Employing a blind or partially sighted person

If you are an employer, we can help you retain a current employee who is losing their sight, and we can help you to take on someone who is blind or partially sighted.

Blind or partially sighted people should not be excluded from employment - nor should sight loss equal job loss.

Advances in technology mean that blind and partially sighted people can now overcome many of the barriers to work that they faced in the past, and government schemes like Access to Work mean that many of the costs can be met.

In this section, you can find out about our assessment service, designed to enable disabled employees to work alongside their colleagues in an inclusive working environment.

We explain the benefits of retaining employees who are losing their sight, and we can also help you to ensure that you meet your legal obligations under the Equality Act.

Our IT and accessibility at work section explains how you can support blind and partially sighted staff by making simple adaptations or investing in access technology.

We have put together a guide for employing a blind or partially sighted person for small and medium enterprise. It covers everything you need to know about employing someone with sight loss, from the recruitment and interview process, to making sure an employee has the right equipment in place to carry out their role.

On this page you can read some of the facts around employing someone with sight loss. You can find our Vocational Rehabilitation publication, which sets out the business case for retaining newly disabled staff and those with a long-term health condition. You can also find information on health and safety, guiding a blind or partially sighted person, guide dogs, and meeting the needs of blind and partially sighted delegates on training courses.

The facts

There are almost 80,000 registered blind and partially sighted people of working age in the UK.
The majority of these have some useful vision. This represents a huge pool of potential applicants for you to tap into.

Blind and partially sighted people can do almost any job.
Aside from obvious jobs such as piloting a plane or driving a car, a blind or partially sighted person can do just about any job. Just like everyone else, it comes down to whether they have the training, skills and experience. There are blind and partially sighted secretaries, car mechanics, nurses, scientists, stockbrokers, MPs, journalists, web designers, and teachers. Just like any other worker, they will need the right tools to do the job - in this case additional tools that reduce or eliminate the need for eyesight.

Blind and partially sighted people can use computers.
Computers have opened up many jobs to blind and partially sighted people. Using a computer largely comprises of putting information into it, or getting information out of it. Even with little or no sight, this is entirely possible with current technology. If the person has some useful vision, as many people registered with sight loss do, they can use a larger monitor, or software that magnifies the image on the screen. If a person has no useful vision, they can use technology that converts the text on the screen into sound via headphones (a screen reader) or tactile information (such as a refreshable braille display). Also many mainstream computers have accessibility features built into them, so they can be used "out of the box".

You can get financial help to pay for any necessary equipment.
Blind or partially sighted employees will often require some specialist equipment or software to allow them to do their job. However, the Government's Access to Work scheme means that you will not have to cover most of the extra costs incurred.

Blind and partially sighted people can move around and get to work.
Getting to work is the employee's responsibility. Before seeking employment, most blind and partially sighted people will have had some form of mobility training and will be quite capable of getting around. Just like anyone else, they will consider if they can get to a place of work in a timely fashion before applying for the job. They may use public transport or have someone drive them, or they may walk using a long cane or a guide dog.

They will probably spend some time with a Mobility Worker, provided by the local authority, to familiarise themselves with the route before their start date. It's up to the employee to organise this for themselves.

Blind and partially sighted people don't take lots of sick days.
Blindness isn't an illness, and there is evidence to show that disabled employees take less than average sick leave. In a study by DePaul University, participants noted low absenteeism rates and long tenures. They also described their employees with disabilities as loyal, reliable, and hardworking.

Employing a blind or partially sighted person will send out a message that your organisation is committed to equality Having a culturally and socially diverse team with a range of different skills and backgrounds will give you an edge in today's competitive marketplace.

Vocational rehabilitation and job retention

We believe that sight loss should not equal job loss, and strongly recommend that you make all efforts to retain a person who is losing their sight.

Retaining an employee who is losing their sight means that your business can continue to benefit from the skills, knowledge, and relationships they have built up over time. With the increase in accessible technology and the financial support of the Government's Access to Work scheme, retaining an employee can be easier and more cost-effective than you think. Cost-benefits for your business could include:

  • avoidance of redundancy pay or the costs associated with terminating employment
  • reduced costs of someone on long-term sick leave
  • reduced costs of recruitment and induction training for replacement staff
  • avoidance of potential costs from a claim arising from disability discrimination cases
  • added benefits of increased staff loyalty and morale, as well as a workforce more representative of its customers and community.

By retaining an employee who is losing or has lost their sight, you will also help them maintain their income and independence.

We've published a report called 'Vocational rehabilitation: the business case for retaining newly disabled staff and those with a long-term health condition'. The report explores the positive impact of job retention on both the employee and the employer.

Health and safety

Carrying out a risk assessment of the workplace or an activity for blind or partially sighted people doesn't have to be difficult, but it can sometimes be a daunting prospect. If you haven't worked with blind people before, it can be very easy to over-estimate risks or make assumptions about what blind people can or can't do.

We have produced guidance which highlights some of the things we're often asked about, to share examples of successful risk management and to suggest sources of help.

Getting around and guiding a blind person

Many blind and partially sighted people have some useful vision. Some people will be able to see fine detail, while others may have very good peripheral vision. If someone has very little or no useful vision they will usually receive some kind of mobility training before seeking a job. Mostly, that involves learning to navigate using a long cane.

It is a good idea to arrange a tour of the workplace, as you would with any other employee.

We can provide you and your colleagues with visual awareness training, which includes guiding a blind person. For more information contact employmentservices@rnib.org.uk.

This can often be paid for through the Access to Work scheme.

Guide dogs in the workplace

Guide dogs are one example of an aid to mobility. However, it has been estimated that as few as one or two per cent of blind or partially sighted people use guide dogs to get around. It is therefore important that you don't assume that people either use guide dogs, or choose to bring them to work.

If in doubt about any aspect of working with guide dogs, representatives from Guide Dogs will want to help you with this. Email them at guidedogs@guidedogs.org.uk or call them on 0118 983 5555.

Meeting training needs

If you are running a training course where blind or partially sighted delegates will be in attendance, there are some things you will need to consider.

We have produced some guidance to help you ensure these delegates are not disadvantaged. It covers course materials, note-taking, the training environment, access to refreshments and other facilities, and where to go for further information.

Knowledge and research hub

We are a leading source of information on sight loss and the issues affecting blind and partially sighted people. Access our statistics, evidence and reports in our research hub.

Visit the research hub