This IS working: how people with sight loss participate successfully in the world of work.
RNIB Scotland in partnership with Jobcentre Plus
; Section 1: Peter Davey, Standard Life
; Section 2: Barbara Hall, ARK Housing Association ; Section 3: Caroline Austin, InterContinental Hotels ; Section 4: Paul McGhee, Willis Ltd
; Section 5: Philip Sime, BBC Radio Scotland
; Section 6: Positive information for employers
; Section 7: The employers' experience
; Section 8: Michael Young, Aeroflex
; Section 9: Gordon Luke, Prudential Insurance
; Section 10: Eileen McGowan, Careers Scotland
; Section 11: Kerrie Brown, Visibility
; Section 12: Michael Tornow, Fair for All
; Section 13: Jobcentre Plus
; Section 14: Access to Work
; Section 15: Employment Compacts to tackle unemployment ; RNIB support
73 = The percentage of blind and partially sighted people of working age who are unemployed in Scotland.
92 = The percentage of UK employers who believe that it is either "difficult" or "impossible" to employ someone with impaired vision. (Finding from a survey of 2,000 employers by the Department for Work and Pensions, published in “Report, Number 202”).
92 = The percentage of UK employers RNIB Scotland believes are wrong!
The unemployment rate among blind and partially sighted people in Scotland is a scandal. At 73 per cent it far exceeds the
unemployment rate of 55 per cent for people with other disabilities, and is an outrageous 15 times greater than the figure for the general population. (Data from “Measuring progress towards a
smart, successful Scotland”. Scottish Executive, 2006).
“This IS working” tells the story of 10 men and women who are blind or partially sighted. They are working in a wide range of jobs, supporting themselves and their families, contributing to their employer's success and using their energies and talents to further the wealth and well-being of our society. They provide a powerful response to the widely held belief that they cannot play their part in the workplace. In the words of Philip Sime, a BBC Scotland researcher who is registered blind:
"92 per cent of those same employers would not be able to do my job without the proper training and support. If blind people are given the right training and support, they are capable of being equal in the workplace."
This IS working shows how the challenges of sight loss can be overcome in the workplace. It explains how employers can play their part in providing equal opportunities in the job market (sections 6 and 7) and describes the resources and support available from RNIB, Jobcentre Plus and elsewhere (section 13 onwards).
Section1: Peter Davey, Standard Life
"I'm an IT project manager with Standard Life. I manage a 10-strong team of IT professionals - programmers and analysts - developing IT systems. A recent project applied flexibility to a pension product to allow customers to vary premiums during their career."
Peter Davey has worked in IT for 25 years and has been with Standard Life since 1991. He has a degree in science from Durham University and his employer sponsored his MBA at Edinburgh University. He has macular degeneration and has experienced deteriorating sight loss since childhood.
Peter can no longer read printed material and relies increasingly on the speech facility in Zoomtext technology. But he believes that the main challenge is the job itself. "Once the technology is in
place and you are familiar with the environment, then the sight loss is not an issue," he says. "You are either good at your job or you are not. I have had to put in extra effort, and the employer gets that extra effort."
Peter enjoys the interpersonal aspect of work and has coping strategies. "You ask people to introduce themselves if they turn up at your desk," he says. "I don't want to go to someone at their desk if they're not there so I will ask simple questions of colleagues, but there are no major issues in dealing with a team. Half my team is in another building, but I take my laptop with me, and my guide dog, Vince."
Kenny Mathieson is a senior systems developer in Peter's team. "We cooperate in a climate of mutual respect with open and honest dialogue," he says. "Peter's sight condition is clearly a fact but not a factor in the relationship. At a practical level you don't just thrust a piece of paper on his desk but you communicate by word of mouth or email as you do with other colleagues. I marvel at what he does achieve. I have the option of looking at the whole page of a programme and scribbling notes in the margin. He pretty much has to keep it in his head, line by line - wow!
"Peter is the second blind person I've worked for and they have been two of the best bosses I've had, not just in terms of interpersonal relationships but perhaps because of the challenges they faced. They have had a very high level of awareness of all the tasks they were managing and the people they were working with."
Sarah Baldry is a systems analyst in the same team: "I'm not really aware of Peter as a blind person," she says. "His qualities as a manager are qualities that Peter has as a whole person. I like producing pictorial representations of systems. If I am in a meeting with Peter I talk him through it. He can retain an amazing amount of detailed information and seems to be able to visualise it and that's absolutely fine."
And then there is Vince. "Having a guide dog in the team is a terrific de-stressing asset," Sarah adds. "If things are stressful, there is a dog to pat and stroke behind the ears!"
Section 2: Barbara Hall, ARK Housing
"I'm a member of the human resources team at ARK Housing Association. I deal with recruitment, the monthly pay roll and provide advice on a range of issues to around 1,000 staff."
Barbara Hall has retinitis pigmentosa and is registered blind. She handles all her administrative work electronically using Job Access With Speech (JAWS) software. Mail arriving in hard copy is scanned electronically for her to deal with. When giving advice to colleagues she accesses information electronically.
Barbara joined ARK in 2004 after 20 years' unemployment. She found a lot of help was available to get her back to work. "The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association gave me my guide dog Wanda, which started the ball rolling," she says. "I got support and advice from Jobcentre Plus which made me aware of the courses available at RNIB Scotland's Employment and Learning Centre where I trained. Access to Work put in place travel support and equipment to allow me to do the job, and ARK Housing Association had the foresight to offer me employment."
She remembers her first day at work: "It was quite scary but good as well. I remember thinking 'I'll never take in all that information', but I did. You keep it in your head."
