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Ollie Thomas shares his experience volunteering with RNIB

Ollie Thomas, age 25 (as of November 2022), completed the Vision Awards Programme with RNIB as a volunteer and has enjoyed checking and editing transcriptions for Talking Books. Ollie has found his time with RNIB invaluable - volunteering has developed his skills, experience and understanding of living with sight loss and has enhanced his life.

Ollie Thomas

Volunteering with RNIB

My role with RNIB involves listening to a recording of a book, checking that the recording exactly matches the written text and is accurate; working with the narrators to make sure that the audiobooks are as precise as possible. In the process of checking the recordings I get to read the books, so it’s really interesting work - I’ve learned about songwriting, the London bus service... And it only takes up a couple of hours of my time. Although I’m not blind or partially sighted, I am dyslexic so find audiobooks useful myself, it’s nice to be part of a team that helps others enjoy reading.

Developing skills through volunteering

Volunteering has allowed me to develop my skills and confidence whilst working with people from different walks of life. For example, my communication skills have improved through working with blind and partially sighted people. I’ve learned how to communicate with a wide range of people - things like announcing who is in the room when a blind person enters, things I would never have considered before. I’m now more conscious of clarity in my general communication, for example thinking about my facial expressions and hand gestures, because some communication is non-verbal. Through checking audiobooks for RNIB, I can focus better and pay more attention to detail in the books that I read in my own time, so volunteering has helped me become a better reader.

How volunteering can help you

I’ve just graduated from university, I studied Chemistry and am about to start a PhD in battery development. Volunteering with RNIB has given me an appreciation of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion issues, which I have been able to use whilst working on several committees in the Society of Chemistry at university, working with all kinds of different people and designing things with accessibility in mind. During my time volunteering, I also worked with colleagues at RNIB delivering talks in schools on adaptive technologies for blind and partially sighted people and I realised that I am passionate about and interested in community outreach, so I’m also going to be doing things like that. Volunteering exposes you to new experiences and you never know where they might take you in the future.

The importance of volunteering opportunities

The kinds of volunteering opportunities that RNIB offers are massively important for young people to enhance their employability and broaden their horizons. Volunteering opportunities are a great way to skills that can be used in the workplace. Working with blind and partially sighted people also makes you more conscious of accessibility issues, as although RNIB is centred around sight, the skills are transferable to other disabilities. I think volunteering is something that people often do at a local level - it’s great that volunteering can be done online now, but local volunteering opportunities in the community, that young people can use as a foundation for personal development are really important.

Broadening your horizons with volunteering

Volunteering is a fantastic way to gain new experiences; finding out what you enjoy, learning and developing your skillset at a time and pace that suits you. I have built my skills in transcription services, so if ever I wanted to, I could probably seek paid employment in that area. Volunteering can be a great way of moving into a different area or broadening what you do. It provides variety from what you usually do and keeps life interesting. I’ve also kept in touch with the people that I volunteered with, so it's a great way to meet new people and make friends.