Only one in four blind or partially-sighted people in paid employment

There are 57,400 people with sight loss living in Northern Ireland, according to figures from the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB), yet the number of blind or partially-sighted people in employment here has not increased in a generation.

Breaking that down to more simplified figures, it means that one in four is employed compared to one in three 15 years ago.

The RNIB wants to reverse that trend. It has a slogan: 'See the person, not the sight loss'.

Amazing advances in mainstream and assistive technology have enabled people with sight loss to work effectively alongside their peers.

The new technology is changing the way blind and partially-sighted people can do their jobs.

Belfast man Jamie Shields has an eye condition called Ocular Albinism. The 32-year-old is registered blind, but he works from home for the global recruitment firm AMS.

He uses assistive technology to enable him to do his job and is well-placed to know the challenges people who are blind or partially sighted like him face daily.

"Because I have some sight, people tend to misconstrue that," he said. "They ask me 'how can you be disabled if you can see?' Or 'where’s your guide dog, where’s your cane?'

"Workplaces disable us because they have this misconception that they look at us with pity or inspiration, or you’re a token hire, so it’s difficult because mindsets need to change."

And changing mindsets is the primary thrust of new research carried out by Birmingham University into barriers to employment for blind or partially sighted people.

Despite a big push in recent years to create a more inclusive and diverse workforce in Northern Ireland, the number of blind and partially-sighted people with jobs has not increased in a generation.

The RNIB said it wants to work with key individuals and organisations to change this.

It launched a vital piece of research on Thursday - undertaken by the University of Birmingham, funded by the Community Renewal Fund - that explored the barriers to employment of partially-sighted or blind people, and the solutions that could change the statistics and the employment landscape for blind and partially-sighted young people making the transition from education into the workplace. 

Rachel Hewett from the University of Birmingham led the research.

She said: “One of the main barriers that people with visual impairments are facing is around people’s perceptions of vision impairment and not understanding the adjustments which can be made.

"They also do not really appreciate that there’s technology available  and government funding available which can help."

The RNIB said it wanted to increase understanding of how with a change in public attitudes and some simple adjustments, blind and partially sighted people can work effectively in a wide variety of roles, up to the highest level of management. 

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