Workstation adjustments for visually impaired people

Robin is Head of Digital Inclusion at AbilityNetTechnology is on hand to make working life easier for employees with visual impairments. Robin Christopherson looks at how employers can provide support.

We are spending more of our time in the workplace, at home and on the go using computers or mobile devices of some kind. For many of us, the daily routine starts with a compulsory check of our emails, the local weather report and a browse through our social media feeds on a smartphone or tablet, before we have even left the bedroom.

According to Ofcom, more than 80% of adults regularly go online on any device in any location and 62% of adults in the UK now own a smartphone. Being constantly connected to the internet means that we are spending more and more time using or interacting with a screen.

While there are many benefits to this connectivity, the pervasive use of screen-based technology could also be having a direct and negative impact on our visual health and wellbeing.

Helping employees with poor vision

Vision can be impaired in many ways, and by many different conditions, including the effects of ageing. The overuse of computer screens and long periods straining the eyes can cause a deterioration in vision, which is why many employers offer funding for eye sight tests and/or money towards glasses to their employees.

The Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) estimates that there are currently nearly two million people in the UK living with sight loss. This figure also includes around 360,000 people registered as blind or partially sighted in the UK, who have severe and irreversible sight loss. Only onethird of people with a visual impairment are in employment – or, more shockingly, 67% are unemployed, seven times more than the general population.

Historically, people affected by sight loss were either not employed or were restricted to certain types of roles, either due to people’s assumptions about what they could and could not do, or down to specialist equipment not being readily available or affordable.

Bmobiles phones are a big part of the always on societyringing your own technology to work?

The good news is that technology is now on hand to make working life easier for people with visual impairments. Not only  are more and more employers open to employees bringing their own devices to work, but some have bring your own device (BYOD) policies and procedures in place.

BYOD has many benefits for employees, especially those with a disability. Previously, you might have been assigned a standard-issue work phone (usually a Blackberry) or laptop, but those devices might not be the best choice of device for your personal settings and requirements.

Some of the more recent advances in technology have made items such as flatscreens more affordable, which means that instead of spending thousands of pounds, an employer can purchase a 40-inch flatscreen for a staff member with a visual impairment for a few hundred pounds.

More affordable flatscreens

A larger screen enables users to magnify text to a greater size and, if it is being used in combination with smart optical character recognition scanning software, then changes can be made to text layout and colour contrasts at the same time.

There is also a vast array of specialist software and equipment options available for employees with significant visual impairments. As no two people or jobs are the same, conducting an individual workplace assessment is always advisable. However, for those employees who experience mild to moderate visual impairments, there are many solutions already built in to mainstream office software products.

Five top tips for people with visual impairments

Five lesser-known hacks for people with visual impairments:

1. The mouse pointer

On Windows and Mac OS X, it is possible to change the colour and size of the mouse pointer (arrow) and the shape of the mouse pointer. A wider range of sizes and colours and high-visibility effects can be achieved with specialist software, but increasing the size is free and built in.

2. Microsoft Office features

The Microsoft Office suite of programmes has inbuilt features that may help aid visibility. You can increase the size of the buttons in the toolbars and, in Word, you can make the document window white text on a blue background regardless of Windows’ colour scheme.

3. Built-in magnification and screen-reading

Windows and Mac OS X have built in magnification and screen-reading capabilities. In Windows they are called “Windows magnifier” and “narrator”. In Mac OS X, they are “Zoom” and “VoiceOver”. Activating these features enables text to be enlarged very considerably, meaning you do not see the whole screen at any time. The view-window follows as you move the mouse or the text cursor as you type, or have text or controls spoken out.

4. Finding the text cursor

Many people find it difficult to locate the blinking vertical bar that indicates where you are typing. You can increase the size and change the appearance of the cursor in Windows XP and above, although its size only increases in MS Word and a few other programmes. A program called Mouse&Caret Buddy can help you find your mouse cursor and text caret by showing pictures next to them.

5. Configuring your web browser

All new computers come with internet browsing software already installed. Many websites are visually complex and confusing, with multiple columns and text in a strange combination of colours. All of the most common browsers can force the text to be of the size and colour that you prefer, and the background and foreground colours of the page can be whatever combination you wish.

For more information, download a copy of AbilityNet’s factsheet, Vision Impairment and Computing

This blog by Robin Christopherson was originally publsihed on Personnel Today.

