Quarter of employers unwilling to make workplace adaptations for blind or partially sighted staff

One in five businesses also said that changes to the workplace would be too costly, despite this being a legal requirement

Mid adult man visually impaired man wearing a blue shirt and waiting for the lift
Getty/FG Trade

A quarter of employers are unwilling to make changes to their workplaces in order to be accessible to blind or partially sighted staff members, a survey has revealed.

One in five employers (20%) believe that making adaptations, which are required by law, would be too costly.

Almost half (48%) of businesses surveyed admit that they do not have accessible recruitment processes, despite this also being a legal requirement.

Some employers also reported that they had never come across a blind person, and therefore had never considered what adaptations they could potentially make.

Only one in four blind or partially sighted people is in employment, according to the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB).

The findings have raised further concerns that blind and partially sighted people are being excluded from the workplace.

Matt Stringer, chief executive of RNIB, said: “Blind and partially sighted people are being held back by low levels of understanding among employers, and every day at RNIB we are seeing the impact of this on people’s quality of life.”

In January 2023, RNIB also highlighted significant failings in the Access to Work Scheme, which can provide support workers, adaptations to work premises and specialised equipment to help those with disabilities into work. At the time, more than 25,000 people were on the scheme’s waiting list.

Stringer said: “Not being in work doesn’t only mean a lack of financial independence, but also leads to lower confidence, more isolation and inequality. At the same time businesses are missing out on the vast amount of talent and expertise which blind and partially sighted employees can bring.”

He added: “It’s clear that the Equality Act 2010 is not understood by a significant number of employers, and as a result hundreds of businesses appear unwilling to comply with the law.”

Marsha de Cordova, MP for Battersea, called the findings “deeply worrying.”

They show that “outdated perceptions of blind and partially sighted people are putting them at a significant disadvantage when it comes to accessing the job market,” de Cordova said.

She added: “The Government repeatedly says it is committed to getting more disabled people into work, but they are failing.”

She noted that the disability employment gap has remained the same for over a decade.

“The Government must act urgently to tackle the disability employment crisis,” de Cordova said.

Speaking at Prime Minister’s Questions today (Wednesday 31 January), de Cordova requested a meeting with the Prime Minister to discuss how a more inclusive workforce can be created.

Charles Colquhoun, chief executive of Thomas Pocklington Trust, said that employers are responsible for preventing discrimination against blind and partially sighted people in their workplaces, and that this includes recognising the benefits of having an inclusive workforce that does not exclude disabled people.

“Accessibility must be embedded into every part of the recruitment process,” Colquhoun said. “We know from our work that small changes can make a huge difference to the accessibility of the workplace. This is not something that employers should be afraid of, but should embrace.”

The online survey, of 2000 businesses, was carried out by the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Eye Health and Visual Impairment.

The APPG has also launched an inquiry into employer attitudes and the employment of blind and partially sighted people. Its first oral evidence session will take place in Parliament on Tuesday 6 February.

The inquiry aims to provide insight into the impact that attitudes and barriers have on the likelihood of a blind or partially sighted person being employed, explore the policies and practices employers currently have in place to support blind and partially sighted people in work, look into attitudes around the perceived benefits and challenges of having blind and partially sighted people in the workforce, assess the extent to which current legislation is working and is fit for purpose, better understand what blind and partially sighted people would like to see from an employer, and gather solutions that government and other partners should consider at a policy and operational level.

The inquiry will last for six weeks. Afterwards, the APPG will publish a report highlighting recommendations that government, employers and other stakeholders can implement to create a more inclusive workforce.

Employers, charities and blind and partially sighted people are being encouraged to submit evidence by contacting the APPG directly.