Supporting people with sight loss in employment – RNIB good practice guide

Written by: Fit for Work team | Posted in: Blog

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By the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB)

Some key points

  • People of working age who are losing their sight will most likely be considering the impact of their sight loss on their employment situation. The key message for everyone is that sight loss does not equal job loss.
  • People in work should be supported and encouraged to stay in work whenever possible, and provided with the right information, advice, equipment and support to help them retain work, and progress in their careers.
  • People that are looking for work may need specialist support on their journey towards employment to help address specific needs related to their sight loss.

How many blind and partially sighted people of working age are there?

  • Around 84,000 people of working age are registered in the UK as sight impaired or severely sight impaired.
  • According to the Labour Force Survey, around 113,000 people of working age in the UK are long-term disabled with a visual impairment.

What is their employment situation?

  • Blind and partially sighted people are more likely to be unemployed than the general population. Of those registered as blind (severely sight impaired) or partially sighted (sight impaired), only 33% are employed, compared to 72% of all people of working age.
  • Regarding long-term unemployment, people registered as blind or partially sighted are nearly five times more likely to be unemployed for five years or more than the general population.

How many people of working age lose their sight each year?

  • More than 4,000 people of working age are newly certified by an ophthalmologist as severely sight impaired) or sight impaired each year across the UK.

How many people lose their job each year because of the onset of sight loss or deterioration of sight?

  • We do not know the number of people with sight loss who lose their jobs each year, but we do know there is a link between sight loss and job loss.
  • 27 per cent of non-working registered blind and partially sighted people said the main reason for leaving their last job was the onset of sight loss or deterioration of their sight.
  • 30 per cent of those not in work but who had worked in the past said that they maybe or definitely could have continued in their job given the right support.

What jobs do blind and partially sighted people do?

Blind and partially sighted people succeed in a wide variety of jobs in almost all employment sectors. RNIB have recently published a report into the types of jobs blind and partially sighted people do, which shows the range and extent of these jobs, highlighting individual roles as well as broader employment trends. This report is available to download from RNIB’s website at: www.rnib.org.uk/employmentresearch.

We also publish a series of booklets called This IS Working, which highlight the successful careers of a wide cross section of blind and partially sighted people. . They are available alongside many other success stories on RNIB’s website at: www.rnib.org.uk/employmentstories.

What does the law say?

Sight loss is considered a disability under equality law. Employers are not allowed to discriminate against someone on the basis of their disability. For someone experiencing sight loss, this means that it unlawful to dismiss someone on the grounds of disability, and instead places a duty on employers to make reasonable adjustments in the workplace to accommodate a person’s specific needs. More information is available on RNIB’s website at: www.rnib.org.uk/rights.

What support is available?

Action / RNIB employment services

RNIB and Action for Blind People provide specialist support and advice to help blind and partially sighted people find employment, start their own business or stay in their jobs if they are losing their sight. Services are delivered via our helpline, Action’s Employment Line and our UK-wide network of regional and local centres.

RNIB helpline: 0303 123 9999 – helpline@rnib.org.uk.

Action Employment Line: 0800 440 2255 – employmentline@actionforblindpeople.org.uk.

RNIB website

RNIB’s website contains lots of information and advice to help blind and partially sighted people prepare for and find employment, start their own business or stay in their jobs if they are losing their sight. Visit: www.rnib.org.uk/employment.

It also has lots of useful information for employers: www.rnib.org.uk/employingsomeone.

It also has lots of useful information for intermediaries and professionals supporting blind and partially sighted people to gain and retain employment: www.rnib.org.uk/employmentservices.

RNIB factsheets

RNIB produce a series of employment factsheets for people living with sight loss, to provide information and advice on looking for and staying in work. They include:

  • Access to Work;
  • looking for work;
  • staying in work;
  • self-employment;
  • job seeking resources;
  • RNIB’s trainee grade scheme;
  • your rights in employment.

All these factsheets can be downloaded from: www.rnib.org.uk/employment.

Access to Work

The Government’s Access to Work scheme provides practical and financial support for disabled people in work and those starting a new job. It awards discretionary grants towards any extra employment costs that result from a disability, including special aids and equipment, support workers and travel to work. Access to Work does not replace the duty an employer has under the Equality Act to make reasonable adjustments. Instead it provides support that is over and above that which is a reasonable adjustment. RNIB produce a factsheet on Access to Work, and information is available on GOV.UK at: www.gov.uk/access-to-work.

Work Choice

Work Choice is a voluntary contracted specialist disability employment programme that helps people with disabilities whose needs cannot be met through other employment programmes, Access to Work or workplace adjustments. It provides individually-tailored support (e.g. job search skills, basic training, and work placements) for disabled people who face the most complex employment barriers and wan to find or stay in work. Further information at: www.gov.uk/work-choice.

Fit for Work

Fit for Work is a free service designed to help employed people with health issues stay in work, and return to work after four weeks’ sickness absence. Anyone looking for guidance on work-related health topics can access the online resources or call the free telephone advice line (0800 032 6235 – English speakers, 0800 032 6233 – Cymraeg, 0800 019 2211 – Scotland). GPs and employers can refer employed people who have been off work for four weeks or more for a free occupational health assessment that uses a holistic biopsychosocial approach to identify all the obstacles that are preventing a person from returning to work (work, health and personal): https://fitforwork.org/.

Specialist Employability Support

In July 2014 the Minister for Disabled People instructed the department to review the Residential Training College (RTC) provision and explore options for developing a successor. This led to the creation of Specialist Employability Support (SES), which operates within the same funding as the Residential Training Colleges, but aims to double the customer volumes, extend the geographic reach through outreach and partnership-working, and forge stronger links with a range of other programmes, including Work Choice and the Work Programme.

SES is designed to help unemployed disabled adults to secure and sustain employment or self-employment. It offers an individually-tailored combination of guidance, learning in the workplace and work experience. SES focuses on helping those for whom other provision such as Work Choice or the Work Programme are not suitable: https://www.gov.uk/specialist-employability-support/overview.

 Financial support

Employment Support Allowance (ESA) provides financial support to anyone that is unable to work due to disability or long-term health problem. Eligibility is determined by a work capability assessment. Further information at: www.gov.uk/employment-support-allowance.

Summary of guidance

  • Working age people that are losing their sight should be asked if they are receiving specialist support to help them find work or stay in their current job.
  • The key message for anyone in work and losing their sight is that sight loss does not equal job loss.
  • Anyone with sight loss should be supported and encouraged to stay in work whenever possible. Blind and partially sighted people who are in work should be provided with the right information, advice, equipment and support to help them retain work, and progress in their careers.
  • People with sight loss that are looking for work will need specialist support on their journey towards employment. In addition to barriers common with anyone without work experience or who has been out of work for a long period, blind and partially sighted jobseekers have specific needs related to their sight loss.
  • Let them know that RNIB and Action for Blind People provide specialist support and advice to help blind and partially sighted people find employment, start their own business or stay in their jobs if they are losing their sight. In particular, tell them about the RNIB helpline and Action for Blind People’s Employment Line
  • It is important to recognise that sight loss is considered a disability under the Equality Act, and that it is unlawful for an employer to dismiss a person or discriminate against someone on the grounds of their disability.
  • Check whether they would like to meet other people in a similar situation, or whether emotional support is appropriate. Let them know about RNIB Group’s confidence building programmes – for example, Finding Your Feet and Living With Sight Loss, and RNIB’s Emotional Support Service, as required.

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