66 = The percentage of people registered blind and partially sighted of working age who are unemployed in the UK.
92 = The percentage of UK employers who believe that it is either “difficult” or “impossible” to employ someone with sight loss.
92 = The percentage of UK employers RNIB Cymru believes are wrong!
This is learning and working in Wales tells the story of six blind and partially sighted people who are successfully employed in a wide range of jobs. These people represent the opportunities that can be accessed and the achievements that are possible in terms of learning and employment. They are testament to the fact that sight loss has not prevented them finding work or enjoying fulfilling careers. In the words of Sara Johnson, a partially sighted trainee children’s mobility instructor:
“With enough persistence, ambition and determination, the sky is the limit!”
This is learning and working in Wales shows how the challenges of sight loss can be overcome in the workplace. It outlines the resources and support available from RNIB Cymru and the Access to Work scheme, as well as identifying some of the things you should think about as a person with sight loss looking to move into employment.
This booklet also contains information for employers looking to support blind and partially sighted staff within their organisations and highlights some of the support available to them.
A huge thank you to those who have been kind enough to share their experiences and contribute to this booklet. RNIB Cymru hopes that their stories serve as motivation and inspiration to anyone reading them who face similar challenges.
Kathy Williams, assistant psychologist
I’m Kathy and I work for the ABMU health board in Swansea. I’m an assistant psychologist and I am over the moon to finally have my dream job – after all it has taken me ages to get here. The competition for jobs is fierce but I beat about 80 other candidates to get this position.
I am partially sighted and have Stargardt's disease which is the loss of central vision. I was diagnosed when I was 17, which was difficult at the time but once I accepted and dealt with the diagnosis, I refused to let it stop me. It’s my eyes that don’t work, my brain works fine.
I decided to look at university options and was eager to undertake a degree in psychology. I mentioned my intentions to a doctor I was seeing in London who said: “Psychology? You’ll never cope.” He was of the opinion that psychology would have been too much of a challenge for my delicate little retinas – wrong! Since then I have completed a degree in psychology followed by a masters degree in health psychology, presented my work at national conferences and am in the process of becoming a health psychologist. Never cope? I’ll let you decide that.
My time at university was amazing and I can honestly say they were the best years of my life. The academic staff and student services team were brilliant at providing everything I needed, leaving me more time to get on with my work and enjoy myself.
Throughout my university career I volunteered for numerous charities to gain experience and made new friends. I know for a fact that if I hadn’t volunteered in the department where I now work, I wouldn’t have been shortlisted for an interview. People like me need to make employers see past the disability so working on a voluntary basis provided a great opportunity to develop skills, make new friends and showcase what I could do to employers who might otherwise have been nervous about employing me. I’d recommend voluntary work to anyone.
The first interview I ever went to was quite amusing on reflection:
“So you don’t drive?”
“No I’m partially sighted.”
“How do you plan on getting around then? Push bike?”
I smiled and laughed it off whilst wondering how anyone so well educated could be so ignorant. I didn’t get that job, someone with more experience beat me to it but that was probably for the best. That negative experience didn’t stop me – I haven’t worked this hard to work for someone like that anyway.
I persevered and applied for countless jobs until I was successful and secured my dream job as an assistant psychologist. I now use the Access to Work scheme which provides magnification equipment which is vital in enabling me to conduct my day-to-day tasks in work.
The advice I would give to anyone out there starting a new job would be:
Be on the ball. Access to Work is a great scheme but make sure you apply as early as you can because it can take a few weeks between applying and having the equipment or support in place.
Remember you are the expert. Only I can see through my eyes and I know what I can or can’t do and what will help me get along. Stick to this – the lovely people at Access to Work may think they know what is best for you but they don’t always.
If you’re struggling don’t be afraid to say it. Often employers might not be clued up on issues to do with sight loss so make sure you explain things.
Most of all – enjoy it!
Sian Phillips, cleaner, painter and decorator
I’m Sian Phillips and I work in the Grand Theatre in Swansea. Initially I was there training as a painter and decorator which was really enjoyable. My training was coming to an end but the Grand could see how committed and dedicated I had been when I was training so they offered me a job as a cleaner. I lost some of my sight when I first started the job but everyone at the Grand was and still are really helpful.
