In the year of ‘the great resignation’ short-staffed & struggling employers continue to overlook an untapped talent pool of 600,000.
According to Chris White of the NCBI, This forgotten cohort of willing workers is not considered by most employers because it is made up of people with disabilities.
Chris told the All-Ireland Business Foundation that employers who continue to overlook people with sight loss and other disabilities are missing out on skilled talent who are incredibly resourceful and resilient.
“People with sight-loss and those with other disabilities are problem-solvers and are used to overcoming challenges.”
“They have skills that would benefit any company and every organisation – particularly if the job is computer-based.”
The National Council for the Blind of Ireland (NCBI) is the contracted arm of the state which supports the 55,000 people in Ireland with sight loss.
The organisation is celebrating 90 years in operation this year and continues to make a massive impact on the lives of Irish people who experience vision impairment through advocacy, training and support work.
But despite the hard work put in by organisations like the NCBI, employment rates for people with sight loss available to work in Ireland are shockingly low compared to our peers.
Just 24% of people with sight loss who are available to work in Ireland are employed – the comparative figure in the UK is 41%. In Canada, 38% of people with sight loss are employed, Australia has a 36% employment rate while France has 32%.
So why does Ireland perform so badly?
“Even with Diversity and Inclusion policies, disability has fallen down the priority list after race, gender and sexuality,” Chris explained.
“Disability is an afterthought because it’s not particularly high on the media agenda, and therefore not particularly high on corporate agendas around D&I.”
Access to the physical workspace has long been an issue, with Irish transport infrastructure heavily dependent on the car – a form of transport not open to the sight loss community.
“This issue is even more prevalent in rural Ireland, where poor transport connectivity affects the people’s ability to access their workplaces,” Chris added.
The NCBI was founded on a mission of “access for all”, an ethos that Chris explained doesn’t just relate to transport links and physical accessibility.
“Access means more than people think,” he explained. “Take museums for example.”
“All museums in Ireland have ramps so people with physical disabilities can access them – that’s great, but if you’ve got sight loss, once you get into the museum you can’t digest anything there because there’s often no digital support.”
“There isn’t one Braille map in any museum or gallery in the country and there are no guided audio tours.”
Chris says technology is the great enabler for people with sight loss and other disabilities, providing a pathway into communities and into employment.
He says companies can very easily tap into the large talent pool of resourceful and willing workers by making some simple adjustments to their policies and accessing the right resources.
“Business adaptation grants are perennially under committed by the State because not enough corporates come forward to claim them,” he explained.
“This is linked back to the fear and bias that they’re going to have to make too many amendments and accommodations if they’re employing somebody with sight loss.”
“That is becoming less and less true, because of the rapid advances in technology – If the job is computer-based it can be efficiently and effectively done by somebody in sight loss.”
“If you see somebody with sight loss using technology, you’ll be blown away by how quickly they can use it and how effectively they can use it.”
In a time of remote and hybrid working, where people with sight loss are not required to go through the hassle of travelling into the workplace, Chris says that there is almost no excuse not to employ somebody with sight loss.
He added that employers and businesses can make a huge difference to the lives of people with sight loss by making some simple adjustments to their websites, social media pages and other digital resources.
He said: “If every employer took on to make their websites properly digitally accessible that would be a huge step forward.”
“If Ireland became THE digitally accessible island, it would be transformational first and foremost for the economy and subsequently for the entire disability community.”
Chris suggested that there are some simple steps that you can take to make your website more accessible to people with disabilities.
- Put alt text on all your photographs.
- Add captions to your video content.
- Increase the levels of contrast in your colour schemes.
- Create content that can be presented in different ways, including by assistive technologies, without losing meaning.
- Make it easier for users to see and hear content.
- Make all functionality available from a keyboard.
- Give users enough time to read and use content.
- Do not use content that causes seizures or physical reactions.
- Help users navigate and find content.
- Make it easier to use inputs other than keyboard.
- Maximize compatibility with current and future user tools.
NCBI operate a digital support service for employers to enable their websites to be digitally accessible, just contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information, they have a wealth of knowledge and expertise and would be only too willing to work with corporates around this issue.
The All-Ireland Business Foundation would like to thank Chris White for sharing his insights and experience.
We are delighted to be associated with the NCBI and proud to support the brilliant work they do to improve the lives of people who experience sightloss.