In the United States more than 4 million adults and nearly 3% of children 18 and younger are blind or have a vision impairment that cannot be corrected by glasses or contacts. “Vision disability is one of the top 10 disabilities among adults 18 years and older and one of the most prevalent disabling conditions among children.” (CDC) With blindness, deaf-blindness, and low vision being so prevalent, it is important to ensure that those with a vision disability have equal access to health care information and facilities. Thirty years ago the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed by President Bush and was created to protect the rights of individuals who have a “physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a person who has a history or record of such an impairment, or a person who is perceived by others as having such an impairment.” (ADA)
How can you assure health care information is accessible to patients who are blind, deaf-blind, or have low vision? Since not everyone who is blind or has a vision impairment will prefer the same method of communication, the first step is asking the patient what their preferred method is for receiving information and health care related communications. The options may include; large print, braille, read by a qualified reader, or electronic to be used with a screen magnifier or reader. It is important to note that the accessibility of forms and communications is not just applicable to patients, but also to the caretaker or guardian of a patient who may be blind or have a vision impairment. For example, a patient who is a minor and has no vision impairment may have a parent or guardian who is blind or vision impaired. Documents, forms, and health care related information must be made accessible for the parent or guardian.
Training your staff, especially those who will be the first to connect with a new patient, is key in providing equal and accessible health care to all your patients. Help them to understand the difference in the terms blind, legally blind, and low vision. Make them aware of the different options for communications and information. Have on hand accessible forms or someone who is qualified to read and assist in completing the forms for your patients.
How accessible is your health care facility? Did you know that service animals can accompany a person who is blind or visually impaired to their appointment? Are exits, bathrooms, stairways, and offices labeled accurately and with braille signage? Have you confirmed that there are no hazards or blocked pathways and that all walkways will be easily maneuverable for someone using a service dog or cane? Evaluating your facility, implementing policies and procedures, and providing adequate and on-going training with staff will ensure your facility and health care related information is accessible to all your patients.
If you are looking for ways to make your office and health care more accessible for your patients, here are a few resources you may find helpful: