By Kim Hawley, MA, MPH
Today I would like to share another post in the Welcoming All Families series. This post is written by Kim Hawley - an educator and parent/lactation consultant in the Washington DC area. I appreciate Kim's insight as she shares with us all some tips for welcoming parents who are blind or have a visual impairment to our perinatal classes. You can find the complete collection of posts in the “Welcoming All Families” series by following this link. – Sharon Muza, Science & Sensibility Community Manager
Like any other parents you may have in your childbirth classes, blind/visually impaired parents bring a range of experiences, knowledge, needs, and preferences to their learning experience. Their birth preferences, values, and support will vary as much as your other students. Additionally, visually impaired/blind covers a range of vision levels so never assume what the person can see, or what help they will need. They may be new to vision loss or be experienced with it. They may have a sighted partner, or they may not. All these factors will affect the amount and type of support they need from their educator. The best way to welcome them into your classes is to ask how best to support them and being truly open to listening to them. They are the experts on their needs.
Some general things to keep in mind
Make sure your website and registration process are accessible for screen reading software. There are free, online tools that can check some of the basics for you. Making sure to use alt text on any images will allow a screen reader to read the description without your sighted users noticing anything. Alt text is not currently available for social media. Whenever possible add a text image description to posts with images. Here is another source on how. Here are some more best practices on this topic.
Try not to openly draw attention to the parent’s disability unless they do. Some blind/VI people are very comfortable and open with talking about their disability while others may feel singled out by an instructor.
Don’t try and project or assume what special challenges they may have as a blind parent unless they invite you to brainstorm with them.
Don’t assume that the sighted partner will be doing more baby care or more visual tasks.
Avoid using words such as “here,” “there,” “like this,” and other words that rely on seeing a gesture, demonstration, or other visual teaching aid.
Be detailed in your descriptions so that students can follow along whether or not they can see your slides, posters, or other visuals.
Offer hands-on help for things like labor and birth positions and comfort measures that you demonstrate to the class. This can be as you are teaching or during a break or after class. You might want to check with the student to see what might work best for their family.
If you have objects you are using for visuals, allow the blind/VI parent to touch them.
Ask the blind/VI parent if they would like you to provide visual descriptions during any videos you show. If they want descriptions, you can sit near them and quietly say out loud the more visual aspects of the video. This is a balance between providing a full description and not talking so much that they miss narration or dialog in the video. There’s no perfect amount of saying out loud because it’s a very individual thing. Check in with your student and be open to feedback.
Offer to read any cards you use for activities. If the activity is very involved, like birth preference cards, you may wish to email the text of the cards to the student before the class. For shorter activities, you may just quietly read their card to them.
Make sure you can provide your materials in alternative accessible formats. This includes handouts, website links, books, etc. Electronic versions of many resources make it easier for the VI person to access this information using a screen reader, screen magnifier, or braille display.
If the blind/VI parent brings a guide dog, please ignore the dog unless the person asks for assistance. Guide dogs are legally allowed in all public places so there should be no concerns about their presence.
If your class activities involve moving around the room, it may be helpful to provide a description of the room set up to the blind/VI students and ask if there is any way you can help them get the most out of the activity.
Blind and visually impaired parents may have some unique challenges to navigate as they become parents, but they are still just new parents, finding their own best way of doing things, and making the best decisions for their family. Many tasks that sighted people exclusively use vision can be easily adapted for blind parents. Be open-minded and think outside the box, but always remember that the VI/blind parent is the expert on their life and vision.
As an educator, you can help blind and visually impaired parents to build confidence and feel prepared for welcoming their baby. Listen to their needs and treat them like any other parent coming through your classes. Let go of your expectations on what a blind parent should be like, welcome the diversity that these families bring to your class, and celebrate all of our differences.
GSA Compliance Resources Page -Contains links to resources about 508 compliance and resources to use for checking your website. Also contains resource links about 508 compliance in general.
W3.org - web accessibility initiative
About Kim Hawley
Kim Hawley, MA, MPH is a Holistic Sleep Consultant and Lactation Counselor, and the owner of Intuitive Parenting in Washington DC. She has also trained as a Bringing Baby Home educator and childbirth educator. She loves helping parents find their confidence through evidence-based information and encouraging them to listen to their parenting instincts. Kim lives in Capitol Hill, Washington DC with her husband, her two children, and a few animals, including her guide dog. She loves to run, read a good book, eat delicious food, and enjoy a glass of wine or cup of coffee.