The NCBI working to reduce unemployment amongst the blind community

According to their own data “Of the 55,000 people in Ireland who are blind or vision impaired, just 5% or approximately 2,750 of those are blind. This means that approximately 52,250 people across the country have a form of vision impairment or are affected by sight loss in some way. The impact of vision impairment varies from person to person”. Often employment can be difficult to obtain. However The NCBI has recently launched an employment programme looking to match their users to employers to reduce unemployment amongst their community. 

1.    NCBI advocates for people who have sight loss and their families in Ireland. What are the main ways that you do this?

As the Irish national sight loss agency, we are inspired by the determination to overcome any obstacle. We work with children and adults across the country with a range of programmes all designed to ensure the individual can live life confidently and independently. 

We offer timely information and support, relevant technology and innovative approaches to sustain those with a vision impairment in education, the workplace, and wider society. NCBI provide intervention across the lifecycle:

·       Children and Young Person’s Team services support the development and independence of all children who are blind or vision impaired, from birth to transition students. If you are a parent of a child that has recently received a diagnosis of an eye condition resulting in vision loss, we know this can be overwhelming. Our dedicated team will provide assessments and individual intervention plans to help maximise the child’s potential. We offer a suite of practical and emotional support and training to help children and young people develop strategies so they can thrive. Our interventions aim to reduce the impact of vision impairment through the provision of skills to compensate for reduced or lack of visual learning. At every stage from early years through to young adulthood, we work with the parent and child or young person to ensure they can meet key developmental milestones, transition well within the school system and travel and live independently.

·       Adult Team Services offer diverse programmes and supports designed to enable, empower and support adults who are blind or vision impaired to live their life confidently and independently. We offer tailored programmes, delivered virtually, one-to-one or in groups, all designed to empower and support you in all aspects of your life. Our services across the country provide people with sight loss with the necessary skills such as mobility, daily living skills and support with technology to ensure they can live confidently and independently. When a person is referred to NCBI, they are assigned to a Community Resource Worker (CRW) who is their point of contact for all services. The CRW is an expert in activity analysis, environmental adaptation, assistive technology, maximising the use of residual vision, and comprehensive rehabilitation and is a support on persons’ journey with sight loss.

·       NCBI Labs offers technology training and support to people with sight loss including Technology Support Line, Technology Sales for Mainstream & Assistive Technology, Technology Training, Technology Live Events, and Virtual Technology Clubs. Whether a person wishes to use a computer, phone or mobile device, access materials in print or become more efficient at work, school or university – there is a piece of technology available that can help.

·       NCBI Library Access Service is Ireland’s largest digital library for people who are blind or vision impaired with over 700,000 titles available to download in a variety of accessible formats. The NCBI’s Library Access team work to support the individual reading needs of every member by providing a bespoke reading solution to children and adults. A key pillar of the Library’s recent growth has been due to Bookshare Ireland which has extended the library’s reach to support students with reading difficulties in education. The Library Access production unit also offers Braille and audio solutions for print documents and is the accessible production unit of choice for Government Departments.

·       Vision Sports Ireland is the national governing body for sports and leisure activities for people with sight loss in Ireland. It promotes a variety of activities including athletics, golf, football, judo, swimming, tandem cycling, tennis, triathlon, walking, water skiing and much more. It facilitates all levels of fitness and abilities.

·       The Employment, Training and Academia Team offer support for people to retain and gain employment and access further education. You can read more about it in the following text about our Employment Programme.

·       The Advocacy Department empower people who are blind or vision impaired to create change within their local communities through their local campaigns or on a national level through NCBI Campaigns by providing dedicated training and support. The NCBI Local Advocacy Networks are broken down into regional and topic-specific meetings and are facilitated by people who are blind or vision impaired. The LANs are open to anyone living with sight loss to identify obstacles or barriers that need to be addressed. They then work together to develop a campaign to affect change on these issues by working with other stakeholders, engaging in media, lobbying decision-makers etc. Additionally, all the NCBI national campaigns and policies are developed in partnership with people who are blind or vision impaired. The Clear Our Paths campaign is a great example of where NCBI works with service users to raise awareness of the issues affecting people with sight loss when there are temporary obstacles on the footpaths. This year that campaign received over 167 media engagements and had a reach of over 16 million people. 

2.    What role do your training centres play in supporting those with sight loss and their families?

NCBI’s National Training Centre (NTC) is Ireland’s only training centre for people of working age with vision impairment. The centre provides people of working age with sight loss the training opportunities and skills required to support entry into meaningful employment. NTC seeks to support the growth of the current low 24.4% labour force participation rate for people of working age with vision impairment in Ireland (Census 2016), by providing the best platform to prepare all students for entry into the workforce. Our targeted QQI (Quality and Qualifications Ireland) certification modules help you develop skills based on areas of interest and need. You can find more details about each of the courses offered at NTC on the following link: National Training Centre Programmes – NCBI

3.    Your Employment Programme assists people who have sight loss in gaining employment in the future. Can you describe what this programme entails and what barriers your community faces in gaining employment?

