Employers getting it right: In conversation with Ines Higgins
Ines Higgins is a Team Administrator at Forwards Employment Service, an organisation that is part of Gloucestershire County Council, helping disabled people into work.
Ines talks about her long journey into employment and how her supportive employer has helped her thrive in her role.
“Not an easy journey”
Ines, 33, has an eye condition called Optic Nerve Atrophy. She is passionate about running, helps out at her local church and volunteers for the Gloucestershire Sight Loss Council.
Despite her out-going personality and can-do attitude, Ines struggled for many years to get work. She says her journey into employment was not easy. Even with qualifications in admin and doing an apprenticeship with EDF energy, she often missed out on posts due to lack of experience.
It became a catch-22 situation. She simply couldn’t find an employer willing to give her the experience she needed. She then heard of a project in Gloucestershire called ‘Going the extra mile’.
Ines explained: “They help people facing barriers into employment and supported me for two years until I finally got my job with Forwards.”
Right from the start, it was clear to Ines that her employer was committed to tailor-making the role to her strengths and teaching her new skills.
She was offered some job coaching and was encouraged to take up a level three apprenticeship in Business Admin. It wasn’t long before she was promoted to team Administrator.
She said: “I call customers who have a work placement through our service to see if they’re happy with their work or if they need any extra support such as job coaching. I also have to do a lot of meeting minutes, which I actually enjoy.”
A Supportive Employer
Ines’ employer and colleagues have been supportive and gone out of their way to meet her access needs. She explained: “For example, they type up scanned-in customer profiles so my screen reader can read them.
Ines said none of her colleagues had any experience of working with someone with a visual impairment before she joined. She was happy to talk about her disability and answer questions, which helped her build great relationships with them.
She added: “Communication is the most important thing. If you communicate with your manager, then you can work together on solutions on any problems you may have.”
Tech at work
Ines uses the screen reader, JAWS, to access information on her computer, and a Braille note taker. This is like an electronic PDA with a Braille screen to take notes in meetings.
Ines’ tech was funded by Access to Work*, a government scheme that funds extra costs for equipment; support workers and travel costs.
Ines hopes to finish her apprenticeship and continue developing in her role, but in the long-term, dreams of getting into public speaking or doing life coaching.
Speaking directly to visually impaired people struggling to find work Ines said: “Don’t give up! Keep looking and when you have an employer that is interested, be open with them and communicate. Also be flexible and willing to try something new.”
*About Access to Work
The cost of accessible technology for employees with disabilities does not have to fall on the employer. The government’s Access to Work grant helps disabled employees pay for special equipment, adaptations, support worker services or help getting to and from work. www.gov.uk/access-to-work
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