2001 Conference Proceedings

Go to previous article 
Go to next article 
Return to 2001 Table of Contents

The Ergonomics of Accommodating Persons with Low Vision

Seville Allen
Program Analyst
Department of Defense
Computer/Electronic Accommodations Program
Phone: 703-681-8812
Fax: 703-681-9075
e-mail: sevelia.allen@tma.osd.mil

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 being accommodated.

CAP provides Assistive technology that:

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 follows:

Explore alternatives used by low vision or blind persons to perform the identified functions and access the electronic environment:
  1. 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 technology.
  2. To assess appropriate accommodation equipment: Once the alternatives are identified, assess which one is best suited to the individual being accommodated.
  3. When assessing monitor use, answer the following: 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.

    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.
  4. 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 accommodation process.
Technology which can be considered when accommodating persons with low vision may include: 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.

Go to previous article 
Go to next article 
Return to 2001 Table of Contents 
Return to Table of Proceedings

Reprinted with author(s) permission. Author(s) retain copyright.