There is no doubt that gaining employment as a visually impaired person is difficult and can be a frustrating experience. Statistics clearly back this up with between 66 and 75 percent of working age with a visual impairment not in any work. This, to the onlooker, gives a false picture of the desire and motivation that many people have within this group to gain employment. The wealth of skills and knowledge is great and many employers are missing out on taking positive advantage of these valuable resources.
However, there is a clear distinction between the words difficult and impossible here as gaining a job is not always beyond the reach of aspiring job seekers. True, obstacles can be thrown in our way from time to time and it seems that many do not want to understand that we have ability, but it’s extremely important to keep going.
My employment journey has had more twists and turns than a hyper active break dancer. Since graduating from University in 1996, I have spent 7 of those years out of work and the other 11 in a number of jobs. From leaving university, I knew that I would have to further build up my skills in order to compete against others to gain employment. Instead of immediately trying for the open job market, I went back to college and started on the route of teaching. Why? Well, the main reason being that I felt a more directed approach would stand me a better chance of gaining something than just going for anything and everything. The laws of average may disagree, but when competing, it’s important to be more sure of what you want to do.
This college experience was not without difficulty in itself. One of the course leaders tried to stop me coming onto the courses, saying that it was full when in truth they hadn’t filled half the places. I had to go over his head to the college management to ensure that I got a place.
After gaining my adult and further education teacher’s qualification, I somehow strangely tried the open job market again. Hmm so much for the new direction, but I felt that more life and general job experience would stand me in greater sted for a future in teaching. Well, it may have, but those four years were frustrating as I tried several job centre funded work placements and work preparation projects. These were frustrating in the sense that I was told I could only do very basic administrative tasks – great. Luckily, during this time, I managed to do a lot of voluntary work; specifically teaching, public speaking and also charity management. The value of voluntary work cannot be underestimated as I will mention later.
As the new millennium, started to take hold, I began to wonder if I’d ever get into paid employment. I omitted to mention that during the first period of unemployment, I must have completed hundreds of job applications and gone to tens of interviews; all without success.
My situation changed however when I went on a residential work preparation course in the summer of 2001. Knowing that I already had a degree, a teaching certificate and quite a bit of voluntary teaching experience, the college that ran this programme made me aware of jobs that were coming up. I applied and hey presto I was successful. Now to make the most of this opportunity.
Over the next few years, I didn’t let the grass grow too much under my feet. From the initial teaching job, I varied this to work as a course tutor and varied my initial teaching role so that I taught in a number of areas including computers, Braille and braille technologies. Later on, I became involved in some project work which ultimately led me to gaining a new job as a European and International Projects manager. This enabled me to stay in education but at the same time widen and enhance my work experience; ensuring that I could gain as many relevant skills as possible.
Sadly, this experience came to an end when my job was made redundant in 2009. This is an experience that is quite often out of the control of the job holder, but is really symptomatic of organisational change and adjustment.
Therefore, it was yet another period of unemployment and this time it meant regular trips to sign on at the job centre; an experience in itself that could have been extremely de motivating. However, my determination to work and to try and control how I did this was very strong. I decided to get back into doing some voluntary work as it would help keep my skills updated and also demonstrate to perspective employers that I wanted to get back into work as soon as possible. I did a lot of computer teaching during this time and through this was finally made aware of a job that I now am currently doing. Whereas I thought I would be facing many a year looking for work, I managed to secure employment within two.
I have been in my current job for just under three years now. I am an Assistive Technology Co-ordinator, giving advice, information and training on a variety of technologies to visually impaired clients within the city of Leeds. I enjoy the job greatly and find it both enjoyable and rewarding. I work with a fantastic team and it’s great to go to work every day. My experience being unemployed though does not take away my empathy for anyone in that position and I wish that others could have the same opportunities that I have had so far.
It’s easy for me to say but when looking for work, it’s so important to keep going. If there are messages to give then it’s crucial to enhance skills through volunteering, try to look at areas that you feel you can succeed in and always believe that you will get something in the end.
I hope that my story helps.