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Inclusive Facilities Guidance for the Visually Impaired

Some essential advice and practical tips on how to create an accessible environment and what adaptations facilities can make to be more inclusive for people with a visual impairment

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Here are some things to consider when communicating with blind and partially sighted people within your facility:

The Facility

There are some health and safety aspects that need to be considered for blind and partially sighted people using a leisure or sporting facility.

  • Ensure the circulation areas are clear of obstructions that could be hazardous to people who are blind or partially sighted.
  • Do not leave doors half open and be aware of head height restrictions.
  • Good lighting allows people to make the most of their remaining vision.
  • Good colour contrast is helpful: dark objects against a pale background (and vice versa) are more visible. This could be for signage, but the colour scheme should help to differentiate between critical elements, for example the wall from the floor, doors from adjacent walls.
  • Steps are less hazardous if clearly marked. Markings can be used for more than just steps – you may wish to consider markings, for example, for where the credit card machine is located at reception or around the edge of lockers in the changing rooms.
  • If equipment is specifically stored in a location for blind and partially sighted people and you move items for any reason, make sure you put them back exactly where you found them so the visually impaired person can locate them easily or notify them of the new location.


Tactile Markings

Blind and partially sighted people use tactile markings to identify important information, buttons or settings on various things.

In a leisure facility, gym or sporting environment, tactile markings can be used for equipment or to help with navigation. Tactile maps could be created to help an individual to navigate around a facility. Tactile signage, placed at the eye level, can help someone identify which way to go, or which changing room to access. They can also be used on resistance equipment to help the user understand how much weight they are loading on.

Bump ons

When labelling equipment, it is important to use a system that is accessible to all. This may mean that labels need to be in a variety of formats: objects like bump dots, or ‘Bump ons’, braille, or pictures. This could help users to locate equipment as well as return it correctly after use.

Tactile markings can help a user to understand which controls to use or where to place equipment. If a user can’t see the controls of a treadmill, then items like Bump ons could be used on the controls. They could be placed on the control for ‘Start’, ‘Speed’, ‘Incline’ and ‘Stop’ which would allow an individual to use the equipment independently.

Adapted equipment

Adapted equipment or accessible equipment can be the difference to blind and partially sighted people successfully and enjoyably taking part in sport and physical activity.

This may mean a minor adaption to a ball or piece of gym equipment, for example in cricket, where the ball is larger and has ball bearings inside it to allow partially sighted players to see it and blind players to hear it. For tennis, the ball is slightly larger, made of yellow foam and has ball bearings in the centre.

Similar low-cost adaptions can be made to the gym environment. Good colour contrast is often used to support blind and partially sighted people to identify certain parts of gym equipment. Having a change of colour for the edge of the treadmill, for the handles of resistance equipment or for free weights can all improve independent workouts.


Positioning of exercise equipment is extremely important. During the first visit, it is best practice to guide a blind or partially sighted person around the facility or area to help them navigate in the future. When doing so, consider the noise levels – potentially think about adapting the volume of the music that might be playing so that information can be heard easily.

Getting from one machine to another or picking out the correct free weights can all be barriers. Fitness equipment in leisure centres tends to be arranged in a compact way, leaving little room between machines. The close proximity brings potential trip hazards. Make sure that the equipment is well spaced out so that there are no tight spaces to navigate and where needed, there is ample room to use a cane.

Blind and partially sighted people can rely upon their ability to learn the layout of the leisure centre from memory to use it independently. It is therefore very important to highlight any rearrangement to a facility.

Signage outside and inside

  • Correct inclusive signage is key to ensuring that a person with a visual impairment can safely navigate to your facility and inside and around your facility.
  • Signage should be located and sized to be easily understood by blind and partially sighted users. Ideally, and where safe to do so, signage should be at eye level so that people can get as close as possible to read it. It is pointless having signage if it is high in the air and too small to read. If signage has to be higher, increase the font size.
  • There should be a good colour contrast between the words and sign background and the sign background and the surrounding area. Use upper and lower case but avoid signage that has all capital letters as it can be harder to read. Use an accessible font like arial. Text should be left-aligned where practical to do so.
  • Tactile signage can be beneficial to people with visual impairments. This may include tactile maps that could help to pass on information about a facility to a blind or partially sighted person. Tactile signs should be positioned where they can be easily reached. Raised print should be used, along with braille. Think about the use carefully and be mindful not to overuse it. If it is placed everywhere, then the provider spends most of their time telling blind and partially sighted customers where tactile signs are.
  • The positioning of temporary or portable signage can cause unwanted hazards to blind and partially sighted people so position portable signage so that it would not cause an obstruction.

Guide dogs

  • It is against the law for leisure and sport providers to treat blind and partially sighted people unfavourably because of their disability, or because they have a guide or assistance dog with them. When a customer with a guide dog uses your facility, they may ask for a quiet place for their guide dog to rest. Guide dogs are not normally allowed to go into the changing rooms but, by agreement, this could be allowed.
  • Normally, guide dogs will need to be left at a designated location within the facility. This location is normally close to the entrance, such as a reception area or office, and would ideally be a quiet place.
  • As guide dogs are highly trained it will lie quietly, perhaps under a table or a desk and it should not cause any disturbance to you. The guide dog owner may ask for you to provide somewhere where the dog can drink water. It is advised not to disturb or play with the dog in the owner’s absence.
  • The guide dog remains the responsibility of the owner, so in the unlikely event of something untoward occurring then please alert the owner as soon as possible.


Increasingly, technology is being used by physical activity providers to connect with their customers. This may be by delivering virtual exercise classes or for booking into a gym or swim session. Use of technology is strongly supported in connecting businesses and customers, but consideration needs to be given to inclusive design so that customers are not excluded from updated information or from taking part in physical activity. 98% of website home pages have content accessibility errors.

According to the RNIB, 38% of all people with sight loss reported not having access to or never having used the internet. The comparable proportion of internet non-users in the general population is 10%.

Similarly, those with acquired sight loss can lose their digital skills and ability to use technology as they lose their sight. These people would not have an awareness of the accessibility functions of their technology or indeed the knowledge to find out where they can get this accessibility information.

Therefore, consideration needs to be given to how you use technology to deliver products and activities and how you communicate in other formats to ensure that you reach blind and partially sighted people.

If your activity timetable is online, consider how this could be read by a blind or partially sighted person that does not use the internet. What other options are in place to get the same information? If your facility requires people to book online, check that this can be done using assistive technology and have a backup booking procedure in place for those that are not able to book online.

Consulting with visually impaired people is a great way to explore ways to be more accessible. As a member of staff working in a facility, it is recommended that you have knowledge of alternative methods of someone gaining accessible information.

Back to the Toolkit

Navigate back to the main toolkit page for Inclusive Facilities: Supporting People With a Visual Impairment


Related Resources

  • Coaching People with Visual Impairments

  • British Blind Sport Accelerates Drive to Establish More Inclusive Coaching System

  • Communicating with Visually Impaired Participants


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