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Before you ask, people with sight loss can start their own business

Two women in exercise clothes, smiling at the camera, standing in front of gym equipment.

Business owner Noreen Kelly and Wendy Herbison, RNIB Employment Services Manager

Before you ask, people with sight loss can start their own business, “I don’t see my visual impairment as a barrier, so want to reassure others that nothing should hold you back.”

Brimming with a new-found confidence, Noreen Kelly from Maydown, Derry/Londonderry, who lives with sight loss, hopes to go from strength to strength with her new Personal Training business. Noreen launched the new venture after struggling for some years to find work because of her sight loss, thanks to support from RNIB’s SkillSET pre-employment programme funded by the UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF).

Sight loss charity, the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB), PROVIDE an employment support service in Northern Ireland that works to reduce the shocking statistic that only one in four people with sight loss are in paid employment. Launched in April 2023, RNIB SkillSET, is a two-year pre-employment programme supporting blind and partially sighted people to prepare for and secure employment.

The programme offers one to one IT training, work placement opportunities, and pre-employment support such as CV development, support with job search, completing applications, and interview preparation.

RNIB has released a series of humorous, yet challenging, #BeforeYouAsk short films as part of its See the Person, Not the Sight Loss campaign which aims to raise awareness of and dispel misconceptions about sight loss.

The #BeforeYouAsk films use everyday relatable experiences to banish myths around what it’s really like to live with sight loss.

SkillSET is delivered in Northern Ireland as part of a consortium consisting of RNIB, Action Mental Health, Cedar Foundation, NOW group, Mencap, and Orchardville.

The project team work with participants both one to one or in groups, and training can be delivered remotely via phone or video conferencing to maximise reach and reduce the challenges that travelling can present.

The programme is further bolstered by the charity’s enhanced equipment loan service, which enables project participants to make use of high spec laptops, equipped with specialist magnification and screen-reading software, in order to get the most from the training.

To make a referral to the RNIB SkillSET project, just get in touch with the SkillSET team on [email protected].

Noreen Kelly's story

Noreen Kelly is aged 44 and lives in Derry/Londonderry. Noreen was diagnosed with Ushers syndrome in her 20’s and has lived with sight and hearing loss for most of her adult life.

Usher syndrome is a genetic disease that affects both hearing and vision. It causes deafness or hearing loss and an eye condition called retinitis pigmentosa (RP).

Noreen says:

“After leaving school, I initially trained as a hairdresser but as my sight deteriorated, I left work and focused on raising my young family. When my kids had reached an age, they didn’t rely on me as much, I tried to return to work but really struggled and found it tough to find any support. Eventually I contacted RNIB and met Wendy Herbison, an Employment Advisor with the charity’s Employment Service, who convinced me to register on the RNIB SkillSET project. It was then that things started to change for me.”

After successfully completing the pre-Employment Programme, Noreen qualified as a Personal Fitness Trainer and has now launched her own business from her home gym in Maydown, Derry/Londonderry.

Noreen continues:

“I knew This was my time. I had put my family first and my career on hold for years. I knew I wanted more but I just didn’t know what. But Wendy led careers advice sessions to try and tease out what I really enjoyed doing. It was simple. I loved exercise and had a modest gym at home for family use and knew that this wasn’t always available or accessible to others. It suddenly struck me. I wanted to become a personal trainer.

“I received support to produce my business plan from Enterprise Northwest and due to my hearing difficulties, Wendy supported me through this journey, taking notes at meetings, helping me research, and giving me a helping hand throughout. It was hard going. I left my school in Donegal with a Junior Leavers certificate many years previous, so it was very daunting to have to return to school to complete my Personal Training qualification. There were many times when I wanted to throw the towel in. I really depended on the support from RNIB as the journey was arduous.

Wendy Herbison, RNIB Employment Services Manager, said:

“On meeting Noreen, it was clear she was eager to try something new but wanted some support to figure out what she wanted to pursue. She had been devoted to raising her family but knew she wanted to succeed in getting back into employment. Noreen was very motivated from the start and loved the thought of running her own business. She had the facilities at home, by converting her home garage into a gym.

We identified challenges that Noreen would have to overcome but we set achievable goals and Noreen was determined to work hard and put whatever measures in place to succeed.”

Noreen continues: “Receiving my Personal Training qualification was a dream come true. I’ll never forget the day that I received the notification that I had passed all my exams and my certificate would be with me shortly. It was such a weight off my shoulders, I had put a lot of pressure on myself, my family and our finances to achieve my goals and so until I held that certificate in my hands, I wasn’t sure if I’d ever get there. I had also worked hard to improve my IT skills and with the support of RNIB’s Employment team, achieved my Level 1 in IT qualification, something I knew I’d need if I was going to run a business.

“I was inspired to provide an improved gym experience, Inclusive of everyone and open to all. So, I have a buddy system, if you require someone to come with you to the gym as a guide, they go free. I know from first-hand experience that it can be a very daunting experience attending a large gym if you have sight or hearing loss. They can be very noisy large open spaces, with plenty of obstacles and people to walk into. It’s important for me that I am upfront about my disability and use my own experience to improve my business. I want people who come to my gym especially those with any kind of sensory loss, to feel welcome and for it to be accessible. I don’t see my visual impairment as a barrier, so want to reassure others with sensory loss that nothing should hold you back. Although I’m registered blind, I have relatively good central vision, so my sight loss tends to go unnoticed, which brings its own set of challenges as no allowances are given.

“Starting my own business has really empowered me. Although I’m only just getting into my new venture, and building up a portfolio of clients, my confidence is steadily growing. I feel inspired to broaden my services and am venturing into providing nutritional advice to progress the customer journey. I’ve had some great outcomes, where clients have lost weight, reduced pain and discomfort and are overall in better health since using my service. It’s such a good feeling when you know you are making a difference and improving someone’s overall wellbeing.

“I’m all too aware of the challenges that lie ahead in starting up a business but having the ongoing support from RNIB’s Employment Team is giving me real confidence and drive.”

You can find Noreen Kelly Fitness on Facebook and Instagram.

If you’re affected by sight loss and want support in starting or staying in work, search for employment Northern Ireland on RNIB’s website

Find out what it’s really like living with sight loss. For more information about #BeforeYouAsk please visit

To find out more or to arrange media interviews:

Contact Joe Kenny at RNIBNI on,

Tel: 07936 601266

Email: [email protected]

Notes to Editors

Sight loss is a spectrum, and every eye condition affects someone’s sight differently. The majority (93 per cent) of people who are registered blind or partially sighted have some usable sight.

About RNIB - Every 15 minutes, someone in the UK begins to lose their sight. We are the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) and we're here for everyone affected by sight loss - that's almost two million people in the UK. If you, or someone you know, has a sight problem, RNIB can help. Call the RNIB Helpline on 0303 123 9999 or visit