sight problems which have more of an impact on me than might first appear obvious;

I am seriously shortsighted (as in I am closer to blind than 20/20 vision).  My glasses do help me see, however, not to 20/20 vision standards.

The second problem is Photophobia- my eyes are extremely sensitive to bright lights.

On the flip side of that I cannot see in the dark.

So – how can you help me to get as much out of the meeting as the rest of the people attending???

When you did your Health & Safety check did you check for things like lighting, hidden steps, gaps between furniture???  Or are you expecting me to sit in a dimly lit room which is cluttered with furniture that I may trip over as I head for my seat???

Put it this way – I would rather focus on your performance than spend time worrying about how to get out of the venue once I am in it.

By all means – dim the lights during your talk or presentation (if you must) but I would like a reasonably lit space where I can see where I am going as I head for my seat.  This is especially important if you expect me to carry drinks or trays to my seat.

Now we come to the event itself (and it’s leader/speakers).

Have you printed copies of any slides you may show for those of us who cannot see the Projection Screen???  Are they available at the entrance and easy for me to pick up as I walk in???  If not, I am not going to be very happy.

(I will talk more about the Projection Screen as we go on.)

Next thing is – what are you wearing?

Sounds crazy I know but what you wear can have an impact on me.

For example, that freshly laundered, crisply ironed, bright white shirt may well make you look smart.  However, nine times out of ten I will not like you for wearing it.  In certain lighting conditions, white shirts dazzle me and distract me.  Unless you would really like to boil in a jumper or a jacket, try to find a tinted shirt – I couldn’t care less what colour the tint is – as long as it is not white (or black).

Next we come to the talk itself.

Your PowerPoint presentation may work for the rest of the population but do you mind if I tweak it a little???

Ideally, I am looking for as little white space as possible (unless you would like me to leave feeling as though I have been forced to focus on a car headlight set on “dazzle” during your entire talk).

This does not mean you can fill the background with patterns – or clutter the slides up with writing.  Nor does it mean you can use any old colour for your text.

A handy trick to remember is my eyes will shrink text which is backlit by at least 2 point.  So, ideally, you are looking for a text size of at least 16 point (depending on the font you are using).

Another tip about text is only use the colour red if you do not want me to do something – namely read what you have written for a start.  Red writing of any description or thickness just gives me a headache.  (Of course, there are other colours which affect other people (those with colourblindness for example.)

Oh – and if you wish to record your event for posterity – I have another request for you.  Please provide seating where the roaming photographer is warned away from.  Either that or (even better – particularly when it is dark) ban flash photography completely.  Camera flashes can (and will) distract me unless they are directly behind me.

If you follow the above guidelines you will make your event comfortable for me to attend and I will get as much out of it as the rest of the people attending.

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