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European Workshop
Vocational Training and Employment of Visually Impaired

OPENING CEREMONY, Wednesday June 30

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Opening Speech
Dr Herman A.A. Gresnigt, European Chairman ICEVI

Ladies and Gentlemen, Colleagues and Friends

It is a great pleasure to me to welcome you at this workshop on Vocational Training and Employment for the Visually Impaired, organised by the International Council for Education of People with Visual Impairment, ICEVI, in co-operation with the ARLA Institute, on this very evening which is special for our host country, because at midnight, Finland will assume presidency of the European Community, for the first time in history. We all have great expectations. The Prime Minister of this country has played an outstanding role in the peace negotiations for Kosovo.

Please, let me introduce myself briefly: my name is Herman Gresnigt and I am from The Netherlands. Until July 1994, I was the director of Theofaan, a centre for education and rehabilitation of people with visual impairment of all ages, in the south of The Netherlands. Since 1992, I am the European Chairman of ICEVI. Since my retirement in 1994, I have plenty of time for this job.

ICEVI is a world-wide organisation of professionals and others involved in the education and rehabilitation of visually impaired children and youngsters. ICEVI has been existing for more than 45 years, and will celebrate its 50th anniversary at the next World Conference in The Netherlands in 2002.

One of the major aims of ICEVI is to promote the exchange of professional information, knowledge and know-how in the field of the education and rehabilitation of people with visual impairment. To this end, ICEVI displays many activities, such as the organisation of international seminars, workshops and conferences.

World-wide, ICEVI consists of 8 regions, one of which is Europe. The European Committee consists of approximately 10 members, each representing a part of Europe. The representative of the Nordic and Baltic countries is Mrs Solveig Sj�sted from Finland.

During the quinquennium 1992 - 1997, ICEVI organised a European Conference in Budapest. This was the first ICEVI European Conference to be attended by as many as 150 people from Central and Eastern Europe. The next European Conference, for the quinquennium 1997 - 2002, will be held in Cracow, Poland, in July 2000. If you are interested, you can obtain the 'Call for Papers' for this Conference from me. Furthermore, ICEVI Europe publishes a European Newsletter, which appears three times a year. I will place all of your names on the mailing list for this European Newsletter, so that you will receive it regularly in the future.
One of the suggestions raised during our first European Committee meeting of this quinquennium, held in November 1997, was to pay extra attention to vocational training and employment for the visually impaired. As we all know, the employment of disabled people, including visually impaired people, is a great problem all over Europe. Many, many visually impaired people in almost all European countries have had a good education and/or good training, but are unemployed nonetheless. The unemployment figure for disabled people is considerably higher than for non-disabled people.

This forms a great impediment to integration. In 1992, the EBU organised a conference about this subject: 'The Essential Route towards Integrating the Visually Handicapped'' During the last few years, many people in many countries have paid much attention to this subject. The European Community is supporting various projects (Helios, Leonardo, Socrates), usually involving 3 or 4 countries, only EU members as a rule.

When I visited the ARLA Institute in March 1998, I suggested to organise a workshop here, on vocational training and employment for experts from all over Europe. I am very happy that they accepted this suggestion. Mrs Sue Wright from the United Kingdom and Mrs Dolores Carmen Serrano from Spain, and I set up the programme for the days to come.

We have invited professionals in this field from all over Europe. About 50 persons from nearly 20 different countries have accepted our invitation.

The aim of this workshop is to share information, experience and knowledge in this field in such a way that we will learn from each other a variety of approaches to this problem. The workshop will be successful if we can offer our colleagues all over Europe, who are not present here, an inspiring report with a lot of ideas and suggestions, which they can apply to their own situation, in their own country.

Furthermore, we have invited the members of the EBU Commission on Rehabilitation, Vocational Training and Employment. I am pleased to see that a number of them are here today. I think that the problem of vocational training and employment is a subject for each organisation of the visually impaired, as well as for the organisations for the visually impaired together.

During this workshop, the emphasis will be on discussion. This means an active kind of participation for each of us. On Saturday, we will discuss a possible follow-up.

This workshop, with its many participants from Central and Eastern Europe would not have been possible without the financial support of the National Board of Education of Finland. For this financial support: many, many thanks!

Lastly, I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude to the management of the ARLA Institute for their hospitality, and to Marika Carlborg for all her excellent preparatory work. It has been a pleasure to co-operate with you.

Thank you for your attention.


Opening Speech
Jouni Onnela, Principal, The Arla Institute

Ladies and gentlemen!

