Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Helping the Blind to Help Themselves; New Legislation Should Help Visually Impaired Job-Seekers Find Employment, Reports KARIN MOCHAN

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Helping the Blind to Help Themselves; New Legislation Should Help Visually Impaired Job-Seekers Find Employment, Reports KARIN MOCHAN

Article excerpt

Byline: KARIN MOCHAN

WITH David Blunkett in charge at the Home Office, you would be forgiven for thinking that blindness is no longer a barrier to a rewarding job, but 75 per cent of visually impaired (VI) adults are unemployed.

From today, however, new rules, which clarify how the Disability Discrimination Act applies to visually impaired people, should boost their employment chances.

"These regulations will ensure that blind and partially sighted people can easily demonstrate they are entitled to protection under the Disability Discrimination Act," said Maria Eagle, Minister for Disabled People, announcing the changes. "The regulations will help make it clear that discriminating against people with a visual impairment is not acceptable."

This is good news for the Royal London Society for the Blind (RLSB), which provides education, training and employment services to help the visually impaired lead independent lives. Established in 1838 to teach the blind to read the Bible, the charity has moved with the times and its employment department, Workbridge, is busy finding work for 380 clients.

"Since Workbridge started in 1998, we have found open (as opposed to sheltered) employment for 155 people and the message has spread in the VI community," says manager Richard Greenwood, who heads a team of nine at offices in Park Royal. "The adult services here find clients work - and help them retain their jobs. We also look after careers guidance at the society's school, Dorton House, in Kent."

Sponsorship from local authority Workstep programmes has helped some people work from home, including a music teacher, sports adviser and aromatherapist.

Each new client is assigned to an adviser who goes through newspaper advertisements with them and helps with CVs, application forms and other practicalities. There is coaching in establishing a positive selfimage and body language, help in finding work experience and - once the client has a job - an IT department to provide the necessary adaptive technology, including speaking software called Jaws. Someone from the team provides help for the client on their first day and, if needed, training for their colleagues.

Greenwood, who learned Braille only two years ago when his sight deteriorated dramatically, believes the blind have the right to be considered for job vacancies. "It's harder to get your first job, but once you've got that it gets easier. Our message to employers is: have a look at the application and don't reject it out of hand. You may be surprised." Disabled workers are very loyal, according to Greenwood, and "will give that extra hour". …

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