NCBI’s Employment, Training and Academia Team offers a service to people with sight loss who may need assistance with employment retention or those who are seeking employment. This includes providing support, advice, and training to aid accessibility and inclusion in the workplace. We partner with businesses to create an inclusive, accessible workplace and advocate for the rights and entitlements of people with sight loss in the workforce or pre-employment. 

Whether a person has a general idea of a career path they would like to pursue or a specific role they are hoping to apply for, NCBI’s Employment Advisors will work with them to enable them to take the next step. Some areas of intervention may include mobility training, assistive technology training and support, communication skills, self-advocacy skills, interpersonal skills, and employer-employee support. 

For individuals experiencing sight loss while in employment, Employment Advisors support and train them in accessibility features on their equipment and new assistive technology. They may also look at new ways to complete the tasks a person needs to do for work by adapting the activities, creating an accessible environment for you to work in, and collaborating with the employer to ensure a person gets every chance to carry out their work.

4.    If a company was interested in employing someone who has sight loss, what should they know before employing them and what should they do to employ them?

General advice we would offer to employers: when employing a person who is blind or vision impaired, do not make assumptions about what they can and cannot do — ask them. Each individual is the best judge of their abilities and what they can accomplish. If you don’t do this, you could be missing out on an ideal candidate for the position. Keep in mind that a person wouldn’t be applying for the role if they felt they don’t have the skills and knowledge to do it.  

Also, make sure your recruitment process is accessible. Offer people an opportunity to disclose if they need reasonable accommodations when applying for a job, and make sure there is a contact person they can confidently reach out to with any questions or concerns. 

You can learn more through our online resources at the following link: Seeing Your Career – NCBI

5.    You host a lot of events and fundraising efforts. What do you find is the most effective in terms of fundraising for the events that you run? Do you have any events coming up that you are particularly excited about?

NCBI Foundation is responsible for raising funds to support NCBI Services. We do this through direct mail campaigns, corporate giving and community events. The most effective event/community fundraising happens digitally, through online fundraising pages. Participants create pages they can share with their network of contacts all over the world and funds raised go directly to NCBI.

In January 2023, we are launching a Vision Walk in Marbella, Spain, which we are really excited about. Participants can win this 6-day trip to Marbella, in October 2023 by purchasing a €3 ticket from any of our 130 retail stores nationwide. Alternatively, they can fundraise a minimum of €1500 to book their seat on the trip. to find out more.

6.    What other marketing efforts do you employ to help raise the awareness of people with sight loss?

NCBI uses various marketing efforts to raise awareness of the work we do for people with sight loss. Social media allows us to reach thousands of people to spread information about our services and supports, our active campaigns and general insights with our service users. We do this through organic social media tactics and, to a much lesser extent, paid promotion when justified. We also utilise email marketing at various stages throughout the year, providing monthly e-zines about all areas of NCBI as well as dedicated mailings about important information which pertains to service users and our support of them. NCBI issues regular communication to media organisations around Ireland about our efforts to help people who are blind or vision impaired and to raise the profile of the organisation and its work in making Ireland fairer, and more accessible for people who are blind or vision impaired. We also use existing relationships with media organisations to promote and advertise NCBI events, campaigns and messaging throughout the year.

7.    What advice would you give to companies looking to make their business or website more accessible for people with sight loss?

If you wish to commit to providing more accessible services and making your business more inclusive there are a lot of aspects to be considered and evaluated. Luckily, there is plenty of support out there for employers who want to make a good business decision by making diversity and accessibility their priority. If you’re unsure whether your website is accessible, we suggest checking it with the free web accessibility evaluation tool, WAVE. The tool will highlight whether your web content is accessible to individuals with disabilities. If your results are not great, don’t feel discouraged! Get in touch with NCBI, and we can help you determine the next steps on your path to accessibility. 

Additionally, keep in mind that every change starts from the inside. Review your company/business culture, as well as your internal policies – are you welcoming to diverse talent, including people with disabilities? If you are not sure, the best way forward is to link in with your local organisations that support different groups of individuals (such as NCBI), as we are all happy to provide advice and support.

8.    How did the pandemic affect the organisation and your community? Are there any positives you can take from this time?

The pandemic was challenging, but there were still people in need of NCBI services. As a key public services provider, we implemented different safety measures but continued to provide support to our service users. Now that world is slowly getting back to pre-pandemic settings, we can observe how some of the challenges potentially opened new doors. For example, potentially easier hiring of people with disabilities. From the recruitment perspective, an option to have an online interview instead of an in-person one can help to remove part of the stress for some people with visual impairment. From the employment perspective, options to work remotely or in a hybrid setting are now more in demand, and a flexible work environment offers more space for people with disabilities to thrive.

9.     Are there any other organisations in Ireland in the Diversity and Inclusion area that the NCBI are big fans of?

While there are a lot of non-profit organisations and charities across Ireland we collaborate with, on this occasion we would like to highlight the Open Doors Initiative and their Towards Work project, as well as AHEAD. The Open Doors Initiative provides opportunities to some of the marginalised members of our society, while Towards Work makes the central point for people with disabilities in Ireland to access resources and support in their journey towards employment or entrepreneurship. AHEAD is an independent non-profit organisation working to create inclusive environments in education and employment for people with disabilities.