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European Workshop
Vocational Training and Employment of Visually Impaired


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Introductory lecture
Sue Wright, Queen Alexandra College


    1. What are the important components of an induction period?
    2. Who should be responsible for each component?
    1. List some of the barriers and difficulties a visually impaired employee could face
    2. How might these barriers and difficulties be overcome?
    1. How can individual counselling be arranged?
    2. By whom?
    1. How can an employee ensure he/she knows what the changing needs of an organisation are, and may be in the future?
    2. How can any skills gaps be addressed, and by whom?
    1. How does the employee know he/she is performing well?
    2. What can the employee do to improve performance if necessary?
  1. What can your own organisation do to improve the changes of a visually impaired employee maintaining employment?

Summary of the Discussions

Most groups agreed on several factors, that are important during an induction period. These include orientation and mobility, appropriate technical aids as early as possibleas well as some information on visual impairment in for the management of the company and the co-workers, without over-stressing the new employees visual impairment. Clear job descriptions and a mentor were also mentioned as important factors of an induction period. The responsibility would be shared by the employer, co-workers, visually impaired employee and a visual impairment specialist (training organisation, counsellor, etc.).

The barriers and difficulties were divided into two groups: technical and social. Sometimes long waiting periods for receiving technical aids as well as handwritten material and notices can cause technical difficulties. Social barriers mentioned include informal rules, an inability to read body language, patronising as well as missed career opportunities. Solutions, that were mentioned included a "pool" for borrowing technical aids,mentoring and positive information on visual impairment to address prejudices.

When it comes to the changing nedds of the organisation and addressing skills gaps, this was felt to be the same for all employees, regardless of disability. Solutions include networking with other employees, training courses, etc. It was suggested, that the same training organisations, that offer vocational training for visually impaired people should also offer additional training for visually impaired employees.

A couple of groups discussed appraisal systems as a way of measuring work performance. One group also mentioned, that if nothing happens and nothing is said, the person is doing well. Also getting advice from a supporter was suggested.


Working with Employers
Taru Tammi, employment counsellor, Employment Services Department
Finnish Federation of the Visually Impaired

Adults' Rehabilitation (rehabilitation courses)
Children's Rehabilitation
Education secretaries (for adults and for school-aged)
VISIO, vision examinations and visual rehabilitation
Employment Services

Employment Services Department
Head of Department, Mr Martti Kauhanen
two employment counsellors
three business counsellors
HORIZON EMPLOYMENT-project: IT-project, Project Manager

The Employment Services at the Finnish Federation of the Visually Impaired belong to everyone who has problems at work or in employment because of a visual defect, an official criteria of visual impairment is not required

The Employment Services Department is an advisory and consultative unit

The Employment Services Department does not answer a purpose of regular jobmediation, because job-mediation in Finland belongs to The Labour Administration's public employment service

The Employment Services Department has close connections to The Arla Institute


to the client

The Employment counsellor meets the client personally and gives information about the VIP's employment possibilities, about vocational rehabilitation and rehabilitation services, about measures of support promoting employment and retaining a job, and about employment services at the Employment Offices.

to the employer/to management

the Employment counsellor participates in meetings at the client's workplace. The purpose of these meetings is to inform the employer and fellow workers about the visually impaired worker's visual defect and his/her devices in use. The employer is also informed about financial matters. The employer provides all necessary equipment for work, technical aids and devices are arranged and financed by the Social Insurance Institution.

Information and knowledge about visual defects diminishes prejudices against disability.

to the Social Insurance Institution, to Employment Offices and to Employment Pension Institutions

These institutions pay for vocational rehabilitation, devices and support the visually impaired person's employment process economically. The employment counsellor writes reports about the client's situation (vision, problems the visual defect causes at work, necessary devices) and participates in meetings if necessary.



There are also education services at the Finnish Federation of the Visually Impaired. The education secretaries (for adults and for school-aged) co-operate with the employment counsellors.

Young VIP's need guidance on how to orientate vocationally, what to study and what kind of influence the visual defect has on doing his/her tasks well at work.

The Employment Offices, employment counsellors and education secretaries give vocational guidance. Work try-outs and education try-outs are also exellent ways to get to know working life and its demands.

It is important to get information about employment already during education/training. Practical training and working during holidays are ways of getting this information.

Employment counsellors co-operate with The Arla Institute. The Arla Institute gives vocational guidance to students and organizes pratical training periods during training at The Arla Institute. So The Arla Institute has close connections to employers and to the labour market in general.


If a visually impaired person is

The employment cousellor supports him/her in retaining a job after being disabled or if the person already is visually impaired but his/her impair gets worse. Nowadays it is very usual that the working environment changes rapidly. In these situations a visually impaired employee can be in danger of losing his/her ability to work.

Solutions in these situations can be

necessary devices to work

1. necessary changes in the working environment, for example lighting

necessary changes in tasks, maybe another post

2. necessary changes in hours of work (part-time work )

3. sustaining professional skills (training at work and support training at The Arla Institute)

4. supplementary training and return to work

5. retraining and return to work

First the employment counsellor discusses with the visually impaired employee about his/her situation and gives information about vocational rehabilitation and possibilities of retaining a job. To have solution which satisfies all participants in the process, demands a lot of co-operation and teamwork. If the visually impaired employee wants and asks, then the employment counsellor goes into the client's workplace and team including the employee him-/herself, the employer (supervisor or superior), a representative of Occupational Health Care and the employment counsellor have a meeting. At these meetings the employment counsellors inform the employer. It is information about the visually impaired employee's functional vision and how disability impacts at work. Above all it is information about how problems caused by visual impairment can be solved at work. The discussion is focused on the employee's qualifications: education, work experience, skills. The employment counsellor tells about devices and about the possibilities vocational rehabilitation can offer.

