Are your services accessible to the visually impaired?

01 December 2021
3 min read
Published:

Diane Rochford, president of the BSDHT, asks you to consider whether your practice is accessible. 

In recent years, it’s become clear that more needs to be done to ensure that patients with certain disabilities are able to receive the attention and high-quality care that they deserve. Visually impaired patients, for instance, continue to face certain barriers when it comes to receiving dental treatment. Many dental practices and services aren’t equipped to specifically cater to these patients, which can result in individuals feeling isolated, uncomfortable and avoiding dental care altogether.

January 4 is World Braille Day – an event that not only gives us the chance to appreciate the creation of braille and what this means for visually-impaired individuals, but also the opportunity to assess our own services and see if there is anything that we can do in order to make our care more accessible for visually-impaired patients.

What is braille?
Created by Louis Braille, braille is a unique code that allows visually impaired individuals to read and write independently. A common misconception about braille is that it is a language – rather, it is a code that effectively replaces letters with certain combinations of raised dots and spaces.

As well as traditional words, braille can be used to write music, solve mathematical equations and create scientific notations – the code is so diverse that it can effectively mirror anything that the traditional written word can create, helping visually-impaired people to access important information, remain creative and more.

It’s thought that over 30,000 people in the UK are braille users,[i] and this number is only likely to increase as more and more designers incorporate braille into projects, helping to boost accessibility across numerous areas. Indeed, even a viewing platform in Naples has incorporated braille into the railing overlooking the view so that even those without full sight could enjoy the splendour of the city below.[ii]

So, with braille being such a useful tool, how can we incorporate this into how we care for visually impaired patients?

Accessibility is everything
In our profession, written material still holds a lot of power. Patient leaflets are an excellent way to communicate certain information. Whilst oral explanations are good, it really pays to have physical material available for patients to take away so that they can digest the details in their own time.

Have you considered looking at braille materials for patients? There are a number of braille leaflets available for the dental profession, so investing in these is a good way to help make your services more inclusive for these patients.

Braille aside, it’s also necessary to consider whether your services are accessible on a wider scale. Nowadays, the vast majority of visually impaired people are independent and don’t have any need for a sighted person as an escort. As such, their first appointment can be very daunting, especially as it will take them time to orient themselves. Reception staff should be trained to offer assistance to these individuals when they arrive in practice, but it’s also a good idea to ask any visually impaired patients whether they would like any audio-descriptive assistance during their appointment.

We should address the patient by name when they arrive, as this helps them to recognise our voice and form familiarity over time. Signals are important too – replace hand signals by explaining the processes orally and get them to demonstrate their stop signals before treatment, so that they are fully aware of what they have to do if they require a break or want treatment to cease.

Small changes can make the world of difference
Ultimately, we as professionals should be doing everything in our power to ensure that visually impaired patients can access our care just like everybody else. By speaking to our teams, investing in braille materials and taking a few extra steps to be welcoming and inclusive, we can ensure that visually impaired individuals feel welcome, at ease and in control of their oral health moving forward.

For more information about the BSDHT call 01788 575050, email enquiries@bsdht.org.uk

or visit www.bsdht.org.uk

[i] Sightsavers. Braille In The Spotlight. Link: https://www.sightsavers.org/perspectives/2018/04/braille-in-the-spotlight/ [Last accessed October 21].

[ii] Euronews. Accessible Tourism: Why This Braille Railing in Naples Has Gone Viral. Link:  https://www.euronews.com/travel/2021/08/18/accessible-tourism-why-this-braille-railing-in-naples-has-gone-viral [Last accessed October 21].