I enjoy my job and my sight loss hasn’t been an issue whatsoever.
In terms of the future, I’d really like to undertake a career in social work and am planning to see Careers Wales to discuss what qualifications I need to gain to get me to where I want to be.
Sight loss does not mean you can’t get a job and do well in life. If you have a positive attitude and educate people as to the support you need you will go a long way.
Stephen Edwards, fitness instructor and massage therapist
Hi. My name is Stephen Edwards and I have retinitis pigmentosa. I am a level three fitness instructor/massage therapist. It took me two years to train and it wasn’t easy as I worked in construction for 16 years prior to this. I trained at Royal National College for the Blind in Hereford but it wasn’t until I qualified that the real hard work started as it was time to actually try and find a job.
My search for work was made easier thanks to the support I was given by RNIB Cymru’s employment advisor who helped write my CV and my search for work.
I found a job at Crown Fitness and was employed for six months on a government scheme called Future Jobs Fund. I was delighted that when my post ended, the gym decided to offer me a permanent position and I have gone from strength to strength since then. I have found the Access to Work scheme really useful as it provides help towards my travel to work and ensures I have the equipment I need to perform my day-to-day duties.
Without the help of RNIB and Access to Work I believe that I would still be looking for a job, so many thanks.
As a thank you the gym has worked with me over the last year to raise money for the RNIB and we have more fundraising events planned for the future.
I only have one thing to say to anyone that has a disability, don’t give up and do believe that you have just as much right to work and enjoy life as the next person. Thanks for reading my story and I hope to be reading about yours soon.
Stephanie Abell, human resources assistant
My name is Stephanie and I have been partially sighted all of my life.
I went to mainstream school and got 11 GCSEs before going on to sixth form to complete my A-levels. I completed A-levels in applied business and ICT and did an accountancy course at college in the evenings.
Having completed my studies I found employment in the hospitality industry. I managed to get by without any support there – in fact, I didn’t even know at that point that I was entitled to support within work.
At the same time, I volunteered to work at Raglen Music Festival and became the director of the event. Through the volunteer work I did, I was able to showcase my talent and potential and met a contact who gave me the opportunity to undertake a career in the area I was qualified in.
I now work as a human resources assistant where I plan and manage the advertising of vacancies and run the administration for the company. When I started working there, my rehabilitation officer told me about the Access to Work scheme which entitles me to support. I was able to get screen reading software which helps me do my job far more efficiently. The best thing was finding out that I was entitled to get help towards travel to and from work and that I could get money from the scheme to pay for taxis or a friend to drive me. I never knew about this before and it had really hindered my job search because I thought I was limited to a ten mile radius. Having this support free of charge has had a huge impact on the independence I can achieve in terms of employment.
I’m really happy in my work and am now on a path which allows for career progression and job satisfaction and if that wasn’t enough, I even bought my own house with my fiancé last year. It’s fantastic.
I’d encourage anyone reading this to always be honest and open about their sight loss and find out what support you can get within work because accepting support, whether it’s a taxi to and from work or the purchase of some screen reading software, allows you to be more independent and properly showcase the work you are capable of. It’s far better to be open and honest rather than sit there struggling and this approach has always worked for me. Nothing is impossible and there is always support to help you overcome any sight related issue – you just need to use it.
Sara Johnson, trainee children’s mobility instructor
My name is Sara Johnson and I’d like to share my experiences with you.
My twin sister and I were born three months early and have retinopathy of prematurity. This means I have no vision in my left eye and limited vision in my right eye. I have therefore received support throughout the education system and now receive support from Access to Work.
I previously studied A-levels in Welsh, French and Sociology and graduated from Swansea University (where I worked hard and played harder) in 2010 with a 2:1 in Welsh and French. Whilst at university I had additional support via the Disabled Students Allowance which funded a note taker, library support worker and specialist equipment. I then went on to volunteer for numerous organisations. This gave me the confidence, skills and ability to apply for jobs.