Leading ‘Accessible IT’ expert recognised in New Year Honours list

Graeme Whippy has been a longstanding advocate for accessible ITGraeme Whippy one of the UK’s leading IT experts on accessible technology in the workplace has been awarded an MBE in the New Year Honours list.  With an impressive and broad-ranging career in IT, Graeme has worked for Lloyd’s Banking Group since 2001 and worked tirelessly to establish the IT Accessibility Centre of Excellence in 2005.

Graeme’s drive and determination to ensure that disabled colleagues had the right IT equipment in place put Lloyds Banking Group at the vanguard of workplace accessibility in the UK.

More recently, Graeme’s work on the Group Disability Programme at Lloyds included the set up of an innovative reasonable adjustment process for colleagues. Over 25,000 disabled employees have been supported by the workplace adjustment processes Graeme introduced.

For the last 4 years Graeme has also been the bank’s representative on the Prime Minister’s Dementia Challenge, which looks at how daily life can be improved for people with dementia.

Nigel Lewis, CEO of AbilityNet said:

“Everyone at AbilityNet is absolutely thrilled that Graeme Whippy has received an MBE for his services to disability and people with dementia. Our warmest congratulations to Graeme on his well-deserved honour.

“I have known and worked alongside Graeme for many years, he is a highly respected and trusted colleague and a fellow advocate for improving the lives of disabled people through IT.

“As 2016 gets underway, I am greatly encouraged by what Graeme’s award signifies. There is a growing realisation of how important it is to support disabled people into work and that accessible technology in the workplace is something that can enhance productivity and well-being.“



Robin Christopherson to judge global mobile tech awards

The Glomos are the highest profile global mobile industry awardsAbilityNet's Head of Digital Inclusion Robin Christopherson has been named on the judging panel for this year's Global Mobile Awards, or Glomos, the highest profile mobile Awards in the tech industry.

Robin will join a panel of independent experts to choose winners in eight categories, celebrating innovation and excellence in the use of mobile technology across business and government sectors. Winners will be announced at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona in February.

Robin is well known for his appearances at tech events across Europe and the US, where he speaks of the empowering potential of technology - especially mobile. And as a longstanding expert in accessible design it's no surprise that he will be judging the 'Best Use of Mobile for Accessibility & Inclusion'.

"This is a highly prestigious event that attracts entries from the biggest tech names on the planet and I'm honoured to be helping to pick the best of the best," said Robin. "The quality and ingenuity of the entries this year are quite breath-taking but you'll have to wait till MWC to find out who will walk away with a coveted Glomo this year."

DSAs and long term health conditions

Could you be eligible for extra help at Uni?For those with long-term health conditions, DSAs can be a lifeline, writes Jess, a sufferer of chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) who blogs about her experiences. Disabled Student Allowances (DSA) is available for students with a range of debilitating medical problems, including diabetes, cerebral palsy, fibromyalgia, epilepsy and Crohn’s disease. But how can tech help deal with the symptoms of these kinds of long term health conditions?

How computers and IT can help

When using technology, those with CFS and fibromyalgia will particularly have to factor in their pain and fatigue levels. DSA could help by providing sufferers with ergonomic equipment to improve comfort and enable longer studying periods.

A broad range of equipment can be recommended under DSAs. As well as the more obvious items such as a pc and printer it may include things like a mini-fridge and whiteboard for your room, kitchen equipment and lightweight keyboard.

Money also may be provided to cover the delivery cost of internet shopping and travel or a parking permit - useful shortcuts for saving energy. In some circumstances DSAs will cover your taxi fare if your condition prevents you from using public transport.

Felixibility to accommodate change

Some long-term health conditions are volatile in nature and need flexible solutions. Luckily, DSA accommodates this.

Jess was grateful to find that as she became increasingly disabled, the amount of funding available for her increased up to the maximum allowance. She felt able to continue studying in the knowledge that her Disability Adviser could apply for additional funding when her condition deteriorated.

She says DSAs gave her the confidence to pursue her education despite her illness.

The equipment provided for Jess helped her enormously. She was given a lightweight laptop to allow her to work from home, with software that enables anything on screen to be read out- vital on fatigue-heavy days or light-sensitive days when the screen has to be so dark that it is almost illegible.

Her ergonomic fully-adjusted chair and laptop stand mean that working for extended time periods causes as little pain as possible and her printer allows her to avoid reading on a screen. Finally, her voice recorder means she can review lectures she was too tired to engage with at the time, or missed due to illness.

