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What would you do if one of your employees was losing their sight?

Martin O'Kane
health

What do you do if one of your employees is losing their sight? Lose them and all the skills, knowledge, experience and relationships they have built up? Contributor Martin O’Kane – RNIB.

A new information pack for employers – being launched in Glasgow by Jamie Hepburn MSP, Scottish Minister for Business, Fair Work and Skills – says sight loss can be less of a problem in the workplace than you might think.

The ‘Let’s Work Together’ pack points to blind and partially sighted people currently working as secretaries, nurses, journalists and teachers in Scotland.

“It makes good business sense to retain a good worker,” said Martin O’Kane of sight loss charity RNIB. “Keeping your employee can mean that your business will continue to benefit from everything they have brought to their role.”

RNIB, in partnership with Marriott Hotels Glasgow, has produced the resource pack, supported and funded by the Scottish Government and Impact Funding Partners. The pack, available in print and online, was originally developed with workers aged 50 and over in mind, but it can apply to all ages.

“With advances in accessible technology, and financial support from the Government’s Access to Work scheme, it can be easier and less costly to support an employee with sight loss than you think,” said Mr O’Kane. “There are a wide range of products available to assist people in their work, including software that changes the way a computer screen looks, or a video magnifier which can make it easier to see printed documents more clearly.”

There are around 9,000 registered blind and partially sighted people of working age in Scotland. 

“While each person’s experience of sight loss will be different, there are no hard and fast rules about how to support blind and partially sighted people in the workplace,” said Mr O’Kane. “By giving some useful information and shared experiences, we can help you work with your blind or partially sighted colleague.”

“Blindness isn’t an illness and there is evidence to show that disabled employees take less than average sick leave, scoring high in loyalty, reliability, and hard work. We also have an ageing workforce, so it is likely that more and more people in employment will experience some degree of sight loss during their working lives.”

Fair Work Minister, Jamie Hepburn, said: “It is extremely important that employers give disabled people the opportunity to enter the workforce and employers should take every step necessary to retain and develop staff with disabilities. The ‘Let’s Work Together’ resource pack will be invaluable in retaining workers, who are experiencing sight loss, in the workforce.”

Claire Fisher, assistant director of human resources for the Marriott said: “The ‘Let’s Work Together’ pack is an invaluable resource for employers to create inclusive environments that support the retention and advancement of all employees and in developing a diverse workforce.  At Marriott, we believe in taking care of people and putting their wellbeing above all else and we were delighted to work in partnership with RNIB in developing the pack.”

The Equality Act 2010 states that an employer must make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to help staff overcome any disadvantage that result from their disability. Most blind and partially sighted people are likely to be considered protected under the Act.

Case Study – Mel’s story
Mel works for social housing provider the Riverside Group in their Irvine office. She had some sight loss before she started this job but it didn’t impact on her work. In October last year, however, Mel was given devastating news – her sight loss was permanent and there was little that could be done to help. On the bus on her way home she got in touch with sight loss charity RNIB. 

RNIB demonstrated equipment and software to Mel that she might find helpful in work. She was taught to make better use of keyboard shortcuts rather than tricky use of the mouse. RNIB supported her in her application to the Access to Work scheme and met with her and her manager Duane in their workplace to discuss the supports they could consider to get Mel back at work. Mel now has magnifier software, better and bigger monitors, larger letter keyboard, large key calculator and a portable digital magnifier. 

Mel and Duane worked with RNIB to trial the ‘Let’s Work Together’ job retention pack. Duane had experience in managing people but had never had an employee experiencing sight loss before. He valued the support he had from RNIB and was able to use the retention pack to make sure he was doing all he could to help Mel and keep her in work.  

Duane said: “Having this pack has been fantastic and has shown me what I needed to do. I believe every company should have this information so they can support their staff in the best way possible.”

Mel said: “I’ve been so fortunate with the help and support I’ve had from RNIB, not just about work but with emotional support, too. Over the last few months, I’ve met some great people who have shown me that sight loss doesn’t have to mean my working life finishes.” 

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