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Engaging learners who are blind or have low vision

When designing educational experiences for professionals, you might be wondering how to make them more engaging for learners who are blind or have low vision. In this article, we share insights from Joshua Hackney, independent living specialist with Central Washington Disability Resources, and Ryan Bondroff, program specialist for the Governor’s Committee on Disability Issues and Employment at the Employment Security Department (ESD).

Several people of different ages, races, and disabilities.

Q: Can you give some insight into your daily experience in your professional role?

RYAN: I am Deafblind and I use JAWS screen reader to read everything in Braille. Braille is my lifeline to the whole world of information highway. I depend on the Internet to get all the text information I need to know.

I work from home, so I use an in-person interpreter for meetings, phone calls, videos, and some other work-related tasks that may not be accessible to me. I use JAWS Braille screen reader with a Braille display to read all the text in Braille. My position requires a lot of constant interactions with a wide variety of people. I really enjoy meeting people, so I am very grateful for what I have from ESD and I am very thankful for ESD’s support.

Q: Thinking back to training or education experiences you’ve had, which ones were effective and why?

JOSHUA: I attended a conference on providing services to young people with disabilities. One workshop activity used sticky notes, so there was someone there to describe what was on them. This was more engaging than sitting through a PowerPoint presentation.

I also attended a conference hosted by the Association of Programs for Rural Independent Living (APRIL). We sat at tables, and the presenters invited us to collaborate and discuss. There are ways to create engagement. It could be things you put on tables, or turning a PowerPoint into a Jeopardy jam.

The National Council on Independent Living (NCIL) puts on accessible conferences. Literature for their events is accessible and available in large print, Braille, and audio. There are interpreters for every session. Communication Access Real-time Translation (CART) is available. On the floor, there are assistants for attendees. NCIL recommends attendees bring a personal assistant, who attends the event free of charge.

Q: What about virtual trainings?

JOSHUA: A good thing about virtual delivery is that you can tailor your equipment to what you’re doing. A downside is that not every webinar has been 100% accessible. For example, there’s no interpreter, or multiple languages are needed.

Delivery is more important than the platform itself. Presenters should know what it looks like to have a truly accessible virtual event — it’s the education and planning behind it. Bring people with disabilities to the table when designing training and events.

RYAN: I like doing virtual trainings myself as long as they are fully accessible. In-person trainings are also great so anyone can have an option to choose from. I know we have a lot of questions that the virtual trainings cannot answer, even though we have all the resources and tools to support us on daily basis. If I find an online training course to be inaccessible, I work closely with IT staff to enhance accessibility.

Q: Were these trainings engaging in a meaningful way, and how so?

JOSHUA: Keep people at the forefront of the conversation. It’s the difference between talking with versus talking at. In education, hands-on experiences are more engaging. Everybody learns differently, regardless of any disability.

When I was a youth transition coordinator, we used cue cards with pictures on them, or we conducted mock interviews. Make the learning as hands on as possible — not just for training, but in everyday work, and not just for people with disabilities.

Q: What aspects of the training were surprising in a positive way?

JOSHUA: I attended an HR conference in Las Vegas. They provided a person to help guide you. That was important because it’s hard to make large conferences accessible. It takes time. The location is unfamiliar and there’s signs on doors that don’t always have Braille. The guide made it easier to navigate, and made it so I could leave a session early to get to the next one. It felt like they asked the question, “How do we help attendees navigate?” and they answered it in an accessible way.

This year’s state Partners in Emergency Preparedness conference was very accessible. They used the WHOVA app, which had all the materials. I also used the app to facilitate connections with others and to see locations of the workshops.

RYAN: At first, I was able to access reading ESD polices and procedures and answer questions easily. I worked closely with ESD training team to make their new training programs accessible. I was surprised and delighted when I found that their new training aspects such as flashcards, image descriptions, and other parts are fully accessible via Braille that were not accessible in the past. That made my reading of accessible information more fun and enjoyable, as I can participate in accessible training platforms like everyone else equally.

I found navigation all over the training platforms to be much easier and smoother, which resulted in time saved and easier and quicker navigation. I felt more comfortable and relaxed while going through the training process. I know it takes time to make all the training and learning platforms fully accessible.

Q: When deciding whether to take a training, what do you look for?

JOSHUA: I look for organization and whether the layout of the room is accessible for everyone. I also want to know if I’ll get materials in advance of the event, which is very helpful.

RYAN: It is important to make all the training and other learning platforms fully accessible. This includes text transcripts, image descriptions, and text associated with the graphics, such as pie and bar charts, etc. That way, we can receive full text information the same way as everyone else receives visual information equally. It will also significantly reduce costs on labor and time, so it is easier to make everything accessible than making it easy to have inaccessible information that no one wants to use.

Q: What do you want instructors to know as they design and deliver trainings?

RYAN: I am Deafblind and I identify myself as Deafblind. Deafblind does not mean that you are fully Deaf and fully blind. Deafblind comes in many conditions in various types and degrees including many causes.

I came to the Governor’s Committee on Disability Issues and Employment (GCDE) last August 16, 2021, and I notice a significant improvement in training accessibility. It is important that you should think about everything that needs to be accessible for everyone, not just for you and your team only. It is important to look outside of the box. It is the goal of Washington state government to hire more people with disabilities to work, as they are part of our state family.

Joshua Hackney and Ryan Bondroff.
Joshua Hackney (left) and Ryan Bondroff (right)

Joshua Hackney graduated from Central Washington University in June of 2016 with a bachelor’s degree in recreation management. Before his current role with Central Washington Disability Resources, he served as youth transition coordinator, advocating for young people with disabilities as they navigate school and beyond, and helping them become as independent as possible in a community of their choice. He is passionate about equal access for all persons with disabilities and advocating for disability rights on key issues that impact individuals with disabilities.

Ryan Bondroff is a program specialist with the Governor’s Committee on Disability Issues and Employment (GCDE) under the Employment Security Department (ESD). Previously he was with the Office of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing within the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) from 2005 to 2010. During his spare time, he loves reading, spending time with friends, traveling, and exploring new things and new places. He loves riding in all kinds of trucks, jeeps and SUVs, especially going off-roading.



We deliver high quality, cost effective support services to state government. DES features expertise in statewide contracting, training, printing & mail operations, human resources and financial systems, facilities management, and care of the state capitol grounds and buildings.

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