Oxfordshire residents speak out on how visual impairment and sight loss can affect employment opportunities

October 14 marks World Sight Day, a day to raise public awareness of blindness and visual impairment

Thursday, 14th October 2021, 1:48 pm
Updated Thursday, 14th October 2021, 1:50 pm
Oxfordshire Association for the Blind

To mark World Sight Day we spoke to Oxfordshire Association for the Blind about Visual Impairment and how sight loss can impact employment opportunities.

More than 2 million people in the UK are living with Sight Loss and around 22,000 people in Oxfordshire are part of that statistic.

October 14 marks World Sight Day, a day to raise public awareness of blindness and visual impairment.

We took the time out to speak to Oxfordshire Association for the Blind about Visual Impairment and what that means in the workplace.

Issues around employment are one of the most significant barriers to equal opportunity for Visually Impaired people as only one in four Blind and Partially Sighted people of working age are in employment, that’s around 27%, a figure that has worsened in the last decade.

Mark Upton, CEO for Oxfordshire Association for the Blind (OAB) spoke to us about his journey through employment and how his Visual Impairment has impacted this: “From a young age you are asked ‘what do you want to be when you’re older?’ When you’re visually impaired you have limited options, I knew I wasn’t going to be a lorry driver that’s for sure!

"It was difficult when I was 16, all my friends were working in shops or restaurants, able to earn money and gain that first bit of independence, whereas I was unable to access work in those sectors which led to low self-esteem.

"Although there are barriers in employment when you’re Visually Impaired (VI), there are lots of schemes that are in place to help employers support VI staff including Access to Work, a scheme that can provide specialist equipment and adaptations as well as transport to work.

"This is something that needs to be more widely known about, as a scary statistic shows that 90% of employers state that it would be ‘difficult or impossible’ to employ a visually impaired person.

"When you think about it, we all have limitations, but for Visually Impaired people there is definitely a barrier when it comes to employment; around 73% of the working age population are in employment compared to only 27% of Blind and Partially Sighted people.

"Here at OAB we support Blind and Visually Impaired adults and children across Oxfordshire to provide support, advice and guidance so that we can try and help reduce that statistic.”

Mark Upton is the first Visually Impaired CEO of OAB, the charity prides itself on inclusion and being a disability confident employer. OAB employs four VI members of staff and have just provided an apprenticeship opportunity for Darcy, who is 19 years old and is now working towards a customer service qualification.

Darcy Robb commented on his experience at OAB so far: “Starting my apprenticeship at OAB has been great! Life is completely different to what it was stuck at home during Covid, now I am in work, in a mature and very understanding workplace, which is so nice to be a part of.

"The apprenticeship has made me feel good about myself and I am learning all the time, lots of new things, like how I can help others with similar problems to myself and I can help

to make a difference in their lives”.

Oxfordshire Association for the Blind supports Blind and Visually Impaired adults and children across Oxfordshire to cope with sight loss.

They are committed to promoting independence and opportunities for Visually Impaired people in the community by offering information, advice, and support not only to the individuals that they support, but to their families and carers too. They offer information and guidance as well as social groups, exercise groups, outings and counselling. If you or someone you know would like more information, then please visit www.oxeyes.org.uk or get in touch at [email protected]

If you would like to find out more about Access to Work and the support services offered to Visually Impaired and disabled people in employment, then head to www.gov.uk/access-to-work