Nathan is a student at the University of West England studying a BA in Business Enterprise. He has cerebral palsy, but is able to run his own website business and meet class deadlines due to extra support from DSA. He is provided with twenty hours of library time per week with a helper, to whom he can dictate his work.

More information about DSAs

Any student who is eligible for Disabled Student Allowances can be given extra support to ensure that they succeeded in their higher education. For more details check out our guide to DSAs.

How AbilityNet can help

AbilityNet’s website includes a range of blog posts explaining tips for easier computing, aimed at those with long-term health conditions such as Motor Neurone Disease, Multiple Sclerosis and Fibromyalgia amongst others.

Elastic donation will help upgrade AbilityNet expert resources

Every year AbilityNet helps hundreds of thousands of disabled people use digital technology to achieve their goals at work, at home and in education. Although thousands of people use our face-to-face services and call our free telephone helpline, our web-based resources are the number one way for people to access our expert knowledge. The support of Elastic will help us upgrade our resources and reach more people.

AbilityNet received £16,750 from the sales of tickets to the Elastic(ON) conference in londonThe AbilityNet website offers free access to our expert resources and knowledge, through factsheets, blogs, free webinars and My Computer My Way - our guide to every accessibility feature built in to every mainstream desktop computer, laptop, tablet and smartphone. As a charity we need to continually invest in these expert resources and a recent donation from Elastic will help us reach even more people.

Elastic is a fast-growing global supplier of knowledge-based technologies, used by some of the biggest businesses in the world to power a huge range of services. From live trading data used by banks to the Guardian newspaper’s live content, their tools are designed to take data from any source and search, analyse and visualise it in real time. A key part of its success is that Elastic works with a huge community of developers, who actively help grow the open source tools at the core of the Elastic services.

Nurturing this community has been a vital part its success and the Elastic team recently hit the road for a whistlestop global tour to connect with users and share knowledge. Each of the Elastic{ON} Tour conferences featured a charity partner and AbilityNet was chosen as the beneficiary for the London event. AbilityNet’s Head of Marketing Mark Walker attended the London event to accept a cheque for £16,750:

“We want to say a big thank you to Elastic for choosing AbilityNet. Not only did we receive the ticket money paid by delegates but we also had a chance to tell people about our work, learn from the case studies and network with some amazing people.”

elastic is a global leader in real data analysis and visualisation“This support will help upgrade My Computer My Way, our interactive guide to the accessibility features built into every mainstream digital device. So many people can benefit from small changes and My Computer My Way is a unique source of practical tips and advice – whether they are changing the font size in a Windows PC, setting up speech recognition on their Android smartphone or changing the speed of their mouse on a Mac. “

“Elastic is at the cutting edge of knowledge solutions so this is a great fit with our desire to share the expertise that helps disabled people harness the power of technology."

Find out more

Find out how you can help disabled people benefit from technology.

DSAs and mental health - a footnote on loneliness and disillusion

A National Union of Students (NUS) study conducted in May 2013 shows that one in five students consider themselves to have a mental health problem. New students face enormous pressure to be having the time of their lives, when many are struggling with academic, personal or peer-related issues.

After launching an investigative campaign in early December 2015 The Guardian’s student blog site received more than 200 stories from students struggling with mental health issues,. "I stay up all night crying" was a common phrase.

Support our DSA CLaim It CampaignCan mental health issues be eligible for DSAs?

According to the eligibility guidelines on, a mental health condition is considered a disability if it has a long-term effect on your normal day-to-day activity. Your condition is ‘long term’ if it lasts, or is likely to last, 12 months. In this situation, students could be eligible for DSAs, although any application for funding would require the person to present medical evidence of their condition.

What are the symptoms?

Experiencing any of the following difficulties while studying could suggest you would benefit from a DSA needs assessment:

  • Maintaining concentration and attention.
  • Side effects from medication such as drowsiness and nausea.
  • Low motivation and self-confidence.
  • Fatigue from insomnia, or oversleeping.
  • Higher levels of absence.
  • Difficulty organising your thoughts and planning your workload.
  • Worrying about or inability to start or complete assignments.
  • Intrusive thoughts and worries.
  • Difficulty participating in classes due to low mood.

How could DSAs help someone with mental issues?