After numerous job interviews, I was employed on a Trainee Grade Scheme as a trainee service support officer for Cardiff Vales and Valleys. I was given overwhelming support to develop my skills and experience before going on to work for Guide Dogs Cymru. In my new role I have been given a fantastic opportunity to train as a children’s mobility instructor and study a Graduate Diploma in Habilitation and Disabilities of Sight (Children and Young People) in the Institute of Education in London.
I have received plenty of support and information from RNIB Cymru’s transitions officer and attended their Support Towards Employment Programme in the summer which was invaluable. I have also received support from Access to Work and have made use of specialist equipment and a support worker driver in my previous job. In my current post I use taxis and equipment such as a CCTV, video magnifier, large screen monitor and Zoomtext. This is all funded by the Access to Work scheme and enables me to carry out my day-to-day duties in work.
I feel passionate that visually impaired young people like me can become self advocates and achieve their ambitions. With enough persistence, ambition and determination, the sky is the limit!
Ruth Nortey, trainee services and volunteer support officer
Hi. My name is Ruth, I’m 25 and live in Cardiff. I was registered blind in 2008 after suffering from two separate cases of optic neuritis in both eyes. My sight problems started at the beginning of my second year at university and resulted in me taking a break from my studies. I returned after two years and graduated from Cardiff University in 2011 with a BA Honours degree in French and Japanese.
I love travelling and as part of my degree I spent a year abroad. I worked in France for six months as an English language assistant and then spent five months studying at a Japanese university. I was worried that my sight loss would mean I’d be unable to complete my degree or do my year abroad but despite my initial doubts, this turned out to be the best part of my degree.
During my final year at Cardiff I was told about RNIB’s transitions service which introduced me to lots of exciting opportunities that I didn’t know about before.
During the summer I attended RNIB’s first Support Towards Employment Programme held over five days in Cardiff. It was a great week in which I learnt about Access to Work, how to disclose my sight loss at interview as well as lots of other interesting things. I met lots of people on the course who were around my age and really understood the issues. I made some great friends and would recommend the course to any jobseekers out there.
Just before I graduated I applied for a position at RNIB Cymru for a trainee services and volunteer support officer and I was lucky enough to be offered the position. I applied to Access to Work for a workplace assessment as I needed specialist software and equipment. I was given magnification software for my computer and a desktop magnifier to use when out and about. As I am unable to drive I was also given an allowance for taxis to use within work.
The Trainee Grade Scheme I’m doing is providing really valuable employment experience but in the future I intend to pursue a career in international development and apply my knowledge as a linguist. I’m also hoping that somewhere in the near future I’ll be able to fit in a bit more travelling too.
Hi. My name is Helen Russell and I work for Shaw Trust as a national quality administrator. This is a national role supporting the Trust’s quality consultants in the co-ordination of their work of implementing quality standards across the UK. The role also involves travelling around the UK to attend meetings several times a month and sometimes requires overnight stays. I receive support from Access to Work who have provided a CCTV, large monitor, Zoomtext PC and laptop and fund my travel to and from work which are essential in enabling me to do my job.
Before being employed by Shaw Trust I worked as a nursery assistant which I really enjoyed. My work there helped me realise that I’d like to work in a nursing environment. I wasn’t sure whether I could work in a hospital so I took a job on a hospital switchboard so that I could get to know the layout of the hospital and learn about the different nursing opportunities. I eventually applied for a role in the Intensive Care Unit and trained as an assistant technician nursing support.
I had to leave nursing through ill health and it was then that I joined Shaw Trust where I have been for over eight years. I have had several roles at the Trust and some have proved more successful than others. One role in particular proved problematic because of my sight loss and therefore I had to apply for more suitable positions as they became available. I do not look upon these as failures but as valuable experiences and it is the skills I took from those experiences that help me now.
The trick to success is to be realistic about your goals but at the same time don’t be put off by the fear of failing. Source the support available to you through RNIB and other agencies and don’t give up. It’s an exciting world full of opportunities.
The Access to Work scheme
When you are looking for work it’s really important that you know about the Access to Work scheme.
