Top five employer tips
Here we have listed several general points you might bear in mind if you are encountering sight loss in the workplace as an employer or colleague. This isn’t exhaustive – there could be many more.
1. Sight loss isn’t always visible
Dealt with elsewhere on this site, it would be wrong if we didn’t again mention that you can’t always see a visual impairment. Every level of vision exists between absolutely nothing to 20-20. This means that a great many people give the appearance of having no disability whatsoever but might in fact have difficulty with facial recognition, spotting someone in a crowd or reading signs from as little as a few feet away. Of course, the frequent lack of visibility is not only true of sight loss.
For more detail on just how varied sight loss can be, visit this page or the pages.
2. Don’t assume anything
Should you interview or take on a blind or partially sighted staff member, they are by far the best person to describe their condition and needs. Descriptions of eye conditions and their symptoms are useful, but only up to a point. When a person loses their vision, and how they adapt, are equally important when it comes to the considerations they would like their colleagues and managers to make. In short, it is primarily the person you need to acquaint yourself with. Their disability must come a relatively distant second.
You won’t find out any of these things unless you listen. You’re dealing with people who often use words as their primary means of communication. Many people think they are listening when they aren’t, and this can be horribly exposed by someone who must speak and listen more than average. This is especially important at interview where the key first impressions are made. Nods, smiles and gestures will be fine for partially sighted people with higher vision levels, but you can’t know how much an individual has or even how confident they are in trusting what they have. Until you learn more about them, it is critical to make sure both your and their words count. Listening is part of dialogue.
4. Don’t be afraid to ask
People can’t be blamed for not knowing much about sight loss. Most blind and partially sighted people would readily admit that they aren’t expert in dyslexia or hearing impairments for example. With a bit of diplomacy, you should be able to address any issue that is concerning you. If you have a lot of concerns, however, it is advisable to see if you can clear up a few with a bit of research. A new colleague doesn’t want to begin an induction with an interrogation!
At a deeper level, it also isn’t wrong to seek out training if you feel all staff could use a little awareness raising before somebody joins. It’s a good idea that the person knows you are doing it though because, as stated above, you don’t want to learn a lot and then discover it largely doesn’t apply to the individual in question. That person might also feel aggrieved that they didn’t have at least some control over the first knowledge you quite reasonably obtained about their circumstances.
5. Have the conversation – no elephants in rooms
is a heavyweight word when it comes to disability employment. Disabled people are entitled to mention their disability whenever they wish. In theory, this means most people leave it as late as possible. Some might never mention it of course, while others genuinely have no need to.
Once it is revealed, often around the time of interview, it is important to get the first conversation underway. If the interview itself seems the best time to go into more detail, it really should be one of the last things addressed on the day as any other window will give an impression that sight loss is top of the agenda.
Generally, preparations for interview will cause a lot of people to disclose, just in case a test is involved. See our interview advice page for more information.
On a lighter note, references to seeing, watching and looking are fine. You’ll find that even those with no useful vision at all discuss watching TV as much as anyone else. It is always wise to talk to an individual about how they want their sight loss to be described. For example, most people aren’t offended by the word blind but simply don’t feel it describes them. At the same time, someone in the quite rare situation of having literally no vision at all, can’t very well be described as partially sighted.
So have the conversation, whatever that conversation is.