Managing challenges of working from home with a visual impairment

There is an old adage that says happiness starts at home. This is now more complicated because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many people, including those with a vision impairment, are sheltering in place and working from home.  

Maintaining a happy home life when living and working in the home can be challenging. Keeping that traditional home work-life balance might seem impossible. With some careful planning, good communication and flexibility, those challenges can decrease.

The first work from home challenge is developing a functional work space or home office.  Begin by evaluating the space needed and clean out the clutter. You might have to work in the bedroom or set up a laptop in the dining or living room area. These spaces might not be ideal for working on a computer or taking phone calls. If this is your situation, establish a routine and boundaries for space. When the work day is over, put away your work materials. This will indicate that the work day is done and that there is a transition to home life.

This transition is critical when working from home. Home and work life can bleed into each other if boundaries are not set up quickly. Next, communicate with your household. If you live with family, clearly communicate the structure of your work day. Let them know important deadlines, when you have to take calls and attend webinars or Zoom meetings. Do the same with your supervisor and co-workers so they know the setup at your home. For yourself, set a timer or alarm to keep track of the work day. This will help you take breaks for lunch and stop at the end of the work day to shift to home life. Setting timers can also be helpful to stay focused on your work.

Another work from home challenge is accessing assistive technology and tech support. Accommodations like a screen reader or low vision aids might not be as available as they were at your office. An on-site IT department can easily resolve technology problems, but this might not be as simple at home. Communicate with your employer your needs for accommodation at home. Share what type of assistive technology you will need to set up your home work space and if you will have access to any tech support. Companies such as Freedom Scientific offer a limited time free access to software for people who are visually impaired and working from home. Other companies such as Apple, Google and Microsoft offer tech support to people with a vision impairment and can troubleshoot some basic computer problems.

Outlook Enrichment has also set up a technology helpline for the visually impaired to ask questions as they navigate this virtual environment. Call (531) 365-5334 to connect with one of our adaptive technology trainers.

Resisting the temptations of home life is hard when you work from home. Watching TV, indulging in too much of your favorite snack, strolling through social media or oversleeping are all enticing things to do when constantly at home.  If overeating is a temptation, set up your home office away from the kitchen. Keep sweet and fatty snacks out of reach and healthier ones close by. If it is watching TV or scrolling through social media, establish dedicated time slots or use your work breaks.  

Take breaks when working from home. It is easy to become sedentary and sit at your work area all day.  Take your routine breaks and stop for lunch. Do some stretches and light calisthenics to avoid stiffness and maintain good circulation.   

Sharing space with family can make working from home hard. Keeping children entertained or coordinating with a spouse that also is working from home must be worked out. Maintain a schedule and select kid-friendly activities that don’t require supervision. Keep the lines of communication open with your spouse. Talk to your supervisor and colleagues so they understand your home environment. Be as thoughtful as you can and emphasize flexibility and patience. If you live alone, schedule dedicated time for connection with friends and family to avoid isolation, depression and loneliness. 

Noise can be distracting when working from home. Barking dogs, ringing doorbells and phones and a blaring TV impact focus and concentration when working. Consider wearing noise canceling headphones, closing the door to the room you are working in or creating a pillow fort to diminish sound. 

Working from home has challenges and responsibilities. employers are trusting you to be productive.  Be mindful and educate yourself about working from home. Understand that it may take some trial and error but developing good habits will make you successful.