The aim of the scheme is to:
• encourage employers to recruit and retain disabled people by offering practical help
• provide advice to disabled people and their employers to help them overcome work related obstacles resulting from disability
• enable disabled people to work on a more equal basis alongside their non disabled colleagues
• offer grants towards additional costs incurred in the workplace as a direct result of an employee's disability.
It’s a Jobcentre Plus programme and can pay for things like:
• special aids and equipment, for example screen magnification software
• support workers
• travel to work where there is no practical public transport alternative, and travel within work
• awareness training for your colleagues.
The support that you’ll get will depend on the job you are doing and your needs. You’ll be assessed by an Access to Work assessor who will discuss the support you are likely to need and look at the requirements of your job.
For more information about the Access to Work scheme and the support it offers visit www.direct.gov.uk or contact one of RNIB Cymru’s employment advisors (See Useful contacts at the back of the booklet).
Disclosure of sight loss at interview
It’s important to think about if and how you will disclose your sight loss to any potential employers. You are not obliged to tell an employer about this but if you require support through Access to Work and want to ensure the employer understands your condition and how it affects you, it’s a good idea to outline your needs and help them understand.
It’s good practice to formulate a disclosure strategy which is basically a plan which details when and how you will disclose your sight loss.
The interview itself should focus on your abilities, skills and qualifications that enable you to carry out the job. Many people therefore choose to disclose at the end of the interview when the employer asks if the interviewee has any questions. This is an opportunity to talk about your sight loss so you may say:
“We have not discussed the fact that I have sight loss…”
You could go on to explain.
This is my condition (for example nystagmus) and this is how it affects me.
This is the support I need within work (for example screen reading software/CCTV).
This is the scheme that can contribute towards or fully fund it (Access to Work).
Do you have any questions you’d like to ask me in relation to this?
This is just one way of approaching the issue and you can formulate your own plan which you feel works best for you. Whatever you intend to do, make sure you give thought to it prior to any interview and try to rehearse what you are going to say so that it’s clear in your mind.
An employer may be wondering how you will undertake the job in question. This is your opportunity to explain what equipment/support you can access to fulfil your duties to the same degree of efficiency as fully sighted colleagues.
An employer may be worried the equipment you’ll need will be expensive. Tell them about schemes like Access to Work and illustrate that there is funding and support available.
Help the employer to understand. Employers often have misconceptions because they have never met someone with sight loss before. This is your opportunity to educate employers and put them at ease.
Take ownership. This is your chance to take ownership and control of any dialogue around your sight loss so lead the conversation and show the employer that you are willing to discuss it openly. This will encourage them to ask questions and will help displace any unfounded misconceptions they may have.
Disclosure is important in terms of the obligations the employer has once they offer you the job. If an employer does not know or could not reasonably have known that you have a sight problem then you won’t be protected by the Equality Act.
RNIB Cymru’s transition and employment staff can offer further advice in relation to disclosure. Contact us directly for more information.
RNIB Cymru’s employment support
RNIB Cymru offers employment services to people across Wales. Our employment advisors are available to support people with sight loss who are either moving into work or who need help to retain their jobs following sight loss.
We currently provide:
information and support via telephone, including signposting to local sources of help across Wales
skill-building courses covering job searching, the process of application and interview skills, as well as how to disclose your sight loss to a potential employer
job clubs in partnership with local societies for visually impaired people
one-to-one support with CVs, applications and interview preparation
residential pre-employment programmes.
If you feel you could benefit from the support and expertise of our employment advisors please get in touch.
Information for employers
RNIB Cymru has its own employment service dedicated to supporting people with sight loss into and sustaining employment. In order to achieve this, we work with employers so they can have a greater understanding of the issues facing people with a visual impairment in order to help them retain valuable staff and employ the very best people.
Below is some information that could benefit an employer when employing a person with sight loss.
Access to Work
Access to Work is a government scheme that is able to help with any extra costs that may apply to employing a person with a disability. In the case of people with a visual impairment this may cover items and services such as taxis to and from work, if they are unable to use public transport, in-work transport, access technology software, which can magnify images on a computer screen, screen reading software, braille printouts, CCTVs and support workers.
