My fight for support to see at work

Patrick’s experiences with employers and the Access to Work programme haven’t always been positive. Patrick recalls how their lack of understanding and support left him struggling to see, disabling him at work.

I’ve been using digital magnifiers for over 20 years, these devices are completely invaluable to me. My visual impairment means that I rely on these text-enlarging screens for writing or looking at paperwork. Today, it wouldn’t be possible for me to do my job if I didn’t have access to a digital magnifier.

Recently, I had a bad experience with an employer who wasn’t able to appreciate how this technology supported me. Following bad advice from my Access to Work team, I was left struggling to see for 18 months. I could only do part of my job and it was very, very frustrating.

Battling a flawed prescription

When I first started receiving Access to Work support, there was a meeting with myself, my new manager and the Access to Work representative. I explained what it was I’d be doing and what my needs were so that they could put the report together. I was under the assumption that the person putting together my report would have specialist knowledge around visual impairments.

The report recommended a specific magnifier for me to use at work. If you can imagine, it was like a microscope attached to a large screen monitor.

I’d just recently been in touch with Sense; they’d been helping me navigate Microsoft Teams for the first time – not an easy piece of software for the visually impaired! It was during one of the Sense Employment sessions that I was introduced to other magnifiers. I realised there was another model that might be more useful for me than the one which had been recommended.

So, I sent a message to my employer telling them that I’d tested out this new magnifier and would like to try it – it was £1,000 cheaper than the one Access to Work had recommended as well! But that employer felt that they ought to go with recommendation and they went ahead and bought the other magnifier for me.

Unbeknownst to either of us, it wasn’t a video magnifier at all. It was a microscope – something I only found out later when I spoke to someone from RNIB.

I felt disheartened at having my needs ignored

I contacted RNIB independently and told them about it and how it didn’t work properly. When I explained the details, a woman from RNIB said, “That’s not a video magnifier, that’s a microscope.” I was shocked. I assumed that the person doing an Access to Work recommendation would have the experience of visual impairments and the different items they were recommending.

It meant that for those 18 months I could only do part of my job. It was very difficult, but I had to keep on using the equipment that they’d provided. There wasn’t much else I could do. The tech is very expensive.

I felt disheartened. I was trying to explain to my employer why this magnifier wasn’t right for me and they just weren’t really able to understand. They didn’t have experience of having employees with visual impairments.

Now I have the experience to say, “I know better than others what would suit me and my needs.”

Getting the help from someone who understood

I was fortunate to know that I could turn to Sense and to RNIB for support. But another person – who might not know where else to get information – might be stuck. They’d also think that they were dealing with someone who had experience of visual impairments – but that’s not always the case.

The tech is not widely known about so it can be hard to get the right guidance. Even my eye specialist, who I’d mentioned all this too, I think his exact words were “I haven’t got the experience of dealing with that.”

Whereas someone from RNIB or Sense would be able to see things from your point of view, they’d understand immediately if the tech wasn’t right. That’s where I’d always recommend people to go. Through them, you can test out different kinds of magnifier and get in touch with the production companies to get demonstrations. That kind of support is so helpful.

At Sense, we’re committed to tackling the barriers people with complex disabilities face looking for and holding down work. We do this through our specialist employment services in Birmingham and Loughborough.

But support must also come from the Government and employers if opportunities for disabled people are to improve.

  • Almost 1 in 6 people with complex disabilities in work didn’t feel their disability was well understood by their employer.  
  • Over half of people with complex disabilities in work said they’d taken a less challenging role because of their needs as a disabled person not being met.   
  • Half of jobseekers with complex disabilities didn’t feel that they had the support and equipment they needed to look for work.   

Read the full report here.