WCSM event hears of “wasted potential” among those with sight loss

Only one in four people with sight loss are in employment in the UK – equivalent to 500 double decker buses of untapped talent in London alone

panel discussion
WCSM/Mark Witter Photography

The Lord Mayor, Alderman Vincent Keaveny, highlighted his ambition to make workplaces more accessible at a Worshipful Company of Spectacle Makers (WCSM) event.

More than 100 guests from business organisations and sight loss charities attended the Where are the eyes in inclusion? event at Mansion House on 17 June.

Keaveny shared that only one in four people with sight loss in the UK are in employment, meaning that there are 40,000 blind and partially sighted unemployed people in London alone.

“That number equates to 500 double decker buses filled with people of wasted potential,” he noted.

Employment levels among those with sight loss are around half that among people of working age with other disabilities.

A key part of making employment more accessible is changing mindsets, Keaveny noted, referring to a recent survey that found 94% of respondents did not believe a blind person was capable of doing their job.

Nobody should be left behind because of poor sight

Worshipful Company of Spectacle Makers Master Ian Davies

He emphasised the potential of assistive technology in enabling the participation of blind and partially sighted people across a range of industries.

There are also simple steps that employers can take to make sure that their workplace is accessible to people with sight loss – such as ensuring that signage is clear and WiFi is reliable.

Keaveny urged attendees to take four steps to foster inclusive workplaces: considering the inclusivity of their own company, educating themselves and their workforce (especially those in hiring roles), signing up to become a Visibly Better Employer and reaching out to the blind and partially sighted community.

Keaveny highlighted that research supports the idea that diverse workforces make better decisions and have higher productivity levels than those which are less inclusive.

WCSM Master, Ian Davies, also pointed to the economic losses that result from barriers to the blind and partially sighted community participating in employment.

“Nobody should be left behind because of poor sight…The City of London is losing out on a vast, untapped well of talent,” he emphasised.

Chief executive officer of SeeAbility, Lisa Hopkins, shared that the employment gap can affect people with sight loss from a young age.

She contrasted the ambitions of - her three-year-old – who wants to be ‘a pirate or ghost hunter’ – with partially sighted or blind children who may not even be asked what they want to be when they grow up.

“The ambitions are low,” Hopkins noted.

Asked for his tips on becoming a welcoming employer, David Clarke, RNIB chief operating officer, encouraged attendees to ensure that it is possible for a blind or partially sighted applicant to go through the whole process of applying for a job.

“Then it is about the on-boarding process,” he said.

“It is making sure, as you would for any other employee, that there are no barriers for that person,” he said.

Main image: pictured from left: Fight for Sight chief executive, Keith Valentine, Sight and Sound business development manager, Stuart Lawler, and SeeAbility chief executive, Lisa Hopkins.