Eye Work Too programme helps more people with sight loss gain work experience
In Northern Ireland, there are an estimated 53,500 people living with sight loss, of which 11,600 are of working age. Whilst overall employment figures are at a high, and rates of employment for people with disabilities as a group are on the increase, this is unfortunately not the case for blind and partially sighted people.
Currently only 1 in 4 people with sight loss of working age are in employment, a significant decrease from one in three in 2006. The Royal National Institute of Blind People in Northern Ireland (RNIB NI) wants to address this and is seeking to work with employers, and people with sight loss, to reduce this employment gap.
Anne Cahill, project coordinator for RNIB’s Eye Work Too programme, said, “Across Northern Ireland there are blind and partially sighted people successfully employed in a diverse range of roles, from bankers to physiotherapists, communications professionals to counsellors.
“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 – such as speaking software which enables you to access information on the computer, and digital magnifiers which can make it easier to see printed documents more clearly. In addition, government schemes like Access to Work mean that many of these costs can be met.
“If you are an employer, RNIB can help you retain a current employee who is losing their sight, and help you prepare to take on someone who is blind or partially sighted. We are currently looking for more employers willing to work with us on our Eye Work Too programme by providing short term placements for one of our programme participants.
Designing buildings with partial sight
Danny Cartin, 27, is partially sighted and blazing a trail in architecture. Originally from Claudy, he was successful in securing a paid student placement as an Architectural Assistant with the Education Authority in Northern Ireland.
Danny was born with oculocutaneous albinism and nystagmus, which means he is short sighted and can be sensitive to bright light. Based in their offices on Academy Street Belfast, Danny works across computer aided design projects for education and community buildings within the greater Belfast area.
Danny said, “Sometimes people with sight loss can be pigeonholed into only being able to carry out a certain type of job, and expectations can be lower than they should be. I didn’t want to limit myself. It was when we were looking at career options during A-Levels in school that the idea of architecture and design first intrigued me.
“At present I have an associate bachelor’s degree in Architecture from Ulster University and hope to return to complete my studies in September after taking this year out.
“I was very thankful to get this placement. I know many people can be nervous about employing someone registered as ‘blind’ or partially sighted, not realising sight loss is a spectrum and that only about 7 per cent of people actually see nothing.
“Most of my work is using AutoCAD computer drawing software. Day to day I amend drawings or maps – the time-consuming jobs – then I forward them on to colleagues for whatever projects they’re working on.
“I use a double screen set-up, handier to be able to zoom in when I need to, and the magnifier software on the PC every day, alongside a handheld magnifier for paperwork.
“I’ve really valued the opportunity to get my foot on the ladder and build up some of my CPD points towards becoming a Chartered Architect.”
James, Danny’s line manager, said, “Danny was one of the best interviewees we’ve ever had. We’ve never had a blind or partially sighted employee here with us and he has been an easy ‘slot-in’ and well utilised member of our Belfast team. Danny’s assured interview and transferable skillset, relating to his previous experiences in delivering presentations and training courses, as well as his effective communication skills when dealing with varying stakeholders, served us well.”
If you would like to discuss providing a placement opportunity for someone on RNIB’s Eye Work Too programme, or to sign up for the programme yourself, visit rnib.org.uk/EyeWorkToo for more information or email [email protected]
Eye Work Too is part financed by the European Social Fund and the Department for Communities, under the Northern Ireland ESF Programme 2018-2022.