If you are eligible for funding then DSAs can provide a tailored package of technology and other support to help you succeed in your studies. This could include a computer to aid study, or a printer and scanner to save travelling to the library during periods of ill health. You may find it useful to have a digital voice recorder to use in lectures and seminars to ensure you have taken in all the information.

Software may be available to assist with organising thoughts or ideas and weekly sessions with a mentor could help with stress management. In addition, your tutors will be guided (with your permission) on how to support you with different learning activities and work patterns.

For example mental health charity Mind identifies common forms of support including flexibility around absences and deadlines, adjustments to your timetable and one on one advice and support.

You can also speak to your GP or student nurse – or your student union should help point you in the direction of relevant medical professionals. They can help if you are experiencing symptoms of depression, anxiety or other problems that are interfering with your life, says Mind.

Everyone is different

The most important thing to understand is that every person’s need and course requirements are different. DSAs do not provide a checklist of solutions but will always reflect the specific circumstances and needs of each student and AbilityNet's experts can provide a one-to-one assessment to understand the issues and provide recommendations.

However the following experience of a fresher who posted on The Student Room is a good example of the mix of support which has helped him succeed:

“I have depression and anxiety and recently applied for DSAs. My recommendations include: laptop (with anti-virus and warranty lasting the duration of my course), an ergonomic pack which includes a board to raise the laptop, printer, money towards consumables , non-core textbook allowance, traditional mentoring, a post-grad mentor, 25% extra time in exams, use of the click & collect system at the library, more library assistance and the ability to extend loans, a special pen that can record lectures, money towards an internet allowance, computer software for planning essays and proofreading, a smaller room to sit exams in, and insurance for all my equipment.”

What next?

DSA changes bring uncertainty for disabled students

AbilityNet helps students in all stages of educationAbilityNet is concerned that disabled students face greater uncertainty about their ongoing studies, following the government’s recent announcement that it will restructure Disabled Students Allowances (DSAs) from 2016/17. Many disabled students rely on DSAs to level the playing field in higher education but the new plans will affect many thousands of students and put a question mark over the future of the existing scheme.

Nigel Lewis, chief executive of AbilityNet said:

“We recognise the need for the Government to spend tax-payer’s money wisely and gain the greatest return. However, these are substantial changes and we are concerned that any dissipation of support will directly have a direct impact on disabled students' success in higher education, which in turn will impact their future employment opportunities.

“It is essential that our education system is available to everyone and that there is fairness across the sector. The new plans shift the emphasis onto the individual higher education institutions, which may create a postcode lottery for disabled students if we are not careful.”

AbilityNet is a national provider of DSA assessments and works very closely with disabled students and universities across seven centres in the UK to ensure the students receive the assessment, support and adjustments they need. The changes place a greater emphasis on higher education institutions providing increased support to students under the Equality Act 2010.

Many students who have been able to claim DSAs will now not be eligible for government funding, but Student Finance will have a process for considering exceptional circumstances and awarding DSA funding where it would not ordinarily be available.

Nigel Lewis continues:

“We hope to strengthen our partnerships with the colleges and universities that our assessment centres support to ensure that there is a fair provision for disabled students wherever they choose to study.”

AbilityNet's DSA Claim It! Campaign continues

AbilityNet is running a campaign to encourage disabled students to claim their DSA during this academic year. This announcement makes it more important than ever that everyone who is eligoble claims the extra support they are enttiled to. For more information on how to support the campaign visit:

For further information about this story please contact Catherine Grinyer on 07713 248387 or email:

AbilityNet and Clear Talents win diversity awards

AbilityNet and Clear Talents have been recognised for their commitment to engaging with disabled jobseekers at this year’s Recruitment Industry Disability Industry (RIDI) Awards. The partnership beat off stiff competition to take home the awards for three categories: Employers Choice, Technology for Inclusion and Reasonable Adjustments in Recruitment.

AbilityNet was a winner in at this year's RIDI AwardsNow in their second year, the RIDI Awards celebrate progress and recognise the success of organisations that are making headway in increasing the inclusion of disabled professionals. The rigorous judging process was conducted by a panel, which included senior representatives from organisations including E.ON, Eversheds, the Civil Service and HMRC. 

Commenting on the win, Dennis Dearden, Sales & Marketing Director, AbilityNet said:

“We are delighted to win the RIDI Awards for Employers Choice, Technology for Inclusion and Reasonable Adjustments in Recruitment. Our partnership with Clear Talents is based on a mutual vision for using accessible technology to promote the greater inclusion of disabled people in employment.

