2001 Conference Proceedings
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The Ergonomics of Accommodating Persons with Low Vision
Department of Defense
Computer/Electronic Accommodations Program
The Department of Defense (DoD) established the
Computer/Electronic Accommodations Program, (CAP), in 1990, to
provide accommodation technology to employees with dexterity,
hearing, cognitive and visual disabilities. Now, ten years later,
CAP has expanded to provide services to other small federal
agencies. Using appropriate assistive technology that complements
their skills and abilities, employees can perform additional
assignments or perform currently required tasks more efficiently.
Also by providing accommodations, CAP assists federal agencies in
complying with the federal regulations requiring computer and
telecommunications systems to be accessible.
The following addresses accommodating persons with visual
disabilities, including assessing their ergonomic needs:
CAP services persons with visual disabilities by providing the
assistive technology which best meets the needs of the individual
CAP provides Assistive technology that:
- generates verbal or Braille output
- produces screen magnification
- displays magnified printed materials from hard copy
Determining the most appropriate accommodation
Most persons who are considered blind have some usable vision.
Therefore, most accommodation assessments will involve how much
that vision can be used to perform efficiently. In addition, the
assessment includes positioning of the equipment and how the
individual sits while using magnification enhancements.
If the vision is not useful for performing job functions, then
speech or Braille would be appropriate accommodations to explore.
However, when vision is assessed for its usefulness, one must
take into consideration the efficiency with which the vision is
used. If magnification equipment is being considered, the
individual with low vision must look at each option being
explored and consider body positioning with each option.
Before examining the various technology solutions available,
look at the essential job requirements and determine what skills
and abilities are needed to accomplish the job requirements.
Also, look at the physical surroundings and furniture available
to the person holding the job. When these job and physical
environment factors are known, then explore the alternatives as
Explore alternatives used by low vision or blind persons to
perform the identified functions and access the electronic
- To research available alternatives: Talk to: the person to be
accommodated, the supervisor and the CAP office. Also, other
resources may include the state rehabilitation office, vendors of
assistive technology and other persons using similar assistive
- To assess appropriate accommodation equipment: Once the
alternatives are identified, assess which one is best suited to
the individual being accommodated.
When assessing monitor use, answer
When answers to these questions are completed, there will be a
pretty clear picture of how monitor size effects the individual's
productivity. A larger monitor may be the answer or speech output
may be considered, or a combination of magnification with speech
output may be the solution depending on how long the individual
reads free from eye fatigue or headaches, reading speed, etc. The
most important concept in using accommodation equipment is
increased productivity and efficiency. That efficiency also
includes how comfortable the individual can sit and work. The
body must be positioned so that feet are flat on the floor and
the back against the chair for support. Legs are straight.
Leaning forward and holding the face close to the screen with no
support causes back, neck and arm strain leading to ergonomic as
well as the visual disability. The fatigue factor is increased
with poor ergonomic alignment.
- How close does the individual's face get to a 14 inch
- How close does the individual's face get to a 15 or 17 inch
- Does the individual lean over the keyboard to see the
- Does the individual have difficulty seeing specific
characters on the screen? If seeing specific characters is
difficult, identify which ones are difficult to see.
- Does the individual have difficulty seeing specific color
combinations? name them.
- How quickly does the individual read the data in a word
processor? (check the number which comes closest to the
individual's reading speed)
- 150 words per minute (wpm) 100 wpm; 50 wpm; 15;
- Does the individual have difficulty finding the mouse
pointer? y-- n--
- How long does the individual read the computer monitor
without eye pain or headaches? (identify the time frame which
best suits the individual's situation)
- all day; four to six hours; two to five hours; one to three
hours; less than one hour.
- Has the individual experimented with the font size which can
be changed from within the operating system of the computer? If
yes, what font size has worked for the individual?
- How does black print on a white background work for the
individual? Is a reversed color contrast better (white print on a
- Does the individual lean over the keyboard, holding his face
close to the monitor, thus sitting on the edge of the chair?
When assessing use of print magnification, answer the following:
If the individual answers yes to most of these questions, then a
screen magnification application may be the correct accommodation
tool for the individual. If this doesn't work, then we can
explore other alternatives and find the right solution.
Select the accommodation option which affords the individual
being accommodated optimal use of his/her skills and abilities,
is compatible with the electronic environment in which the job is
done and ergonomic factors which are now part of the
Technology which can be considered when accommodating persons
with low vision may include:
- How far is the individual from the screen with varying font
sizes? Try several different font sizes in the demonstration
magnification application, and note if any are read with ease
from specific distances.
- What is the individual's reading speed with the varying font
sizes? Note reading speed with each font size selected.
- Can the individual increase reading time without fatigue or
headaches? Note if the time the individual can read comfortably
increases with a larger font size selected from the demonstration
- Did the individual select a color combination that made
viewing the screen easier?
- Did the individual find a mouse pointer shape and/or color
which made it easier to keep track of the mouse pointer? Here
too, observe how the individual sits and moves while working with
the magnification products. Note placement of head back, arms and
where the individual sits on the chair.
These ergonomic issues are raised here as, too often, the focus
is on assuring the individual has the right technology to use his
low vision. The cost of inappropriate posture and equipment
positioning is rarely addressed. By addressing both issues, the
individual with low vision can work most efficiently.
- A variety of closed circuit television (cctv); these are
available in color or black'n'white, stand alone or connected to
a computer. They are desktop or portable. The cctv is selected
according to the individual's job requirements and visual needs.
For example, an employee who travels doing audits may require a
light weight portable unit, while someone who works at a
workstation everyday would use the desktop model.
- Magnification applications are available as software,
hardware, can magnify only or contain some speech output
- Ergonomic solutions are varied also. An individual using a
computer monitor and needing to look closely, would require a
monitor extension so the monitor could be brought closer to his
face, eliminating the need to strain the neck and back by leaning
into the monitor. However, the size of the monitor is important
as one does not want to have to constantly move back and forth
looking from side to side causing additional neck and shoulder
strain. A 21 inch monitor is the biggest recommended.
- Use of large letter keyboard labels eliminates the need to
hunch down into the keyboard to see the characters on the keys.
Those who are not touch typists will attempt to see the keys at a
heavy ergonomic cost. The large letter keytops are available in
several contrasting colors. Positioning of the equipment is vital
to a correct ergonomic work environment. For example, the monitor
of a cctv is to be at the proper level, just below eye level. Too
often the user is seen looking up into the monitor to read. This
position causes neck and shoulder strain and users say they go
home tired from the strain. To eliminate the cctv monitor from
being too high, place the camera and monitor on a lower
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