Lydia James is a Personal Assistant at TPT, she wants to tell people about her diverse and rewarding role supporting blind and partially sighted people.

Working with Volunteer Development Manager Kirsty, Lydia has learned about the value of the Access to Work scheme.

I joined Thomas Pocklington Trust last June as a part-time personal assistant to support blind and partially sighted employees, funded by the government scheme Access to Work. For a while I was a floating support worker, which meant I worked with anyone who needed my support, but now I work with Volunteer Development Manager Kirsty one day a week. Working with people with different job roles and levels of sight has been interesting and rewarding, and I really enjoy the diversity of my job.

It is a privilege to work with Kirsty. She is fun, laid back and patient with me when I make mistakes. Kirsty is usually busy planning meetings; developing the organisation’s relationship with corporate volunteers. I take notes when I accompany Kirsty to meetings and conferences, and when in the office, I assist her as she creates surveys, toolkits and prepares training workshops.

Supporting people with disabilities is something that I have experience of both personally and professionally, from working with young people with learning difficulties to supporting my mum who has cerebral palsy. My mum needs assistance when walking and with anything that requires the use of two hands, but she is creative, determined and uses adaptive technology – like driving a car with a steering ball instead of a wheel – to maintain her independence.

Working with blind and partially sighted people is obviously different to this, not least because my role is office-based, and my IT skills are not as good as I wish they were! If I’m working alone, it doesn’t matter if I can’t remember how to edit Excel spreadsheets or if I take hours to create a table in Word, but I need to be efficient and precise when I’m assisting someone.

Accompanying a person with vision impairment to a meeting or conference in another part of London can be tricky when trying to navigate the route quickly with or without GPS. Again, when I’m on my own, it doesn’t matter if I get lost, but when assisting a person who is relying on me to know where to go, it is vital I can communicate directions effectively and make sure neither of us falls over in the process! I didn’t have any training for this job so I’m learning as I go along, made easier due to my previous experience in support roles.

Working in an environment where a third of the workforce is blind or partially sighted has taught me a great deal. For example, when greeting someone who is blind or partially sighted, it’s vital to introduce yourself and address the person by their name so they know who you are and who you are talking to. I’ve learnt the importance of screen reading technology and magnification, communicating trip hazards, describing the layout of a room, and announcing when cake is in the office!

I hope more people seek assistance at work if they think they can benefit from it. My role is completely different to Kirsty’s, but in working together, I’ve realised that they share two things in common: team work and a good sense of humour!

Read Kirsty’s blog here.