"Together we have developed a tool that de-mystifies reasonable adjustments for recruiters and employers and boosts the confidence of disabled job-seekers in sharing relevant information at every stage of the process."

Congratulating the partnership of AbilityNet and Clear Talents on scooping three awards, Kate Headley, Chair of RIDI’s judging panel and Development Director at The Clear Company, commented: 

“The standard and volume of entries this year was absolutely phenomenal. I think I speak for the entire panel when I say that picking winners from the broad array of quality submissions was incredibly difficult and caused much deliberation.

"Those that took home awards should be suitably proud of their efforts and the three-times winning partnership of AbilityNet and Clear Talents demonstrated real progress in removing barriers to the employment of disabled people. I’m sure that their example will inspire other organisations to focus on their own strategies to boost the diversity of talent.”

View a full list of winners on the Ridi Awards website.

ClearTalentsOnDemand provides a free personalised report identifying Reasonable Adjustments.

Back to the Future: enabling technology 30 years on

Thirty years ago Marty McFly travelled ‘Back to the Future’ in the 1985 classic film and encountered a world of futuristic technology. The exact date he travelled back, 21 October 2015 has just passed, so I thought it would look at how much of what Marty McFly and Doc encountered in the film has come true, and whether or not there is a similar technology benefitting disabled people today.

Back to the Future? It's 2015!Flat screen TVs

Obviously these are everywhere nowadays in all sizes and in high definition and 3D. While displaying a better picture and being more aesthetically pleasing than the old-style of TV, flat screens are particularly useful for those with a visual impairment who need larger screens for scale.

Artificial Intelligence (AI)

In the film McFly and his pals talked to different household devices. Today we have Siri and Cortana and we can ‘ask Google’ to complete various tasks for us. Voice-activated technology is very useful for disabled people, particularly those with a visual impairment or conditions such as arthritis.

Thumbprint door locks on the front door to the house.

We have Touch ID on our smartphones and face recognition software on Facebook photos. Biometric technology really helps people with learning disabilities easily unlock or authorise access, when otherwise they would need to deal with inaccessible CAPTCHAs or remember long, complicated passwords.


Doc says in the film that he thinks Biff’s brain implants have gone wrong. Today we have bionic arms controlled by thoughts, bionic exoskeletons and even artificial skin covering artificial limbs that can send sense signals to the brain.

Holograms, shown in the “Jaws 19” advert

We have Microsoft’s HoloLens device which creates high-definition holograms, which could be helpful for people with learning disabilities, providing a clear visual representation. There are also many different augmented reality goggles. For blind and visually impaired people this technology can help to give us directions in our field of view, or it can enable surgeons perform better operations.

Flying cars

Not quite a reality but the TF-X is in development, which is pretty close and estimated to only take around 10 years to go into production. We do have autonomous cars (cars that drive themselves), which offer obvious benefits for disabled people who for whatever reason cannot drive a standard manually operated car even with adaptations.

Hover boards

Finally I couldn’t resist mentioning the hover boards. The most iconic and memorable technology in ‘Back to the Future’, they are not actually currently in production anywhere, although there are a couple of prototypes doing the rounds. There’s not really an assistive technology angle to a hover board that I can think of, but perhaps once they are here, there will be a life-changing benefit for someone.

In tribute to one of my favourite films, I’ll end with the wise words of Marty McFly, “I guess you guys aren't ready for that yet. But your kids are gonna love it.”

How Boyzone's Shane uses voice control to overcome his Dyslexia

Shane Lynch of Boyzone uses the voice controls built into his phone so that he can join the world of social media. As he explains in our interview with him, his dyslexia means he struggles with reading and writing, so for a long time had shied away from Twitter, facebook or any other social media platform. But now, with the right technology in his hands, he's sending and receiving messages with family, friends and fans. 

Shane is sharing his story to show support for our DSA Claim It Campaign - raising awareness of the extra funding that UK students can claim to help them succeed in education.

Lots of people don't know they are eligible for Disabled Students' Allowances, which can be worth thousands of pounds in extra support. They may not think of themselves as disabled, or don't realise the impact that things like voice control can have on their ability to study and achive their full potential. As Shane says, it can change your life!

Use our website to find out more about who is eligible claim DSA, what they can claim and how to start the process.