Eye Work With You Too
Reversing the trend in employment of people with sight loss.
Leading sight loss charity RNIB calls on business, education and policy leaders to improve access to employment for people with sight loss.
Business, education, and charity sector professionals came together at Belfast City Hall on Thursday 24 November for the launch of a key piece of research, entitled ‘Eye Work With You Too’.
Only one in four blind or partially sighted people are in paid employment. A statistic that has not changed in a generation.
Alarmingly, blind and partially sighted people with a degree, or higher, still only have the same chance of getting a job as a sighted person with no qualifications.
This is despite a noticeable sector-wide push on improving diversity and inclusion practices in recent years, and major developments in technology that enable employees with a visual impairment to work effectively alongside their peers.
The ‘Eye Work With You Too’ research, carried out for RNIB (The Royal National Institute of Blind People) by Dr Rachel Hewett of the Vision Impairment Centre for Teaching and Research at the University of Birmingham, received funding from the UK Community Renewal Fund, to address why this was happening.
Dr Hewett interviewed blind and partially sighted people both in work, and not in work, as well as employers, parents and education specialists across Northern Ireland.
The new research revealed that attitudes towards employing someone with sight loss are the biggest barrier people with sight loss here face – due largely to misconceptions of ability, leading to inaccessibility of recruitment practices and inadequate employee support.
RNIB, the UK’s leading sight loss charity, is urging organisations to ‘see the employee, not the sight loss’ – to ensure those with disabilities, particularly those employees or applicants with sight loss, are included in their efforts to ensure a truly diverse and inclusive workforce.
18-year-old ambitious grammar school student Georgia from Belfast has been registered blind since birth due to a condition called oculocutaneous albinism. Georgia was keen to share her experiences: “A barrier I have faced throughout my life has been the assumption that I cannot do things without being given a chance to try. I am a lot more capable than many would assume.
“I think employers, teachers and careers advisors alike should take time to improve their understanding. People with sight loss are a lot more than a diagnosis on paper would suggest. We work hard to overcome barriers every day.
“We need to ensure as a society that we are encouraging young people, whether born with a visual impairment or who experience sight loss later in life, that they will be welcome in workplaces, and their varied experiences and skills will be valued alongside their fully sighted peers.
“You are the people raising, guiding, and employing the next generation of doctors, accountants, politicians and more, so it’s important to remember that your words and actions hold a lot of power to pave the way for future generations.
“I can only hope that universities, careers advisors and employers can see my potential past my challenges and I’m hopeful that my involvement in this research can help educate in the ability beyond disability.”
Robert Shilliday, Director of RNIB Northern Ireland said: “We are an ageing population that stays in work longer, so the prevalence of sight loss is set to rise among working age people. By 2050 there is expected to be twice as many blind and partially sighted people.
“Employers need to be prepared to support employees who may develop a condition affecting their sight in the future, and to ensure their recruitment practices are fair and accessible. There is the need and opportunity for change.”
Attendees at the launch event also heard from Richard Moore, CEO of international charity Children in Crossfire, who was blinded at ten-years-old when he was hit with a plastic bullet, as well as Geraldine Haire, NIHE who have seven blind and partially sighted people within the Telephony team.
Geraldine said, “Of our seven employees here, their levels of sight vary and they use a variety of assistive software, from magnification to those who might need to use a screen reader. Each person contributes equally alongside other employees. They can all do the job on an equal footing with anyone else. There’s just a little extra assistance to set them up to succeed. There’s nothing that can’t be overcome.
We have engaged a technical consultant to deliver JAWS scripting and training and part of their role has been liaising with the software providers and making sure our systems and programmes are compatible. Once you’ve got it sorted for the first person, it’s easily replicated.
We’ve had great support from one of RNIB’s Employment Officers in giving advice about what might work best. We’ve also used the government’s Access to Work scheme for software training which is a great resource.
I was delighted to be involved in this research and awareness raising event as I know the great contribution the people within my team have been making to the organisation, some in excess of 30 years’ service. And I know there are others employed in various departments throughout the Housing Executive.
“Sight is just one consideration in a person’s life. We support our employees as a whole.”
RNIB provides advice, support and training to employers wanting to make sure they are prepared for blind and partially sighted applicants and employees who experience sight loss.
Email [email protected] or visit www.rnib.org.uk/employers for further information on RNIB’s free eLearning and opportunity to become a ‘Visibly Better Employer’ and enter our 2023 See Differently Awards.