How will we convince employers to recruit blind people unless we do it ourselves?

Keith Valentine

Like many people who start losing their sight while they are working, I carry with me a sense of just how cruel the labour market can be to people with sight loss. Hard won skills can be written off and the inability of many employers to work out how a blind person manages to do things conflate into substantial barriers to getting work, and keeping it.

The figures speak for themselves. Unemployment in the general UK population is at 5.2%, and has been at under 5.5% for over a year. The same is true in the U.S., a far bigger economy. Yet unemployment among the blind and visually impaired working age population sits stubbornly at 66% or worse. Another shocking thing, this is also true of the U.S., as I mentioned a far bigger economy.

I can’t help wondering if the fact that the U.S. and Britain have similar headline statistics has some structural basis. Maybe a third of working age blind people will always struggle through and two thirds will fail? No, I can’t accept that, and here’s why. I attended a reception organised by Lord Low and Action for Blind People, at the House of Lords last week. There were a good few of us VI types there, many of who I’m getting to know well. But I met one guy that stood out for me. Before losing his sight he was a doctor in a London hospital. He is now one of the two thirds of VI people out of work. Now don’t get me wrong, Guide Dogs and Action are doing a sterling job helping him get sorted. But I simply ask this, how can we make people realise the modern British economy cannot afford to have that skill set lost to the NHS?

Sadly, I don’t have an answer to that question yet, but it does prompt me to ask what I should practically do about the issue. Miriam Martin (CEO at Action) made a good start at the event, asking all employers present to take a VI work placement. Here here! Thomas Pocklington Trust will back that.

However, it shocked me when I came into the sight loss charity sector that the numbers of blind and visually impaired people working for the charities is very low. Normally around 5 or 6% of the workforce and in a number of places a flat zero. Is it any wonder we struggle to convince employers to employ blind people if we can’t convince our own HR departments and managers?

At Pocklington we have made a commitment to take positive action in recruiting our talent and skills from the blind and VI community wherever possible and wherever equalities law allows. To date we are at 20% of our workforce and growing. Put simply, we must lead by example. How else will we convince employers what is possible unless we do it ourselves?