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Last Updated: Monday, 14 June, 2004, 23:01 GMT 00:01 UK
Firms 'discriminate' against blind jobseekers
Geoff Adams-Spink
BBC News Online disability affairs reporter

photo of hands on keyboard
Visually impaired people are often denied the opportunity to work

More than nine out of 10 companies say that employing blind and partially-sighted people would be 'difficult or impossible', according to a report by the Royal National Institute of the Blind (RNIB).

The organisation points out that this is in spite of laws to prevent workplace discrimination which have been on the statute books for eight years.

And although unemployment is at its lowest for 20 years, and there are 600,000 unfilled vacancies, three-quarters of blind and partially-sighted people are without work.

"Ignorance and outdated attitudes are preventing blind and partially-sighted people getting into work," said RNIB assistant director, Dr Philippa Simkiss.

"It doesn't have to be this way - visually-impaired people can excel in a range of jobs."

'Vicious circle'

The RNIB says it knows of successful chefs, journalists, futures traders, solicitors, IT managers and business advisers.

"Employers' attitudes need to undergo a sea-change to end this vicious circle of exclusion," said Dr Simkiss.

The organisation is launching a campaign - Work Matters - to alert businesses to the support available to them when they employ someone with a disability.

For instance, the government's 44m Access to Work scheme can be used to pay for adaptations, equipment, support workers and travel to and from work.

But the RNIB says that seven out of 10 employers don't know anything about the service and it is urging the government to publicise it more widely.

The government points out that Access to Work has trebled in volume and expenditure over the last six years - it now supports more than 36,000 people.

Recipe for success

Joanna Miller from Birmingham is a qualified chef who works for a catering company.

Photo of Jo Miller - courtesy of Jo Fairclough of Essentials magazine
Jo Miller didn't know that help was available
Now a sous chef, she has already run her own food business.

"I've never let my poor sight be a disability or hold me back," she said.

"My dream was always to be a chef and I knew I could do it."

But two attempts at running her own business failed because she experienced difficulty with paperwork, bookkeeping and transport.

Had she known about the help available from Access to Work she could have used funds to employ a support worker and to pay for taxis.

Law change

The Department for Work and Pensions - which runs Access to Work - says it invests 300,000 a year publicising its disability employment programmes.

"Access to Work is supporting a growing number of disabled people in the workplace," a spokesman said.

"Blind and partially-sighted people make up 30 percent of Access to Work users, helping with the provision of things such as specialist software, personal readers and adaptations to equipment."

From 1 October businesses employing fewer than 15 workers will no longer be exempt from laws protecting disabled people in the workplace.

Both the government and the RNIB hope that Access to Work will be used to encourage small firms to offer jobs to more disabled people.


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