Research published today by the Royal National Institute of Blind People found that “half of UK adults think that people with sight loss struggle to find and hold down a job, yet more than a quarter would not feel comfortable with a boss who was blind or partially sighted.”
I was still a serving Royal Navy Commander when I started losing my sight but carried on working in uniform even when I needed my white cane. I went on to start my own business helping other disabled people to get back to work – and I think that I’ve been a pretty good boss too. I’ve held Board level Government public appointments and more. There are many other people with sight-loss or other disabilities who have loads of skills and experience who can succeed at work – we just need the chance.
Through my company (Disability Dynamics Ltd) our training model emphasises that positive attitudes are the easiest, cheapest and most successful way of making life better for disabled people. Too often, people have been distracted by getting information in to Braille, lifts and ramps or writing an equality policy. All of that is useful but, first, start seeing us as people rather than focussing on our health or impairments.
I used my Holman prize of $25,000 towards my Baking Blind adventure aiming to change attitudes. Some of my co-cooks were obviously nervous about having a blind person in their kitchen but, as soon as they realised that we were just two people with the same enthusiasm, they forgot that I couldn’t see. My use of video and global travels also challenge other common misconceptions revealed by the RNIB research: “31 per cent of people think that people with sight loss can’t enjoy TV and film, whereas almost a fifth of people think that they cannot travel the world. 37 per cent of those surveyed believe people with sight loss cannot play football whilst 28 per cent did not think that blind and partially sighted people can enjoy reading books.” I confess that I can’t play football but when I have the time, I read a book every two days and also enjoy flower arranging, designing buildings and metalwork with pewter. I don’t think that I’m very different from many other blind people it is just that others expect so little from us.
You can follow my Baking Blind tour on YouTube and at http://www.bakingblind.com and my training model is in Understanding Disability at www.disabilitydynamics.co.uk. The Holman prize is run by San Francisco’s LightHouse organisation that supports blind and visually impaired people. The prize celebrates James Holman, another officer who was blinded while serving in the Royal Navy but 200 years ago.