It is my pleasure to also welcome all of you to Finland and here to the Arla Institute. We are very pleased that ICEVI's european chairman Mr Gresnigt asked us to be partners in arranging this European workshop on vocational training and employment for visually impaired people. During the planning we decided to arrange a small-scale real meeting of experts rather than a large conference. As is customary for workshops gathered here is a small group of experts. Perhaps someday as a result of this workshop there will be a need for a larger conference on this theme open to all.

In Finland as in most European countries, the main principle in both training and employment is integration, study at general colleges and employment on the open labour market. Contrary to the other Nordic countries, Finland has a strong network of 15 colleges offering special vocational training to support studies in general vocational colleges, to offer a wide range of vocational training opportunities, retraining and post-graduate training to maintain vocational skills. The Arla Institute is a part of this network and the only one specialized in arranging foundation and vocational training for visually impaired and deafblind people.

So we offer services to visually impaired people. Still at the moment many of the challenges among our 180 students stem from factors other than those related to sight, such as other illnesses and disabilities as well as multiple challenges. But this is part of the role of a special education college.

Our supply includes rehabilitative foundation training especially for people who have become disabled in adulthood. It is possible to take vocational studies in the social and health care field, office and customer service work, to become computer systems experts, in handicrafts, household and sanitary work, piano tuning and maintenance of mechanical devices, such as bicycles. We also emphasize self-employment. The Arla Small Business Project, which has served to develop this area and supported by the European Social Fund, is coming to a close. Among our strengths are also completely individual plans as well as special projects for people with multiple disabilities, which can be carried out in connection with their service homes. Our wide course activities offer the opportunity to develop oneself at work and in that way supports maintaining employment.

But you are also in Finland. Most of you came through Helsinki-Vantaa airport, the airport that has been judged the best in the world by international travellers.

Last year the position was second after Singapore. Lead by the flagship of Finnish industry, Nokia, electronics has overtaken the traditionally strong forestry industry. The Finns have the most internet-connections and mobile phones per capita in the world. Practically every teenager has a mobile phone,"k�nnykk�" in Finnish. It is said that the Finns are the quietest people in the world. There is a slight conflict with the mobile phone density. Alongside speech especially the teenagers use the mobile phone for sending text messages, which is also a cheaper form of communication. In school traditional cheating on tests has changed into cheating with the mobile phone. One teacher has developed for the entrance to the classroom, not a gun detector, but a mobile phone detector to collect these modern cheating devices from the students coming to take the test. According to research Finnish children and youths are tired, second to our tired friends the Norwegians. Perhaps one explanation is night-time chats on the internet and blabbering on the phone. Even parents are blamed.

All in all Finland is on the rise in technology applications and international evaluators predict, that we will soon be right behind Japan in the statistics. In the shadow of the flagship Nokia there are among others many globally significant programming companies. The Linux operating system created by Finn Linus Torvalds is already even challenging the mighty Bill Gates' Microsoft. Lately our economic growth has been intense, last year it was 5%. This has had its price. We experienced an economic crash in the beginning of the 90's. Our banking system collapsed. A large number of people were in too much debt. Unemployment grew in an explosive manner to 18%. This was a shock. Now we can consult other countries on for example what to do and not to do when the banking system collapses. Right now economic growth is rapid. Still unemployment has not reduced sufficiently, being still slightly over 12%. Unemployment is now in part structural, so in some fields there is actually a shortage of a qualified workforce.

In their days Paavo Nurmi ran and Jean Sibelius composed us onto the world map. Many of you may recognise from sports names like Lasse Viren, Mika H�kkinen, Tommi M�kinen, Juha Kankkunen and Ari Vatanen. Perhaps some of you are familiar with names in music like Jukka-Pekka Salonen, Matti Salminen and Karita Mattila. But we like to break records. If we're not good at something, we invent the event ourselves. Of these worth mentioning are wife-carrying, sitting on an anthill or mosquito killing records and championships. The last one mentioned, killing mosquitos, was knocked by animal protection agencies.

This summer has been a real summer. For several weeks already Finland has been one of the warmest places in Europe. Even here the differences within the country can vary greatly, especially in winter. When the temperature in Finnish Lapland are a freezing -35 degrees centigrade, here in the Helsinki area the weather can be mild with temperatures around zero. Last winter the cold record of the century was measured in Lapland at -54 degrees.

Ladies and getlemen! We now hope that you will enjoy yourself here in the Finnish summer. We also believe that together we can make this workshop a success.


Keynote Address
Gordon Dryden, RNIB

I would like to take this opportunity to thank colleagues within the ICEVI for their kind invitation to address an audience which represents such a wide range of interest and expertise in working with visually impaired people.

