Faith CoLab: Tapestry of Faith: Principled Commitment: An Adult Program on Building Strong Relationships

Leader Resource 6: Welcoming Participants Who Are Blind Or Have Low Vision

Many people who are called "blind" have some vision. Some people may be able to read large print and move about without use of a white cane or guide dog in many or all situations, may be able to perceive light and darkness, and perhaps see some colors. Some people may have better vision one day than another, or see better in certain lighting conditions.

People who have low vision or are blind employ different techniques to do things, according to their preferences, skills, and needs. For example, to access printed material, some people may use Braille; others may use large print, magnifiers and telescopes, closed-circuit TVs, computer-generated text-to-voice, or audio-publications on tape or CD.

Remember, each person is unique, whether or not they are blind or have vision problems. Therefore, it is impossible to make universal statements about what will enable us all, in our diversity, to be welcomed and be able to fully participate. The following suggestions can assist you in making your workshops more welcoming, but is with all reciprocal relationships, it is always important and appropriate to ask your individual participants what will help them feel most included.

Reading and Writing

  • Ensure participants' access to handouts by learning about their preferences. Do they need large print? What font and how large? Would they like audio versions? Would they like a digital version for their computer? See the guidelines at the end of this leader resource for instructions on creating accessible handouts.
  • Offer large print and/or Braille editions of Singing the Living Tradition, the hymnbook which is used in many of Principled Commitment's workshops. Such editions are available from inSpirit: The UU Book and Gift Shop. An electronic version of the hymnbook (that the person can listen to or use on a laptop) can be sent as a Microsoft Word e-mail attachment simply by contacting
  • When writing on newsprint, use bold dark-colored markers (black or dark blue) for high contrast and visual ease. Refrain from using red, green, yellow, or pink markers.
  • If you are using PowerPoint slides, refrain from visually "busy" backgrounds. Use black or dark-blue text on a light-colored background and select an easy-to-read font such as Arial.

Personal Suggestions

  • Ask participant who are blind or have low vision where they would like to sit. Ask other people to move if the best position for that person is already taken.
  • Do not take care of tasks for a person that s/he would normally do. First ask if s/he wants assistance, then offer to help, and be guided by the person's response to your offer.
  • If you see someone about to encounter a dangerous situation, be calm and clear about your warning. For example, if s/he is about to bump into a pole, calmly and clearly call out, "Wait there for a moment; there is a pole in front of you."
  • Never touch a blind person unexpectedly; never, ever, grab a person's arm or cane without permission.
  • Do not hold a person's arm while walking. Let the person hold your arm. This will let him/her walk slightly behind you, and the motion of your body will tell him/her what to expect. Offer verbal cues as to what is ahead when you approach steps, curbs, escalators, or doors.
  • Never distract, pet, or offer food to a guide dog without permission. The dog is working.

Environmental Suggestions

  • Eliminate tripping hazards, such as clutter or unexpected objects, in the classroom and in the hallways leading to it.
  • Meet in a well-lit room with no glare or dark areas.

Communication Suggestions

  • When you are greeting a person who is blind or visually impaired, use his/her name and don't forget to identify yourself. For example, "Hi Sam, it's Joe."
  • In discussions, ask participants to identify themselves by name before they speak, especially toward the beginning of the program when participants are just getting to know one another's faces and voices.
  • When brainstorming or writing on newsprint, have one person write on the newsprint while a second person (facing the group) voices what is being written.
  • Speak directly, not through an intermediary. Use a natural conversational volume and tone.
  • It is really okay to use say things like "See you soon." Feel comfortable using everyday words relating to vision like "look", "see", "watching TV".
  • During a conversation, give verbal feedback to let the speaker know you're listening. For example, instead of nodding your head, say "sure" or "uh-huh."
  • When you leave, say you are leaving. If you are leaving a person who is blind or severely visually impaired in an open area, ask if s/he would like assistance to go to the side of a room, to a chair, or some landmark.

Hints to Help Create Larger/Clearer Print Documents

Paper and ink. Use matte non-glossy paper, either white or pastel color. Some people with low vision prefer yellow paper. Use black or dark blue ink.

Font. Use 14 or 16 point Arial. Do not underline and avoid using capital letters in blocks of text because they are harder to read. Do use them in headlines or in single words to emphasize them. Avoid using italics because they are harder to read. In general, use bold letters to emphasize words.

Numbers. Numbers 3, 5, 6 and 8 are hard to read. Where you can, spell out the number like "the meeting will begin at eight o'clock."

Spacing. Left justified text is clearer. Center text for titles and headings. Don't squeeze or stretch text. Don't right justify even if you are using two columns. Leave enough space between columns so that people don't read across the whole page.

Design. Keep it simple and uncluttered. Avoid wrapping text around a graphic when it produces an uneven left hand edge. Make the margins smaller to fit more text in. Avoid double-sided printing if it leaves a gray shadow on the paper's other side.

Paragraphs. Instead of indenting, leave a line space between paragraphs.

Page numbers and symbols. Page numbers, headers, and footers, should be the same font size as the rest of the text. If you are providing both large and smaller print versions, it may be helpful to indicate the print page (pp) as well. Keep brackets, parentheses, colons, dashes, slashes, etc. to a minimum.

Hasty larger print documents. Changing font size on your computer is simple. Also, if you need to, large print copies can be made on your copy machine by enlarging 8.5 x 11-inch documents to 11 x 17-inch paper. But this is not ideal because the larger paper is difficult to handle and it focuses on a person's disability. It often does work though. Enlarge approximately 135-150 percent depending on your margins. Try a page to make sure you are not losing any text on the edges.

Hints for Creating Electronic Versions of Handouts

Many people who are blind or who have low vision rely on their computer's text-to-speech features to read printed documents. You can e-mail electronic versions of handouts to participants who request them, you can share a Microsoft Word version of the handout on compact disc, or you can give participants a link to the Principled Commitment web page that contains the handout.

Note that most participants will not have their computers with them during the workshop, so this option works only for handouts that are not completed or engaged during the workshop.

Hints for Creating Audio Versions of Handouts

Many people who are blind or visually impaired are accustomed to listening to recorded texts. Offering audio versions of handouts can reach the widest range of blind or visually impaired readers. Blind or visually impaired people are likely to have access to audio cassette, compact disc, or mp3 players. Ask your participants which format is best for them.

You can record audio versions of handouts as well as each week's Taking It Home for participants. Record in a clear, pleasant voice with a good microphone and little background noise.

If a handout is to be read during a workshop, rather than after, you can offer it for in-class listening (with headphones). Alternately, you or a participant may read the handout aloud.

For more information, see adapted from A Guide to Making Documents Accessible to People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired from the National Federation of the Blind.