Industry's blind spot challenged

Roger Trapp looks at a new initiative for the visually impaired

Industrialists will be urged to do more to put blind people into business this week. Delegates at a Confederation of British Industry conference on Thursday will be told that action is needed to avoid wasting the talents of often highly skilled, trained and committed people.

The vehicle being proposed for any developments is Workbridge, an initiative due to be formally launched in September with the aim of uniting government, employers and support service providers "in a unique partnership to harness the benefits of quality training and technical support to the advantage of visually impaired employees and their employers".

Workbridge, part of the "Out of Sight - Out of Work?" campaign set up to publicise the plight of the large numbers of visually impaired people who are out of work, is designed to be an integrated scheme that will make the most cost-effective use of resources. It will have three key elements: information - the establishment of a national database of job seekers and employment opportunities; co-ordination, bringing together different organisations in the field; and action, including the introduction, development and enhancement of new and existing employment schemes.

This is a response to the finding that only 22,000 of the 91,000 blind and partially sighted people in Britain of working age are in paid employment. Of the 69,000 not in this category, 7,000 have never worked, only 7,000 worked during the previous year and 19,000 have not worked for more than 11 years.

Moreover, a survey by the former Department of Employment suggests that even companies making an effort to help the disabled are more reluctant to take on people with visual impairments than those with other disabilities. While only 17 per cent were unwilling to employ people with learning difficulties, 67 per cent involved in schemes to employ disabled people were reluctant to consider candidates with blindness or eye trouble.

Peter Talbot, the chief executive of the Royal London Society for the Blind and a member of the steering committee of the "Out of Sight - Out of Work?" campaign, points out that need for action is urgent because improvements in education and technology over recent years have enabled many blind people to become educated to a very high standard. At the same time, the vogue for multi-skilling in a wide variety of industries means that roles traditionally reserved for the blind, such as telephony, are disappearing. "There is a considerable waste of resources," he says.

Dealing with this would, he adds, require giving innovative thought to the sheltered workshop and homeworker schemes of the type operated by the Royal London Society so that progression to placements and full employment can be encouraged.

But Mr Talbot and his colleagues are also calling for a review of the benefits system because they feel it discourages people from taking the risk of accepting employment. They want reforms introduced that would allow the visually impaired to resume claiming benefits without having to reapply if the job taken turned out to be either too difficult or unsuitable. This would alleviate their fears and allow them the opportunity to give the scheme a fair trial, they say.

Perhaps the greatest challenge, though, is dealing with the lack of accurate information about what visually impaired people can and cannot do.

"Employers look at obvious hurdles - some of them related to health and safety," says Mr Talbot. "But often they are things that if you've got the opportunity to explain then you can remove anxieties."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
Arts and Entertainment
The sight of a bucking bronco in the shape of a pink penis was too much for Hollywood actor and gay rights supporter Martin Sheen, prompting him to boycott a scene in the TV series Grace and Frankie
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister
TVSPOILER ALERT: It's all coming together as series returns to form
Sport
footballShirt then goes on sale on Gumtree
Voices
Terry Sue-Patt as Benny in the BBC children’s soap ‘Grange Hill’
voicesGrace Dent on Grange Hill and Terry Sue-Patt
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
music
Arts and Entertainment
Twin Peaks stars Joan Chen, Michael Ontkean, Kyle Maclachlan and Piper Laurie
tvName confirmed for third series
Sport
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
art
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Neil Pavier: Management Accountant

£45,000 - £55,000: Neil Pavier: Are you looking for your next opportunity for ...

Sheridan Maine: Commercial Accountant

£45,000 - £55,000: Sheridan Maine: Are you a newly qualified ACA/ACCA/ACMA qua...

Laura Norton: Project Accountant

£50,000 - £60,000: Laura Norton: Are you looking for an opportunity within a w...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine