Why the world has turned upside down for blind and partially sighted people


People who are blind or partially sighted are used to navigating a complicated world, but coronavirus has turned that world upside down.

For instance, it is hard to socially distance if you have sight loss.

And when it comes to employment, people with sight loss might face a range of additional challenges as they adapt to working from home, a new office environment or looking for work.

I’m Martin O’ Kane, Specialist Lead for the RNIB Employment Service, and I’m familiar with the challenges people with sight loss are facing at present and how they are finding practical solutions to overcome them Not only are we able to help employees help themselves, we have a range of help, guidance and support for employers and employment professionals, which shows how easy it is to overcome any barriers and support a person with sight loss to do their job.

New ways of working for people with sight loss

Lockdown saw a dramatic increase in homeworking across the country. For many people with sight loss, that meant transferring assistive technology to the home environment and finding ways of doing their jobs remotely.

Mark is a software developer with a Health Trust and is blind. He relies on speech software called JAWS to use his computer. Normally office based, since April he has been working from home. This was only made possible when Mark got his special software loaded on to his laptop. Now he can access all his work files remotely and work productively at home.

Some people found their job role totally changed because of the pandemic.

Sophie is a nurse and is partially sighted. Normally she works in an outpatient’s clinic but since April has been redeployed to a more frontline role within the hospital. A sudden change in duties and having to move to another department was initially a challenge. Sophie got help from an RNIB Employment Advisor who recommended the use of an iPad with its built-in magnification to give flexibility to move around the hospital and access information when needed.

Supporting Employment Professionals

The RNIB Employment Service supports people with sight loss to find and stay in employment. Now we want to build the capacity of other professionals in the sector to do this too.

Since lockdown, we have been unable to meet our professional contacts face to face so we have developed an E-Learning training tool  that you can use to improve your knowledge of how to support a customer with sight loss. The course includes facts about sight loss and common eye conditions, things to consider when talking about jobs, how to guide someone with sight loss and more resources to help you.

We have been receiving positive feedback from those who have completed the training.

 As Boswell Mhonda, an employability policy manager with the Scottish Government, told us, our programmes are empowering people. Emma Bolger, lecturer in careers guidance at the University of West Scotland, says there is so much potential in the training: “This is a brilliant course … It will be fantastic to see it rolled out across the career development and employability sector.”

I’d love you to find out more for yourself. Please take a look at our web site for more information or just drop me a line at ….

Supporting Employers

Naturally, at RNIB – which employs nearly 2,000 people, we’ve had to adapt ourselves to the “new normal”. We now help employers by providing remote support through telephone and online. We can offer advice and guidance for many of the different situations employers will encounter, including recruitment and interviews, work based assessments, choosing IT and using the Access to Work scheme.

On our website you can find information about these four key areas and much more:

  • Simple steps for making the workplace safer for employees with sight loss
  • How to risk assess your workplace if an employee has sight loss
  • Working from home- what support is needed for a staff member with sight loss?
  • How to make your video calls inclusive

Visit: https://www.rnib.org.uk/professionals/employing-blind-or-partially-sighted-person/employment-after-lockdown

The coronavirus pandemic has turned many lives upside down, we know, but you would be surprised how little effort or resource it can take to ensure people with sight loss can do their jobs as productively as possible. You could be working as a nurse or a software developer, but sight loss should not mean you cannot do your job with the right support and assistance, Even in a workplace that has had to adapt to a pandemic.

  • For any employment support needs, please contact our Helpline or visit our Employment pages on the RNIB website.

Tel: 0303 123 9999 or rnib.org.uk

How do we help more blind and partially sighted people into work?

Sean Owen profile picture correct (4).jpg

ENABLER was a three year research project which sought to improve the employment opportunities of blind and partially sighted job seekers and worked on the creation of an employment assessment toolkit.

The project addressed concerns that government welfare to work programmes may not recognise the additional barriers facing many blind and partially sighted people; such as access to job seeking information, accessibility of online resources, mobility training, the functional impact of different sight conditions, and the cost and availability of access technology equipment and software.

These barriers are made worse by other factors such as low educational attainment, a lengthy unemployment history, additional disabilities and mental health problems.

In addition, existing funding for mainstream employment support services is weighted towards job outcomes. 

Consequently organisations supporting people to find work may concentrate on customers who are seen as able to work sooner. Blind and partially sighted individuals, particularly those with additional complex needs who are not yet ready for employment, may become further marginalised as a result.

The ENABLER project used an action-research framework. Researchers worked alongside RNIB Group employment teams as well as blind and partially sighted people in the design and testing of the new assessment toolkit, as well as looking at new ways of working with people considered a long way from being ready for work.

The ENABLER project developed an employment assessment toolkit which will help employment professionals to gain a clear understanding of what a person’s aspirations and abilities are in relation to employment, and what types of support and development are needed to help fulfill these.

As well as developing the employment assessment toolkit, the group tested a number of innovative support options for people that we know require a great deal of support on their journey towards employment.

We also piloted a new pre-employment programme within two of the groups’ service delivery teams. From the people involved in the pilot:

  • 22% of participants secured paid employment, two of whom had attended a pre-employment programme.
  • 22% participants have secured full-time education courses.
  • 50% participants benefitted from voluntary work as the first important step on their journey into paid employment. One of these individuals, in her 40’s, had never worked before, whilst another had not been employed for 18 years.
  • Various individuals have developed skills in a range of areas; for example, travelling independently through mobility training, computer skills through IT training, and accessing information through literacy and numeracy courses.
  • Confidence levels and motivation have increased for most participants over the last eight months.

We hope the knowledge gained by using the toolkit, and in testing new ways to support customers a long way from being work-ready, can be used by Welfare to Work providers to provide front line staff with the assessment tool they need, when dealing with blind and partially sighted jobseekers.

Employment assessment toolkit – use it now!

Sean Owen
UK Employment Services Manager