Barbara finds that new members of staff take her blindness in their stride and the people she deals with by phone are unaware of her condition. "The support I've received at work with ARK has meant that I do a real job and contribute well to the team," she says. "I've developed greatly both personally and within my role, and have just gained a Certificate in Personnel Practice."
Her response to the 92 per cent of employers:
"Employers should take time to find out what disabled people can offer. People only need a fair chance to show what they can do. Let's concentrate on the ability part of disability as this is, in fact, the far greater proportion."
Section 3: Caroline Austin, InterContinental Hotels
"I'm senior conference and events sales coordinator with the Holiday Inn, Edinburgh North. I deal with phone and email enquiries, and provide quotations for conferences, weddings, parties and other events. I take potential customers on 'show rounds' of the hotel's facilities and draw up contracts with schedules and terms and conditions. I'm not usually involved in the event itself, but I like to be around to help with the setting up and running of weddings that I've organised."
Caroline Austin's sight started to deteriorate from the age of two when she contracted arthritis. She now has secondary glaucoma, is completely blind in her right eye and has little sight in the other. She is registered as blind, but successfully completed an HND in conference and events management at Telford College, Edinburgh. From there she joined InterContinental Hotels, taking up a post at the 101-bedroom Holiday Inn.
Caroline has all the technology she requires to undertake office work. Showing clients round the hotel is more challenging. "There's just me!" she says. "But I've been at the hotel for six years and know the conference facilities very well."
Far from her sight loss interfering with her work, she adds, clients don't realise how limited her eyesight actually is.
Louise Murphy is the hotel's revenue manager and is Caroline's line manager. "Working with Caroline is not any different from working with someone who is fully sighted," she says. "We don't even notice half the time. Any issues Caroline might have with carrying out her work we have been able to fix very easily with the technology."
Louise's response to the 92 per cent of employers:
"Last year Caroline was voted 'Employee of the Year' for our meetings department and has recently been promoted. She was the best person for that job. This really shows that Caroline's sight does not affect her ability to carry out excellent work."
Section 4: Paul McGhee, Willis Ltd
"I'm a major accounts development director with Willis Ltd, a global insurance broker. I work in their Glasgow office, one of 14 in the UK. My job is to develop new business, creating new income from new clients. My 'prospect' list is the top 100 businesses in Scotland. As part of a team I have to take the initiative and convince them it's worth speaking to us, and then explain the benefits of using us to provide the specialised corporate insurance they need."
Paul McGhee lost central vision in both eyes through retinal damage. His condition was diagnosed five years ago though his sight had been deteriorating for some time. Peter can no longer read text and relies on technology. He can see well enough to move around and his sight loss is not immediately obvious, but he has difficulty recognising people and this is a challenge in a job in which personal relations are important. "I can't see people's faces at 10 paces," he says, "but to counter this I have developed a skill that allows me to have a great memory for voices and people's characteristics."
Paul was recruited by Willis Ltd two years ago. He made no secret about his sight condition, but they signed him up for his expertise. A graduate in risk management, Peter is an expert at
understanding how companies work and their insurance needs. He stresses the importance of listening to clients. "We recently won a major account and they said 'you were the only broker not just to talk about savings. You identified issues in the way we worked and provided true business protection'."
He admits that despite all the equipment - he has a scanner, large-screen VDU, CCTV, special keyboard and speech software, with back-up equipment for working at home - there are frustrations with the time it takes to scan hard copy and the way some websites are still inaccessible. He usually works in a team and his immediate colleagues are practiced at lending support when required while he provides information and intellectual input.
Drew Hardie is managing director for Willis Ltd, Scotland and North of England.
"Employing Paul is no different from employing anyone else," says Drew. "Before he joined us we knew there was deterioration in his
eyesight, but from the start he's been a star performer in the organisation. There's nothing about Paul's disability that detracts from his technical skills or intellectual capacity.
"The technology is available to let him do the job though perhaps we were a bit slow in responding to his needs - and he could have been quicker in making them known. There's a mutual need to force the pace."
Drew's response to the 92 per cent of employers:
"From our perspective in the financial sector, I don't really see the difficulty in employing people who have sight loss. I would expect Paul to continue to be a very important and valuable contributor to this business for the rest of his working life - if this is where he wants to be."
Section 5: Philip Sime, BBC Radio Scotland "I'm a researcher for BBC Radio Scotland in Inverness, currently acting as producer of the Highland Café, a weekly programme covering cultural life. My work includes coming up with ideas for the programme, selecting guests and briefing them, writing scripts for the presenter, and running the programme to a tight schedule. If there are live contributions from outside the studio I have to organise that and be responsible for everyone's safety, undertaking a risk assessment if necessary."
Philip Sime has Still's disease, which is associated with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. He is totally blind in one eye and has only a degree of light perception in the other. He had been unemployed for some time when the birth of his son caused him to take stock and he retrained in new technology including JAWS. "I secured a voluntary position at the radio station VIP on AIR [Now RNIB's Insight Radio] and stuck in hard there," he says.
The BBC was a community partner to the station and when they advertised for a diversity trainee researcher Philip was one of 76 applicants. "I persuaded the BBC I had the personality, commitment and technical capability to do the job," he adds.
Modern technology makes it possible for Philip to lead a production team of researchers, sound engineers, studio assistants and presenters. "I have a host of technological aids to help me," he
says. "I have JAWS on my laptop and can work from anywhere and read any kind of document. My digital dictaphone is vital. I can use it to take notes and access information very quickly, which is essential in this job when every second counts.