Our Vision Fund provides RNIB with funding to employ a full-time, London-based Employment Advisor to help visually impaired people of working age to retain and progress their jobs after sight loss. That Employment Advisor is Debra Bunce, and this is what she gets up to in her role.
Although RNIB’s website offers an abundance of information, Debra and her colleagues in RNIB’s employment team provide a more in-depth, one to one service to customers. The Employment team gives information, advice and guidance on issues from job retention, pre-employment issues and ‘Access to Work’, to reasonable adjustments in the workplace and where to access legal advice.
Employment advisors such as Debra also undertake comprehensive Work Based Assessments, commissioned by the employer. These identify issues that the employee is facing due to sight loss, and provide individual solutions to problems, or recommendation of specialist aids or equipment.
A varied workload – no two days are the same
Debra’s role varies from day to day – from one-off interactions to working on caseloads of customers and new referrals. This might comprise individual one to one sessions over the phone, or online interactions by email. These exchanges and their subject matter are diverse, including offering support around retaining employment; communication with managers; accessing information on reasonable adjustments; advising on specialist aids and equipment or signposting to local organisations for pre-employment and community services. Debra makes referrals to other RNIB internal teams such as technology support, welfare benefits advice, tax services, counselling, and living well with sight loss.
She receives a variety of referred enquiries from employers, largely comprising questions around how to make a workplace safe, work-based assessments, available funding and how to best support an employee with sight loss. RNIB Employment Advisors try to upskill employers, employment professionals, or anyone that may be working with, or employing people with sight loss. We offer free, specialist eLearning courses in addition to the general advice we give.
Challenging misconceptions – it’s what we can do, not what we can’t
One of the misconceptions that Debra works to dispel is that there’s only certain jobs that are suitable for blind and partially sighted people. We are quite often asked: ‘’What kind of jobs can blind and partially sighted do, what jobs are there for blind and partially sighted people?” There aren’t certain jobs!
Blind and partially sighted people apply for most of the same jobs that any other person would. These do not always come without limitations. RNIB Employment Advisors work alongside our customers to consider some of the challenges or barriers they may face. Together, they’ll consider any accessible equipment, software or adaptations that could be needed and put in place. These adjustments allow the employee with sight loss to thrive in their role, enabled to carry out the job on an equal footing to their sighted colleagues, only sometimes in a slightly different way.
Working with our customers on employment retention is very rewarding for Debra. On initial contact our customers can be very stressed. We aim to reassure people and help them to feel confident enough to break down barriers, raising their self-esteem – especially when newly diagnosed, or new to sight loss.
For more information on the employment services on offer, call the RNIB Helpline on 0303 123 9999 or visit rnib.org.uk/employment.
Helping Dan find his way with Access To Work
We asked Debra a few questions about someone she has recently supported in her role as Employment Advisor.
1) What was the situation before you were involved?
Dan* has been registered as Severely Sight Impaired. He works as a security guard at an office. He was struggling to get to work safely using public transport and wanted advice about the Access to Work scheme. His employer is supportive and aware of his sight loss and has made some helpful changes to his work pattern. Dan wanted RNIB’s support to raise the travel challenges with his employer and get help travelling to and from work.
(* name has been changed for privacy)
2) What was your involvement?
Dan was referred to me after initially contacting the RNIB’s Helpline and being triaged to one of her Sight Loss Advice Service colleagues.
I introduced Dan to Access to Work. I explained that following an assessment, funds might be made available for specialist equipment, such as visual aids, a contribution towards the cost of a taxi to and from work (if public transport is difficult), and that it may fund a Support Worker (if there was no technological solution to his, specific, identified challenges).
Dan explained that he had to travel to work by bus and underground. He was having problems using public transport, including missing his stops and finding it hazardous getting on and off the bus. I explained that Access to Work may help towards the cost of using a taxi, for all or part of his journey. He would need to get evidence of his sight loss and a letter stating why he is unable to use public transport (from his GP or similar medical specialist) and obtain three quotes from taxi firms.
Dan agreed that we could email him our factsheets ‘Staying in Work’ and ‘Access to Work’, to be read by his wife. He was advised to telephone Access to Work to make a claim for funding. Because he was having difficulties around work, Access to Work could then arrange for him to have an assessment. But he would need to inform his employer. He was encouraged to get back in touch with me should he require any advice and guidance.
3) What was the situation after your involvement?
Dan has now applied for support from Access to Work regarding travelling by taxi to and from work and is well prepared to negotiate this. We will provide further ongoing support as and when required.
4) What might happen in future as a result?
Dan had worked in this job for 13 years and was at risk of dropping out of employment. Since our intervention, his employment is much more secure and sustainable. Equally, he knows how to contact us if he needs help or advice in the future.