Masuma’s Employment Journey in the Sight Loss Sector

“How did you end up working for the sight loss sector?”

This is one of the questions I most often get asked by people, and the one I regularly hear being discussed is whether most blind and partially sighted people end up working for the sight loss sector.

There are around 84,000 registered blind people of working age (18-65 year olds) in the UK, and only 21,000 (1 in 4 compared to 3 in 4 sighted people) of the working age population are in employment.

I feel extremely fortunate to be in the working age figure. My employment journey started with a part-time role as a Braille transcriber at a mainstream college. This job was a great starting point for me in the world of work and being part-time provided me with the opportunity to volunteer and upskill myself at the same time. I initially looked for volunteering roles away from the sight loss sector, not because I had anything against it, but simply due to not having given it any thought.

However, I learnt very quickly that it was rather difficult to find a voluntary role with organisations outside the sector. Also having received feedback from employers that I didn’t have enough experience, I resorted to looking for volunteering opportunities within the sight loss sector and landed myself a number of various roles. To be told by employers that you don’t have enough experience and struggling to even gain a voluntary role outside of the sector was soul destroying, it is a horrible catch-22 situation, which certainly didn’t do my confidence any good. However, the good news is that it seems things have moved on somewhat as I know several people who have volunteered with organisations away from the sight loss sector. Yes, I’m sure it can still be a struggle, but hopefully things are slowly changing.

Not only did the volunteering opportunities allow me to grow and increase my skills, knowledge and experience, it provided a good platform to network. My voluntary role at Waltham Forest Vision (formerly known as Low Vision Forum) resulted in a successful application and interview on a trainee contract. This set my journey into the sight loss sector and I’ve never looked back!

However, to assume every blind or partially sighted person ends up working for the VI sector is completely incorrect. I know just as many vision impaired people who work in the sector as well as don’t.

I would strongly encourage all VI people looking for work to take up volunteering opportunities, to network and build good rapport with people. Some may say I’m one of the lucky ones, and whilst there may be a very small element of truth, it certainly wasn’t all smooth sailing. The struggle of finding employment was real and can definitely be that much harder for vision impaired people. However, despite experiencing knock-backs throughout my employment journey, my proactive self-help approach, positive can-do attitude and, at times, throwing myself into the unknown certainly paid off. I am truly grateful and thankful to the people who have both personally and professionally supported me along the way.

Masuma Ali
Photo of Masuma smiling.

Written by Masuma Ali

 

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The Concierge Service for the Visually Impaired at Westfield Stratford City Shopping Centre

As the Technology Officer at ELVis I tend to write about technology for the blog. This month, however, I’ve written about a recent shopping experience.

Most readers will be aware that Stratford, East London is home to one of the largest shopping centres in Europe which is a popular shopping destination for millions of Londoners and tourists. Getting to Westfield Stratford City is very easy. By public transport the nearest train station is Stratford which is also served by a number of local bus routes. Additionally, there is lots of parking if you’re being driven there.

Generally, people with no useful vision for reading or getting around, such as myself, would view a large shopping centre like Westfield with real fear. In my experience, shopping centres are constantly busy with shoppers so it’s difficult to get around. Moreover, the same background music is played all over the shopping centre so there’s little in the way of audio clues as to what is around you.  And I’ve come to realise that navigation equipment that relies on GPS satellites is of limited or no use in large shopping centres.

At Westfield Stratford City, one of the great features available to the public is the Concierge service. This allows a person with little or no sight to go to the Concierge desk and ask for assistance to take them to one of Westfield’s many shops, restaurants and facilities. More than often they will wait with you if you’re only buying one or two items. However, if you’re planning on spending hours shopping or dining at a restaurant, then the Concierge staff will make sure you’re given the phone number for the Concierge desk so you can phone for assistance when you’re ready to leave.

I’ve used this service well over 20 times and I must say it’s extremely helpful as it has saved me from wandering around Westfield and getting lost. Also, even when the shopping centre has been really busy, such as during Christmas, I’ve never waited more than 10 minutes for assistance.

In my opinion, the Concierge service for vision impaired people turns a difficult and stressful situation into a relatively hassle-free shopping trip. I just wish more shopping centres across the country would adopt this similar service.

For more information about their Concierge service for people with visual impairments, please visit: https://uk.westfield.com/stratfordcity/services/all-services/visual-impairment/711

Written by Graham Page

Dementia Awareness training with Redbridge Council

While here at ELVis we obviously focus on the issues surrounding sight loss, it’s worthwhile remembering that people can have complex needs, and sometimes people with a visual impairment can be experiencing other issues as well.

A couple of weeks ago, a few ELVis members of staff went to Redbridge Council to receive training in dementia awareness, to become Dementia Friends.  Dementia and sight loss are more closely related than some people realise. Both conditions tend to be more common in older people; it’s not unlikely that someone could naturally develop both conditions independently of each other, but sight loss can sometimes be a consequence of the dementia itself, or both conditions might originate from the same source, such as a stroke.

Furthermore, a person living with both of these conditions may experience more obstacles than someone with just one of them.  For example, a person with both dementia and sight loss may get disorientated more easily, have an increased risk of falls, or have more difficulty in recognising people.

Therefore, it’s very important to educate ourselves on what dementia is, and what we can do to help those who are living with it, which was exactly what our training covered.

The training began with talking about common ideas and misconceptions about dementia, and we discussed how people with dementia can still communicate effectively, that there is more to a person than their dementia and that it’s possible to live well with the condition.  These were very important messages, as people can often focus solely on the negatives when they or a loved one are diagnosed with dementia. It was encouraging to learn that the future isn’t always as bleak as people might fear.

Another important lesson that we learned from the training was that, while people with dementia may struggle to recall recent ‘factual’ memories, such as where they went at the weekend, they are in general much better at retaining ‘emotional’ memories.  This means that, if someone visits them and they end up having an argument, an hour later they may not remember that they were visited but they’ll still feel upset, whereas if someone visits and they have a great time, although they might not remember the visit later on, they’ll still feel the happiness that the experience brought them.

Learning more about dementia and understanding more about its causes and effects will definitely help us all when interacting with those who are affected in the future, and all of us are proud to be able to call ourselves a Dementia Friend.  Thank you very much to Redbridge Council for providing this training.  If you are interested in learning more, you can go to the Dementia Friends website: https://www.dementiafriends.org.uk/.

DAG-IsAU0AANRxs
Photo of Ray, Nicola, and Bhavini from ELVis with Mike O’Hanlon, Dementia Friends trainer and Diversity Programme Manager at Redbridge Council.

Written by Nicola Stokes