Standard 1.2 of our Business Standards is about ensuring that patient care is delivered in a suitable environment. An important part of this is providing an accessible care environment in line with current equalities legislation.
As part of International Day of People with Disabilities, we asked Helen Aluko-Olokun, Policy Business Partner (Services and Built Environment), at Guide Dogs about what steps optical businesses can take to ensure an accessible environment for blind and partially sighted patients.
Most blind and partially sighted people, before they embark on a journey, will generally go online or gather information about where they are going and how easy it is to get to that place. So, providing information about the location, the nearest train station, taxi information so that they know they can get there easily is vital.
They will generally research unless they are going with someone. But what we, at Guide Dogs, try to do is to promote independence and not let people rely on someone taking them out.
Clear entrances and routes
To be able to identify where to get into the premises is vital so businesses need to ensure they have good signage and a clear indication of where the entrance is. Once the person is inside, you need to have clear routes to reception so that, as soon as a person gets there, they can get to the information desk as easily and independently as possible. If it’s not as accessible, it’s important that there is a member of staff available to support that person so that they can orientate the environment easily.
This also applies to consultation and waiting rooms – they should be clear of obstructions, especially for people with a long cane or a guide dog. The rooms should have enough space for the guide dog owner to go in with their dog and have a place where the dog can lie quietly. The dog should be allowed to go into the consultation room as the owner will feel more relaxed.
Layout is important and part of this is looking at colour and tonal contrast. For blind or partially sighted people, things need to contrast well so they can identify physical obstacles in their way. So, it’s important to ensure the premises are not all one colour, like white, as people may walk on and bump into things.
You should also make sure there isn’t too much glass or shiny reflective surfaces as they can be disorientating. And businesses should also consider the type of lighting they use because, for a blind person, if it’s spotlights, it looks like there are pools of light and dark on the floor and they can think there is a hole ahead of them or that they are going to step on something. More uniform lighting helps with identifying areas.
If there are many reflective surfaces this can also affect the sound and it impairs on how people hear, and it becomes very echoey. Considering that people are relying on their hearing rather than their visuals, their hearing is more pronounced and so this can cause issues.
Design is another way to help navigation and you may design the circulatory routes differently to how you would design other spaces like the waiting area, or reception area and have that consistent throughout the premises. For example, you may have one area tiled and another area carpeted.
The percentage of totally blind people is far less than we think. Most people have some residual vision and colours and the time of the day can affect how much they can see. So, it’s really important that when you do signage, it is clear. If you can provide tactile signage, that would be a plus point. For instance, en route to the consultation rooms, the blind or partially sighted person should be able to identify the consultation rooms or toilet facilities by using embossed signage. If you’ve got lifts in the building, it’s important to make sure that they are accessible and have audible information and good contrasting features.
There are different ways you can communicate with different vulnerable groups and I would recommend providing disability awareness training for all business staff. It’s about explaining things clearly, for example “to the left”, “we are going through a corridor” or “the corridor door is opening towards you or is opening away from you.” And it’s also knowing how to offer your arm and ask people how they would like to be guided or if they want you to walk ahead. For instance, if they are a guide dog owner, they will tell their guide dog to follow you and then the person will be led by their dog. Effective communication and giving people comfort and assurance is really important.
Lastly, allow extra time for people who are blind or visually impaired, whether they are there for themselves or accompanying someone else, and find out how they would like to be communicated with and in what format in their follow up.
About Guide Dogs
Guide Dogs exists to provide life-changing services to the 360,000 people who are registered blind or partially sighted, and the two million people in the UK living with sight loss. The charity provides a range of services with and beyond the dog to help thousands of people with different needs lead confident, independent and fulfilling lives.