Hi everybody! I’m Nicola, the new Service Development and Delivery Officer here at ELVis. Being the new kid in the ELVis team, I thought that I’d spend my first blog post introducing myself and talking a bit about my first impressions of the role that I’ve found myself in.
I studied History at Durham University, where I spent some interesting (and some not so interesting) times learning about anything from Cold War politics to Robin Hood. I had a particular interest in international history though, so took any opportunity I could to do modules on places that we don’t tend to learn about in standard history lessons, such as China and Sudan.
As well as History, my other big interest is travelling. Before going to university, I took a gap year and spent a couple of months working in France and then did some backpacking and volunteering in southern Africa (including a month helping out on a boat which sends tourists out to cage dive with great white sharks). After I’d graduated, I decided that I wasn’t ready to settle down into the nine to five quite yet, so I alternated backpacking trips with spending a few months at home to earn money in preparation for the next trip! I travelled round South East Asia, India and Latin America, and finally I went to China to spend a year there teaching English. I had some amazing times and my confidence and independence really grew as a result.
When I came back from China, I decided that now was the time to stay at home on a less temporary basis so I started looking for jobs, and here I am! The third sector has always been the only area that I’ve ever had much of an interest in working in, and before coming to ELVis I had completed a couple of voluntary internships. The first of these was during one of my university summer holidays when I spent two months in Ghana working for a human rights organisation, and then after uni I spent a few months working in London with a charity called Ace Africa, which helps to alleviate poverty in rural areas of Kenya and Tanzania. Human rights is an area that I am extremely interested in, and as part of ELVis I am able to assist people who may have had fewer opportunities to fully participate in society in the way that they want to, and that is something that is very important to me.
I had never worked in the VI sector before I started with ELVis, and being fully-sighted myself I have to admit that as such I was not aware of a lot of the issues that VIPs can face. Before, I may have seen a sign written in Braille, or seen a guide dog in training, but other than that the VI world was largely invisible to me. Or rather, my eyes were closed to what was there. Since starting working with ELVis, I have come to see that this lack of awareness from sighted people quite often leads to a lack of opportunities for VIPs. It means that sighted employers are less sure about the provisions necessary for VI employees, or that there are very few sports or arts clubs which are accessible for VI participants.
A large part of my role here at ELVis is helping to run the local societies, and I have come to see how important it is for VIPs to have these opportunities to engage socially, both to be able to spend time with each other but also to be able to interact within the wider community. Not only will this lead to a growth in confidence for the VIPs, but seeing more VIPs in the public domain will also show fully sighted people just how much they are capable of.
In our society, where often it is actually the sighted people who are blind to the VI world, we can hope that with time and education and further exposure to VI life, attitudes will shift so that people will start to focus on what VIPs can do and not what they can’t. People will be more confident interacting with each other and sighted people will be more welcoming of VI participation. In this way, I hope, that we will one day see that whether in the VI world or in wider society, VIPs will have the same opportunities as everybody else, and sighted people will feel as confident interacting with VIPs as VIPs are with them.