There is a long tradition in English football of having general purpose substitutes who can be called onto the field to play in whatever position is required. I clearly belong to this tradition having been invited to substitute for Steve Cooper on Friday morning and for David Bennett this evening.

David is the Director of Workable, a charity which specialises in securing work experience placements for disabled young people,. In many ways this charity represents the kind of intervention that delivers practical results for young people by bringing together the corporate and voluntary sectors whose repreentatives make up the board . I have been associated with Workable for some 5 years as a member of the board, the last 2 years as Chair, and the work placements activities promoted by this organisation have been extremely helpful in complementing the work of RNIB within further and higher education. I am especially pleased to substitute for David on this occasion because it gives me the opportunity to introduce one of the very talented members of staff from Workable who will be outlining one of the programmes that has recently been developed.

Conferences tend quite rightly to concentrate on strategic issues. Over the next few days we shall hear a number of challenging papers and we will be able to engage in some robust debate about ways in which we can secure improvements in the opportunities for visually impaired people to find employment. It is important to be clear in our thinking when we tackle the macro level of national and European wide legislation and the kind of support framework we want to see both nationally and across Europe.

At the end of the day, however, we shall only succeed if we are able to deliver practical benefits to visually impaired people over the coming years., I hope that at this conference, in addition to strategic issues, we will learn of specific initiatives where the real work is carried out. The real work in this context refers to the efforts that individual visually impaired people have to make and the support provided by field workers within the statutory and voluntary sectors. It is at this level that the success or failure of strategic thinking is determined.

Workable operates both at a strategic and operational level. It joins with major organisations in campaigning activity but it also runs 3 regional offices which organise work experience opportunities for students and recent graduates. In addition to this graduate support schemes, Workable also runs a number of specific professional work placement schemes. These include a scheme involving 15 of the UK's leading law firms, further schemes focused on insurance and financial service industries, a specific partnership with the Civil Service for 80 placements per year across all departments, a partnership with leading entertainment and media companies and finally, a programme of placements within arts and heritage employment areas.

The success of Workable has been remarkable given that its staff with the exception of the Director, are all young people who began by making use of Workable's services but who have now become an effective and successful team. My role this evening, and my very great pleasure, is to introduce Emma Beamont, the most recent recruit to that team who will outline her own route through education into employment and the contribution she makes to the continuing success of Workable.


Keynote Speech
Emma Beamont, Workable


Perceptions, ignorance, limitations and capabilities. These I believe are the major problems that a visually impaired person encounters, in relation to themselves and the way in which they are perceived by others. No one person's disability is the same, or even necessarily stays the same. Therefore every person who has a disability has different needs, limitations and capabilities. It is a difficult task to prove to employers and the general public that a visually impaired person is just as employable as their able counterpart.

My background

I myself have experienced all the problems that I have outlined here. I was born blind, with cataracts, detached retinas and glaucoma. After a great deal of surgery as a baby I was very fortunate to be given partial sight to both eyes. My parents were very keen that I should go through main stream education, to prepare me for the outside world. From my point of view this was a fine decision on their part. There proved to be few difficulties for me at school. Enlarged materials were given to me, with extra time in exam conditions and for assignments. I feel now however that if some of the accesstechnology had been available to me, as it is now in schools today, this would have made life a lot easier, and prepare me better for things that were to come.

Royal college

At the age of nineteen, I left home to begin my degree course at the Royal College of Music, with singing as my specialised study. As I have said, up until this point my sight had remained stable, and I had been in the safety of my home environment. Life was about to take a major change for me over the proceeding nine years.

Unfortunately, my sight began to deteriorate during my first few years at the RCM. I didn't at first pay too much attention to the change in my vision, I thought it was just tiredness and a larger workload, which involved a great deal of reading.

I will list a few examples of people's ignorance, which I first encountered during my early years at the college, and also the limitations I was experiencing due to my partial sight.

  1. In order that I could keep up with the heavy reading load which was necessary for my course essay requirements, a friend who had to cover the same material, offered to read to me, so that I could take notes. When a tutor found out that this was happening, I was accused of cheating and fudging my way through the history part of my course.
  2. Piano lessons turned out to be a complete nightmare as I slogged away to try to memorise a work, this took me some time as piano was my third instrument. My ability to read and memorise music was very slow, I had not had to do this before, and my piano professor thought I was being lazy as my progress was very slow from week to week.

