“If I can’t do it myself, I don’t want to do it”
Helpful, equal and open-minded is how visually impaired employee Lena Welch describes her employer – Cornwall College Group. She said: “Right from the beginning they have been incredibly supportive and have recently promoted me to a more senior role”.
Lena, 32, was born with cerebral palsy which impacted the nerves in her brain and caused Nystagmus*. She has no vision in her left eye but some close distance vision in her right.
Lena joined Bicton College in July 2016 as a student adviser dealing with student transport and course funding. This involved helping students with bus passes, free college meals and funding for transport.
Bicton College in East Devon is part of the Cornwall College Group* which, with multiple campuses, skills centres and partner colleges, is the largest education and training provider in the region.
This year she was promoted to Residential Bursary and Admin Officer for the whole of Cornwall College Group. Lena said: “The job came up in January. I deliberated whether I should move up to role but I just went for it! I had an interview and was offered the job. You’ve just got to go for it!”
Lena uses Zoom Text magnification software, Dragon speech recognition software and Humanware Prodigi which magnifies and reads aloud written text.
She said: “Dragon is great for me as I have a tremor in my hand. So, rather than having to type everything, Dragon inputs the text as I speak. Humanware Prodigi works well but struggles with any handwritten content on paper-based forms”.
The equipment Lena uses for her role was provided to her through the government’s Access to Work scheme. Although the need to complete paper-based forms make Access to Work* less accessible for her, Lena’s overall experience of the programme is positive. She said: “I use Access to Work for taxis to work and it helped me to get the assistive technology that I need. I found the advisor helpful on the phone and they have been very responsive.”
Lena’s new role oversees bursaries for residential accommodation for all sites within the Cornwall College Group – assessing claims, calculating and recording the budgets on spreadsheets, processing credit notes and purchase orders, and communicating with students. Many of these processes are still paper-based. Lena is keen to modernise this.
She explained: “When I joined Bicton College, the system for processing student transport was also paper-based. It was slow, inefficient and meant that I needed a sighted colleague for me to read any handwritten elements. Following my recommendations, this system went online – which sped up the process significantly. I think my new role could also benefit from reducing the paper-based elements and moving the applications online to streamline the system.
“Right from the start my boss has been really understanding and accommodating. He made a point of showing me around campus to familiarise me with the layout and the college painted the steps in yellow to help with contrast. I can take my guide dog, Peter, out for comfort breaks when he needs them and, because I have my own office, he doesn’t need to be tethered – he can get up and walk around.
“I previously worked in a call centre with lots of other staff. I had to keep Peter tethered to my desk, which wasn’t ideal. I resigned as I decided to move with my family to the south coast.
“My colleagues don’t see me as a person with a disability. They treat me the same as everyone else. I can do the job as well as anyone else – I just need a bit of technology.”
Lena studied a Business and PA course at college but thinks it was not this that secured her the job at Bicton College but rather her previous experience and how she came across in the interview. She said: “I would advise other blind and partially sighted people looking to start their careers to get help and advice to do your applications. Speak with confidence to your prospective employer. Be open about your disability and how you would deal with the situation. Reassure them that you can overcome obstacles.
“Employers need to see past the perceived obstacle of the disability. And the government’s Access to Work scheme means the cost of providing assistive technology does not fall to employers. So, the cost is minimal.”
Thomas Pocklington Trust supports blind and partially sighted people to get on or progress their careers through coaching, CV writing templates and tips, interview skills and mock interviews, as well as checking applications.
Regarding the future, Lena wants to see where things take her but she was adamant: “If I can’t do job by myself, I don’t want to do it.
Living with her parents in Sidmouth, Lena loves swimming and kayaking in the sea. She enjoys walking and activity holidays. Among her adventures is canyoning and white water rafting in Costa Rica.
Nystagmus is a vision condition in which the eyes make repetitive, uncontrolled movements. These movements often result in reduced vision and depth perception and can affect balance and coordination. These involuntary eye movements can occur from side to side, up and down, or in a circular pattern.
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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