How can UK businesses support blind and partially sighted people in the workplace?
As part of Inclusive Employers’ National Inclusion Week 2021, we spoke to Martin O’Kane from RNIB (Royal National Institute of Blind People) to find out.
As the Strategic Lead for Employment at RNIB, Martin advises businesses big and small on how they can support blind and partially sighted people.
As he highlights, it’s all part of tackling a much broader issue. “The employment rate for people with sight loss is extremely low. It’s estimated that just one in four people who are registered blind and of employment age in the UK actually have a job.”
According to Martin, that represents around 11,000 people with sight loss who are actively seeking work. Yet sight loss is not just a problem that affects job seekers. It also impacts employers and their existing employees. Especially when you consider that sight loss is often age related and is increasingly likely to affect people already in work.
“We’re now working later in life. So the chances of an employer having people with sight loss is growing all the time. If these people leave because employers don’t know how to help them then they are taking their skills with them. And businesses may find these costly to replace.”
So, what practical advice does Martin offer to businesses of all sizes, small and large, who want to be good employers and be more inclusive for blind and partially sighted people?
- Review your employment practices
People with sight loss typically face significant barriers to employment. Job vacancies are not always advertised on websites that are accessible, in terms of larger text or compatibility with screen reading software. It’s not just jobs boards but also company websites. When job seekers who are blind or partially sighted are searching for background information, they may find it hard to access the same details as other applicants.
“Employers can ensure they only advertise on accessible sites,” Martin says. “They can also test their own websites and RNIB’s technical team are on-hand to advise with this.”
Even if someone with sight loss does get through to the interview round, they may not have the chance to highlight they have special requirements. As Martin suggests,
“Addressing these potential issues can be as simple as asking the right questions beforehand. Like checking whether someone is able to use a flipchart or whether they need large print instructions or a magnified screen to complete the tasks.”
- Make small adjustments in the workplace
Martin explains that each eye condition affects individuals in different ways. “Putting in place simple measures to retain talented people makes good business sense as well as moral sense. Instead of losing their skills when they find it hard to work, just ask them how you can help them continue to be productive,” advises Martin.
“In some cases, it might be changing overhead lighting to lower-level lighting from a lamp. Or moving someone’s desk away from a window. Or it could be about keeping the workspace clear and making sure there is obvious signage about the place.”
- Reach out for advice and support
Organisations like RNIB provide specific support for employers to help improve inclusion in the workplace. RNIB has a whole area on its website dedicated to this and can work directly with employers to help them improve their recruitment and retention practices in relation to staff with sight loss.
“I find that a big thing for employers is just knowing there are places to go for advice. We can review what they’re currently doing and where they can make changes. Like increasing awareness of sight loss as part of induction or training procedures. And suggesting that managers open up a clear channel to allow people who are struggling to ask for help. When people can’t talk to their employer, they often end up signed off on sick leave or stress leave and this has a negative impact on both the employee and employer.”
- Consider how technology can help
As flexible working increases, there are more employment opportunities for people who may have struggled to commute to work before. However, Martin says that employers still need to be mindful of the technology people need to do their jobs well. “The same principles apply at home as in the office. The need for the right kind of lighting or accessible IT that allows people to use the same digital tools they would do in an office.”
It’s with that in mind that O2 partnered with RNIB and RealSAM to create Pocket. It’s a portable device that’s fully customised for people with sight loss. Including features like emergency assistance, a guided navigation tool and unlimited access to audiobooks, magazines and news from the accessible RNIB Library.
What are the key takeaways for employers?
As Martin points out, just because someone is registered blind, it doesn’t mean they can’t see anything at all. “And just because people have sight loss, it doesn’t mean they can’t work for you. It might only require a few small adjustments.”
If employers are wondering what those adjustments might be, Martin is keen to stress that the support is already out there.
“There are some great assistive technologies out there. Many modern devices and software have accessibility controls built in. And any business that wants to be a good employer with the right things in place to help people with sight loss can come to RNIB and we’ll be only too happy to help.”