Over two million people in the UK live with sight loss and employment opportunities for this huge cohort are still woefully inadequate. Only 1 in 4 blind and partially sighted people are in employment.
For many people, finding employment that matches their skills and experience often does not mark the end of discriminatory employment practice, but the beginning.
Many people with sight loss report feeling marginalised within the workplace, not only by managerial assumptions about their competencies but also by the attitudes and behaviour of more immediate colleagues. They report uncomfortable working relationships and an unwillingness on the part of many of their peers to engage with them as equals, resulting in extreme workplace isolation for many.
Discrimination in the workplace is not generally malicious or premeditated, it is often the result of unconscious bias, a lack of information and education, and a fear of doing or saying the wrong thing, which often ironically causes far greater offence. For example, “Did you watch TV last night” ‘Did you see that’? ‘Did you hear that’?
Benefits of inclusion
Sight loss awareness training is a great opportunity for your business or organisation to take the lead when it comes to these issues, and to ensure your working environment is as harmonious, collaborative and non-discriminatory as possible. This benefits employees and customers with sight loss and has an impact that will be felt at every level.
Research increasingly demonstrates that when employees respect and share the values of an enlightened employer, job satisfaction and employee retention increase, whilst absenteeism decreases dramatically. Similarly, open and honest communication within a business and between colleagues is consistently shown to be one of the principal routes to increased productivity.
It is also evident that having confident and well-trained staff that have undergone sight loss awareness training puts customers with visual impairments at ease, making them more likely to return and spend money within the organisation. Research shows that people with disabilities have a spending power of 212 million, so why would you not want to retain these customers?
There are also many proven key benefits to retaining a diverse workforce — including people with sight loss — by ensuring they are valued and respected. Employees from minority groups, particularly those with disabilities, are massively underrepresented in the workforce, and their uniquely valuable perspectives often provide access to consumer markets that are often overlooked or poorly addressed.
Ultimately, becoming confident about sight loss works in the self-interest of every organisation, making them more enlightened places to work, and helping to change attitudes and behaviour for the better. As more companies adopt these progressive policies, they slowly become the norm, radiating out through supply networks and business partnerships to the wider community.
In essence, it is about creating a supportive, positive and inclusive environment for all workers so employees are informed about disability issues and are confident that their interactions with disabled colleagues will not cause offence, and as a result, staff with disabilities feel respected, included and treated with equality.
Education, information and empathy closes the experience gap between employees with and without sight loss while removing barriers and embedding best practices so that everyone feels comfortable and empowered. When employees are able to be themselves within the workplace, they flourish and achieve their full potential and when your team is achieving their full potential, so is your business.
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Daniel Williams was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa at the age of 8 and is now helping to improve the lives of others living with sight loss through his business, Visualise Training and Consultancy