It is essential that the employer knows the employee as a qualified employee, not only as a visually impaired employee. New situations should be resolved through open discussion. The most important thing is to discuss about the working capacity left, not about what has been lost.

The Social Insurance Institution and Employment Pension Institutions support retaining a job after being disabled or if there is a threat of disability. These institutions finance vocational rehabilitation. Employers are very interested in knowing about these finance systems and the employment counsellor informs them.

In many cases the visually impaired employee needs updating skills, supplementary training or retraining to go on working. In these cases close co-operation with the employer is for the benefit of the employee. The employee can have the practical basis of his/her trainingplan and the employer can have a well-educated employee. Working and planning together with the employer creates a firm foundation both for training and for working. This close association lessens prejudice against the visually impaired employee and shows his/her willingness to develop himself/herself as a qualified employee. This kind of teamwork (employee and employer, maybe employment counsellor) clarifies that the visually impaired person has the same kind of possibilities to be aimed at a personal career as well as the employer can guide the visually impaired person to an individual career.

If the visually impaired person is
unemployed/newly-qualified/job seeker

The employment counsellor supports him/her in finding a workplace in the labour market. It is necessary to clarify the client's ability to work. The jobseeker has to know if there is some kind of tasks he/she can't do, for example in some eye diseases hard physical tasks are forbidden. He/she gets information about devices.

So it is easier to think about different employment possibilities.

Unemployed visually impaired persons are also clients at the Employment Office, and there are special services for the disabled. The employment counsellor recommends a meeting with a special employment consultant at the Employment Office. The employment consultans are specialised in consulting disabled job applicants. They notice impaired work capacity and plan job-seeking on the basis of that. The Federation's employment counsellors co-operate with the special employment consultants and they together with the visually impaired job seeker can have a meeting with the employer. This co-operation gives the job seeker support in making his/her own employment plan. In these meetings we usually discuss about necessary devices and decide on the possible benefits which promote the client's employment.

The most important issue in these employer contacts is to inform the employer. The job seeker is first of all a qualified person for the job he/she is applying for. That is what he/she has to prove. So the visually impaired person sends his/her application himself/herself, and has an interview with the employer alone. Then education, work experience, skills and other qualifications are the most important issues to discuss. An information meeting together with the job seeker, employer and employment counsellor is only supporting the actual search of work. The employer needs information about the applicant's visual impairment (functional vision), about devices and about the possibilities vocational rehabilitation can offer.

The essential issue is that the employer knows the job seeker as a qualified employee for the work in question. The employer is not hiring the person because of his/her visual impairment and that's why the applicant should not introduce him-/herself like that.

Prejudices are still the biggest difficulty in visual impaired persons' employment. That's why it is important to discuss openly and give the employer a chance to get to know about visual impairment. The visually impaired job seeker should tell that he/she knows what to do in changing situations. For example if the firm has new computer applications, then the visually impaired employee arranges his/her devices and training for the new system.

In employment and at work it is essential to pay attention to the visually impaired employee's everyday co-operation with the employer and with fellow workers. There is no use emphasizing the visual impairment, but in a realistic way to tell about these things often leads to a pluralistic working community. This plurality does not come into being without knowledge and experience.

The visually impaired employee is and should be prepared for prejudices and misunderstandings. One way of avoiding these is to have skills for independent working. For example mobility training in different parts of the work place gives the visually impaired employee the possibility to take part in meetings, lunch etc. independently like other employees.
We don't talk about visually impaired persons' "own" occupations anymore. Now it is obvious that there are many fields of activity in which a qualified visually impaired person can work. Employers expect that their employees have an ability to adapt to dynamic working life and to new circumstances. The rigid and inflexible idea of one education and one vocation for one's whole working history has been popular amongst visually impaired persons. That has been a good idea before, but nowadays employers appreciate education on a broad basis and a readiness to change tasks and to aquire new qualifications. Good, suitable education and work experience are not the only qualifications needed. The employer's emphasis is on social skills, they want their employees to work independently and even make decisions quite independently. On the other side, employers appreciate an ability to work in teams. This demands flexibility from employees (as well as from employers).

A visually impaired person has every chance of having these qualifications and it is important that employers know that too. Flexibility in changing tasks or in changing work environments can sometimes be in danger because of devices. The research and evaluation of needed devices take longer time than changes at the work place. For example visually impaired employees need to get to use new Windows applications. It takes longer time to train to learn to use Windows application with a screen reader, braille display or enlarging software. The employer needs to know that because otherwise he/she thinks that the employee is not flexible or capable of learning new systems.

The emphasis in our society has switched from public responsibility and loyal support toward privatization of risks and burdens. Social responsibility and social rights are seen as difficulties to economic progress and employers are kind of forced to follow the rules of economics. Discussions about disabled persons' employment sometimes emphasises social consiousness of employers. I have thought about this matter a lot when I have worked with my visually impaired clients and with their employers (or with their possible employers). Where does this social conciousness come from?

Personally I can say that not a single one of my visually impaired clients has wanted to be employed as visually impaired employee. They don't want that kind of social conciousness from employers. They want to be taken as qualified employees. Visual impairment is one characteristic and it should be taken as such. Employers naturally want to know about that characteristic or quality too. Employers don't have knowledge about the person's own "managing strategies" or about devices and possibilities to access and use knowledge with the help of those devices. That is why discussions are so important as well as chances to show one's ability to work. I think social conciousness can never arise without information, evaluation and solving problems together with employers.

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