It became very clear to me at the end of my second year that in fact my right eye really was becoming a problem. In my third year I was taken into Moorfields, for urgent surgery. Sadly at first this surgery was not successful, and after having no other option but to defer, five more operations took place that year. During that time, I realised that I had to become very assertive to my needs both at the college and in general, as things were rapidly changing for me. My course at the RMC was going to have to take on a very different form. I had to deviate away from academic options, as there was little access to large print material of good quality, and therefore my degree syllabus was going to become far more practical, but would still reach the goals stipulated by the degree course. These changes took some time for the tutors and myself to negotiate. Some tutors found the adaptations difficult, but in general everyone worked together to tackle the problems.

From that moment on my time at the college was a real challenge, which can only be described as a learning experience for not only myself, but also for both the professors, and friends.

It is difficult for an institution such as the RCM, as it is so specialised and exteremely small, compared with most universities. a visually impaired person is very much in the minority at the college. However the College through their experience with me has become better equipped with regards to information technology, with appropriate access software, they have installed CCTVs in the library to help a sight impaired student access written material and scores, over head lighting was improved and general access. These are only a few changes, which the RCM has made. Ironically the person who accused me of cheating suggested that a reader may be of great value to read both general written material and music notation.

Leading on to career change

After completing my degree, I continued my studies at the RCM, and was awarded a place onto the post graduate diploma course in concert singing. Yet again my studies were interrupted by further eye problems. From April 98 - October 98 I underwent 10 surgical procedures, finally resulting in the removal of my right eye.

Although this was a very distressing time for myself and all concerned, it was also very positive. I had come to the decision one night while I was in fact in hospital, that I didn't want to continue a professional singing career. I desperately wanted to work for people with disabilities, something that I hed been considering for a long time. However I knew I wanted to remain in the arts world. The RCM fully supported me in my thinking, and the college welfare officer advised me to go and see Elaine Bromberg at Workable. I had visited workable a couple of times in the past.

Elaine was very encouraging, and advised me to get some computer skills under my belt. I found an excellent course, through training for work scheme called Computech. They were extremely accommodating to my needs. Lunar was installed on to a computer, and all handouts were enlarged without any axceptions. This course led me to receive NVQs level I & II in business and administration. Before I began this course, a person who shall remain nameless, to save their neck, told me that I would not be able to keep up in a mainstream IT courses. This is a classic example of people under estimating a person's disability. As I said earlier everyone has different capabilities and limitations. I proved them wrong, but why should we feel we have to do this?


In December 98 I received a letter from Elaine Bromberg at Workable, asking if I would like to be considered for interview for her position as Artsable Project Manager. This interested me a great deal, but as I said to her at the time I had no experience in this field. However I did go for interview, and surprised myself by being offered the position, which I accepted, and haven't looked back.

Workable was set up in 1990, by a consortium of leading voluntary organisationsto create optimum equality of access and opportunity for the employment of disabled students, both at undergraduate and graduate levels. These organisations include Action for Blind People, The RNIB, Barnados and Mencap. Since 1994 they have worked in partnership with major organisations in both the public and private sector to enhance and develop services available to disabled people.

Workable offers support to the students in a number of ways to help in their job search. We aim to find the student an appropriate work placement to compliment their studies, as part of a vacation placement, sandwich placement or longer-term experience after graduating. Our clients receive guidance from us also in CV writing and interview skills. Where necessary we look at an individual's access requirements, and needs and offer support and advice if it is appropriate. Within the framework of Workable various professional projects are run, these are Insurable, Legable, Mediable, Workable in the Civil Service, and Artsable.


Artsable was launched in February 1998, after receiving a one-year grant from the National lottery.

My predecessor Elaine Bromberg, who is also visually impaired, managed the project in its first year. Elaine was one of the first students to use the Workable programme. She is a graduate of the University of East London, in Education with Literature. Her placements through workable included that of a conference organiser at Haringey Council, and as a Personal Assistant at the Lord Chancellors Department. Elaine worked for Workable for three years, and has now moved on to work for the DFEE, as the Disabilities Communication Adviser.

I took over the Artsable post in April. In May the National Lottery Charities Board awarded a 3-year grant to Workable to develop the Artsable project. The scheme will enable the students and graduates to access work placements in such disciplines as the performing arts, fashion design, photography and music.

I believe that there are numerous opportunities for employment in the Arts, and for people to develop their talents and achieve their independence. I have established placements for clients at Vogue, The Tate Gallery, The Royal Opera House, ENO, and am in contact with many other well known establishments. It is my aim not only to open doors for my clients, but to open the eyes of employers and those too of the general public as to the fine qualities that a person with a disability is able to offer.

I hope that we at workable will continue to grow and offer the best support that I feel is so valuable to our students today. To have a disability can be very tough at times, and the more support there is the more likely hood we have to stamp out bad attitudes amongst poorly informed people, and increase the employment of people with visual impairment and other disabilities.

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