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Supporting people with sight loss into employment

Only one in four blind and partially sighted people of working age are in employment, but RNIB’s Eye Work Too programme is working to change that.

Eye Work Too, a supported pre-employment programme from the RNIB in Northern Ireland, offers life-changing opportunities for blind or partially sighted people to gain, sustain and retain long-term paid employment.

In the last quarter, the programme has supported five local people into paid jobs – no mean feat considering the challenging job market and the impact coronavirus has had.

Diane’s story

Diane Marks, 48, has sight loss, and is just one of many who has benefited from the programme and is now in paid employment. Diane lives in Newtownabbey with her partner and guide dog Morris and started the Eye Work Too Programme in September 2019.

She found the programme invaluable as it gave her the opportunity to gain essential experience through extensive on-the-job training and support. Diane has now been offered a full-time, paid, permanent position with the Northern Ireland Health and Social Care Board and she is very much looking forward to starting.

Diane explained: “My social worker told me about RNIB’s Eye Work Too project as I had been saying how frustrated I was getting that I couldn’t get a job.

“I have a wealth of experience in volunteering and campaigning for disability equality, but somehow, I couldn’t transfer all of this into paid work. I didn’t want to be living on benefits. I just wanted to work.” 

Diane lost her sight overnight at the age of 24 due to complications after contracting bacterial meningitis.

Born in South Africa, she moved to England and trained as a physiotherapist at the University of Brighton before moving to London to work. Diane volunteered for RNIB as a campaigner before moving to Northern Ireland to live with her partner.

Diane added: “I needed to work. I refused to sit on my backside doing nothing. Also, my partner and I realised we were barely making ends meet and we just wanted a better quality of life.”

Diane’s partner also has sight loss and they are also a participant on the Eye Work Too programme.

Anne Cahill, Eye Work Too Project Co-Ordinator, said: 

“We want to highlight the benefits and positive outcomes from this programme. From July until September we supported five people into employment – 75 per cent of our annual target.

“Unemployment rates are rising in Northern Ireland and increasing numbers are facing redundancy. For people with disabilities, such as sight loss, who are already substantially disadvantaged in the labour market, and who are much less likely to be in employment, this is very concerning.  

“For so many Eye Work Too participants to have gained employment at such a time however is extremely positive. It demonstrates that barriers to employment in terms of disability can be overcome with the right support. We hope it will inspire others to come forward to find out how Eye Work Too could help them into employment.”

Five new places

The Eye Work Too programme now has five new places available on the programme for immediate starts, between now and Christmas.

Anne explained how this works: “All clients complete an Employment Assessment with their Employment Advisor as part of their induction and this guides all towards suitable work options for placements. Ideas are then explored and relevant companies are approached.”

Fully equipped

Stephanie Holland, one of Eye Work Too’s Employment Advisors, explained that equipment can be borrowed too: “Our new loan equipment scheme allows Eye Work Too to reach blind and partially sighted people from every part of Northern Ireland by loaning laptops, assistive technology and other IT equipment. 

All participants are offered personal one-to-one tuition to ensure successful completion of accredited qualifications in IT.

“A new virtual drop-in ensures that all participants have the opportunity to develop new friendships and keep up to date with exciting social activities and other services offered through RNIB. We ensure ongoing support and IT training for those wishing to engage in further education – this ensures full and smooth engagement in their learning,” detailed Stephanie.

‘I can do it’

Diane really appreciated the one-to-one support from the Eye Work Too team. She said: “Stephanie from Eye Work Too was just fantastic. She filled out any necessary forms, supported me through training and interviewing and she was so positive and encouraging. Stephanie was able to ensure there were adjustments in place for me in my current job placement and my colleagues couldn’t have been any more accepting, tolerant and supportive.

“It was just nice to have someone to touch base with and to have a cheerleader in my corner, someone to bat ideas of, etc. – this is why the Eye Work Too team is so good. They want you to be candid with them and they want to get you a job.”

Diane is currently completing an ITQ accreditation with RNIB in word, excel, outlook and the internet in general.

“I’m nervous about starting the new job, of course I am; I haven’t been in full-time, permanent employment for 12 years, but being on my Eye Work Too placement has been amazing as it’s taught me that I can do it.”

What would Diane say to others in the same situation who are maybe apprehensive about working? “Don’t be frightened; you can do this too.”

Notes to editors

Interviews with Diane Marks and the RNIB Eye Work Too team are available. 

For all further media enquiries, please contact Laura Cummings on: 07763 579141, or by emailing [email protected]

About Eye Work Too 

The Eye Work Too project is part funded through the Northern Ireland European Social Fund Programme, the Department for the Economy and the Department for Communities.

Pre-placement programme overview:

  • CV development
  • Interview skills
  • Job search techniques
  • Confidence building
  • Training in the use of assistive technology
  • There is an opportunity to attain Level 1 Certificate in IT User Skills
  • Job club and support activities.

Eye Work Too is a fully funded programme with no cost for the participant. It is the only dedicated employment programme in Northern Ireland specifically tailored and designed to meet the needs of people with sight loss. 

It’s a fully customised programme of support tailored to every single participant’s requirements, experience, skills, commitments and aspirations. Every participant is assigned a personal employment and technology advisor who will provide one-to-one support and guidance throughout the programme. All participants are offered work placements which provide real-life work experience, on-the-job training and enhanced opportunities to secure permanent work

For further information on our Eye Work Too Programme or to arrange an informal chat with one of our Eye Work Too team, please get in touch via:

About RNIB

The Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) is one of the UK’s leading sight loss charities and the largest community of blind and partially sighted people. We want society, communities and individuals to see differently about sight loss. RNIB's focus is on creating a world where there are no barriers to people with sight loss.

  • Every day 250 people start to lose their sight   
  • At least half of all sight loss is avoidable   
  • More than two million people have sight loss  
  • In Northern Ireland, there are 55,600 people living with sight loss 

Please call our Helpline on 0303 123 9999 if you need any support.