Inside business: Blind appeal to let their skill shine through

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The Independent Online
Despite suffering from gradually deteriorating sight, Surinder Lall has obtained 12 O levels, three A levels and three degrees and qualified as a barrister. Yet he has spent a good proportion of his working life in unskilled labour.

Nor is he alone. Other registered blind people tell similar stories. "Timothy" is registered blind with some residual vision and has an information technology qualification from a business college, yet he has only been able to find work as a warehouseman.

"Julia" applied for about 100 jobs before being granted her first interview, which, due to a mix-up, turned out to be for the obviously unsuitable role of a copy typist.

As Mr Lall says: "In the world of work, I have found there to be a widespread level of ignorance with regard to the employment capabilities of visually disabled people."

It is this situation that a campaign officially launched this week is aiming to change. The organisers of Out of Sight - Out of Work? say they "recognise that few, if any, jobs for visually impaired people will be created by either focusing on the past or castigating employers".

Instead, the initiative is "a positive campaign which seeks to concentrate upon the future".

Although it will highlight the problems that visually impaired people like those above experience in finding work, the organisers insist they are keener to put forward practical solutions to the difficulties that employers believe they will encounter if they give jobs to such applicants.

Colin Tse, a graduate trainee with Northern Telecom who obtained a maths degree after manually translating his textbooks into braille, demonstrates the determination to succeed that many people in his position display. But the campaign will be aiming to show how much further they can progress with a little assistance from companies, in terms of supplying specially adapted equipment and, more importantly, changing attitudes.

One example of the sort of help that can be provided is Workbridge, an employment support package which combines proven work practices with new initiatives.

The Out of Sight - Out of Work? campaign organisers say that Workbridge aims to "bring together government agencies, employers and service providers to harness the benefits of quality training and technical support to the advantage of visually impaired employees and their employers".

The launch comes in the Royal National Institute for the Blind's awareness- raising week. This will be kicked off by a report published tomorrow demonstrating the level of employer discrimination against blind people.

The Royal National Institute for the Blind is a member of the consortium behind the Out of Sight - Out of Work? campaign, which itself points to surveys showing that more than 75 per cent of visually impaired people of working age are unemployed, and that 67 per cent of businesses involved in schemes to employ disabled people were reluctant to take on visually impaired workers.

But Mr Lall points out: "With goodwill, open minds and a proper appreciation of technological advances, the employment prospects of many more visually disabled individuals can be transformed."