Alexis Horam, Senior Rehabilitation Officer for Visually Impaired People, London Borough of Harrow explains why being a rehab officer is one of the best jobs ever and how to accidentally braille a client's floor!
How did you get into your profession?
For 19 years I was employed by the Middlesex Association for the Blind in many different roles, from setting up many grass root community projects, to Assistant Director and then finally setting up and undertaking a new role called an Early Intervention Officer. This was by any other name a Rehab Assistant role.
I was funded to assist the Rehab Officers who worked for the local authority. This was a role I loved. The rationale of the post was to take some of the burden from the qualified staff and visit all newly- registered people in the borough and help them with tasks such as form filling, learning to use simple equipment such as liquid levels and demonstrating and issuing lamps.
Then one day one of the Rehab Officers said: “Why don’t you go and get trained, after all, you’re doing half the job already” That was in 2003.
I graduated from the University of Central England in Birmingham in 2005, after juggling working full time and studying full time. It was the hardest two years of my life and also the most fulfilling. I’m now employed by the local authority, but maintain close links to the voluntary sector and am also a management trustee for the organisation who set me on the path to where I am now.
What does your job entail?
Together with a part time colleague I am responsible for supporting any visually impaired person living in our borough. From making contact with all newly-registered clients to providing all rehabilitation. I teach mobility and independent living skills, joint working with social workers to set up personal budgets, run a weekly resource room, set up support groups, undertake counselling and anything else that may be required to promote the needs and wishes of people with a visual impairment.
What are the highlights of your role?
I love the fact that every day is different. One day I may be working with an 18 year old with autism and the next I might be working with a 90 year old who has lost the confidence to make a cup of tea. There is no feeling like the sense of satisfaction and achievement when someone I have been working with crosses that line from dependent to independent or from depressed to determined.
What are the more challenging parts of your job?
The Teams we all work on now have reduced in size dramatically. Ten years ago, our Sensory Team in Harrow had 10 staff in it, now there are 2.5 of us to cover both visual and hearing impairment. This can be frustrating as there is so much to be done, and so much we could do.
Do you feel you make a difference?
I know I make a difference. Whether that difference is in practical terms – such as teaching someone how to use a long cane so that they can be independently mobile, or whether that difference be an emotional one where a person needs someone who understands the implication of sight loss to escort them through the maze from registration to acceptance.
What is the funniest thing that has happened to you since taking this role?
Working closely with a client in his kitchen re-training him in kitchen skills, I looked down at his immaculate cushion flooring to see that during the past hour of walking across his kitchen that my high heels had made a million pit marks. To tell or not to tell? Luckily he saw the funny side and from then on he told people that his Rehab Officer had brailed his kitchen floor!
If this wasn't your job, what would you be doing?
Beach bumming around the world with a sun tan, purple hair and attitude.
Would you encourage people to join your profession?
Definitely. It’s the best job in the world!
What are the three essential qualities you believe are needed for this role?
Listening skills, patience, timely and appropriate enthusiasm