Rachel Jones has Retinitis Pigmentosa, having been diagnosed at seven years old. Her sight deteriorated in her 20s, when she was registered as severely sight impaired. After volunteering in different roles for RNIB, Rachel was able to get back into employment, and is now Policy and Campaigns Officer at RNIB Cymru.
“Although I spent my childhood with a visual impairment, I didn't have any support until my early 20s, when I was registered as partially sighted. I was afraid to confront the diagnosis; nobody wants to be the teenager who stands out.
I was only in my mid-20s when I had quite a sudden and severe reduction in my sight. I had an appointment with my ophthalmologist, who said that it was time I registered as severely sight impaired. It was a lot to process. But in an unexpected way, being registered blind was the best thing that ever happened to me, because suddenly I had all the support that I needed to confront my sight loss.
I signed up to a volunteer induction which went really well and I started doing the Living With Sight Loss courses as a helper. The team was absolutely fantastic and it soon became clear that I was a very engaged volunteer. I wanted to do more and more, and my volunteer manager gave me plenty of opportunities to gain new skills. I can’t tell you how much confidence I gained - I was somebody who didn't want to leave the house and there I was going to these courses.
I put my hand up for every volunteering opportunity that came my way, becoming a Connect Lead volunteer and a Campaigns volunteer. Then I joined the Wales Advisory Action Group, and I loved being part of that because it meant I got to go to Cardiff. It felt so great just navigating from the station all the way to the RNIB office - I felt on top of the world, like I could do anything.
I always made a point of saying yes to things, even if it scared me and different opportunities came my way. I did a TV interview for BBC Wales News about rehabilitation officers, and on the back of that I did a live radio interview. I barely slept the night before from nerves, but I did it. Just taking these opportunities makes you want to put your hand up to do more.
When I was called out of the blue by the director of RNIB Cymru about an opportunity to join the team, I jumped at the chance.
I was so excited at the chance to do this, and at this point I’d been out of work for four years. That's a long time, so part of me was really nervous about going for it. But I just focused on getting through the application process.
I remember the moment when I was called to say that I'd got the job, I was on cloud nine. It felt like my journey had come full circle - I'd been a customer for RNIB, a volunteer and now I was actually working for this amazing organisation that’s helped me.
One of the best things is that I now get to manage volunteers, and a lot of them are friends that I've made through my volunteering. It's a very special relationship I have with the volunteers as I know them so well, and really want to help them achieve their goals. We have a very wide range of people who come to us, so I get a chance to work with a lot of diverse people. One of the most meaningful roles I've taken on is running the Wales Advisory Group that I used to be a part of as a volunteer, I absolutely love that.
A lot of people come to us looking to find work, and volunteering is a great way to help upskill them and boost their confidence. Seeing other blind or partially sighted people in work is really helpful, because it shows them that it's quite normal. We can give each other advice and guidance as well, whether it's just talking about Access to Work and perhaps many issues there, or just talking about working remotely.
I really hope to be a bit of a role model, especially to the younger blind or partially sighted people, and to those who've had a similar journey to myself. I massively changed my career path, moving from hospitality to the third sector. But a lot of the same skills can be applied. We're very much about customer service and dealing with people, and I'm very skilled at that. My self-worth, my self-esteem, my self-confidence has grown immensely.
One of the things I really hope to do over the next year is to be able to recruit volunteers to come to us, to see their journeys and hopefully help them on their way.”