As is the case with many who begin losing their sight while working, I appreciate just how cruel the labour market can be to people with sight loss. Hard won skills can be written-off, and the inability of employers to comprehend how a blind person manages to do things creates substantial barriers to acquiring work, and indeed keeping it.
The figures speak for themselves. Unemployment in the general UK population is at 5.2%, and has been under 5.5% for over a year – a fact also true for the United States. Yet in both the UK and U.S., unemployment among the blind and visually impaired working-age population sits stubbornly at 66% or below.
I wondered if the fact the U.S. and Britain have similar headline statistics has some structural basis – perhaps a third of working-age blind people will always struggle and two thirds will fail? No, I can’t accept that, and I’ll tell you why. I was recently a guest at a reception organised by Lord Low and Action for Blind People at the House of Lords, along with some fellow VI attendees – many of whom I’m getting to know well. One guy in particular stood out to me; before losing his sight he was a doctor in a London hospital. He is now one of the two thirds of VI people in the UK that are out of work.
Don’t get me wrong; Guide Dogs and Action are doing a sterling job in helping him get things sorted, but I beg the question – 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 yet, but the very question prompts me to consider what can practically be done. Miriam Martin (CEO of Action) made a positive start at the event, asking all employers present to take a VI work placement. Here here! Thomas Pocklington Trust will back that.