If you are about to employ a person with a visual impairment or an employee develops a visual impairment they can make a claim to Access to Work for any extra costs that may be incurred in relation to this. They can do this by phoning Access to Work who will ask a few questions concerning the nature of their sight condition and employment; if they qualify they will be sent an application form. Once Access to Work receives this form your employee will be contacted by an Access to Work advisor.
The adviser will usually speak to you and your employee to reach a decision about the best support for them. In some cases this can be done over the telephone but a visit can be arranged if necessary.
If specialist advice is required, the Access to Work adviser will help arrange for someone to visit the place of employment. For example, the adviser may arrange for a specialist organisation to complete an assessment and recommend appropriate support. In this case a confidential written report will be sent to the Access to Work adviser who will use this information to help them decide on the right level of support – the provision of access technologies for example.
RNIB would recommend that if the employee is new to the position or has only recently developed a visual impairment then an in-work assessment should take place.
The employer’s responsibilities
Once the adviser has decided on the package of support they feel is appropriate they will seek formal approval of their recommendations from Jobcentre Plus. You and your employee will then receive a letter informing you of the approved level of support and the grant available.
It is the responsibility of the employer to arrange for the agreed support and buy the necessary equipment. You can then claim repayment of the approved costs from Access to Work.
The Access to Work grant
The amount of help which you may receive from Access to Work will vary depending on how long your employee has been employed and what support they need.
Access to Work can pay up to 100 per cent of the approved costs if the employee is:
unemployed and starting a new job
working for an employer and has been in the job for less than six weeks.
Whatever the employment status, Access to Work will also pay up to 100 per cent of the approved costs of help with:
Access to Work pays a proportion of the costs of support if all of the following apply:
already working for an employer
been in the job for six weeks or more
need special equipment.
If cost sharing is involved between an employer and Access to Work this is determined by the size of the company, the larger the employer the greater the cost to them. Remember though, if a new employee makes a claim within the first six weeks of employment the full costs are covered by Access to Work.
Equality Act 2010
Employees with a visual impairment are covered by the Equality Act 2010. This Act covers employment from the point of advertising a vacancy through application, interview and into employment.
There is a section in this Act that applies only to people with a disability which is called reasonable adjustment.
The duty to make reasonable adjustments aims to ensure that, as far as is reasonable, a disabled worker has the same access to everything that is involved in doing and keeping a job as a non-disabled person.
When the duty arises an employer is under a positive and proactive duty to take steps to remove or reduce or prevent the obstacles a disabled worker or job applicant faces.
You only have to make adjustments where you are aware – or should reasonably be aware – that a worker has a disability.
Many of the adjustments you can make will not be particularly expensive, and you are not required to do more than what is reasonable. What is reasonable for you to do will depend, among other factors, on the size and nature of your organisation.
If, however, you do nothing, and a disabled worker can show that there were barriers you should have identified and reasonable adjustments you could have made, they can bring a claim against you in the Employment Tribunal and you may be ordered to pay them compensation as well as make the reasonable adjustments.
The RNIB employment service is not only here for people looking for work. We can support people to sustain employment who may have recently developed an eye condition and those who may have a deteriorating eye condition and are faced with new challenges at work. Through this work we also support employers to retain well trained and valuable staff. The earlier RNIB are called in to support employers and employees faced with difficulties in relation to sight loss the more effective that support can be, saving the employee their livelihood and the employer the costs involved in recruiting and training new staff If you think we could support you in retaining an employee or support you in employing someone with a visual impairment then please contact us. Please see contact information under the Useful contacts section at the back of this booklet.
If you would like to find out more about anything you’ve read or if you are interested in getting support into volunteering or employment or need any advice on employment related matters please telephone 029 2045 0440 to speak to our employment advisors or transitions officer.
RNIB’s Helpline is your direct line to the support, advice and products you need. We’ll help you to find out what’s available in your area and beyond, from RNIB and other organisations.
Whether you want to know more about your eye condition, buy a product from our shop, join our library, find out about possible benefit entitlements, be put in touch with a trained counsellor, or make a general enquiry, we’re only a call away.
Telephone: 0303 123 9999