Hello DES: how Disability Employment Service (DES) providers can work with and support people who are blind or vision impaired
Disability Employment Service (DES) providers can play an important role in helping a would-be worker to get a foot in the door. Unfortunately, many DES providers are not currently meeting the needs of jobseekers who are blind or vision impaired and often have little understanding of how to best support a person who is blind or vision impaired to seek, gain and keep employment. Long term job seeking can be a very disheartening experience – it is important that a DES provides the support, skills and continued encouragement to assist a jobseeker to gain meaningful employment.
People who are blind or vision impaired can and have worked in a range of occupations ranging from a car detailer to an accountant to a chemical manufacturer to an administration assistant, to name just a few careers. Below are some strategies for the successful placement of a person who is blind or vision impaired.
Commitment and the ability to achieve effective outcomes for a job seeker is vital
- Disability Employment Service (DES) providers should be committed, competent and be able to achieve effective employment outcomes for all people who are blind or vision impaired seeking employment.
Ensure DES staff are resourced and appropriately trained about blindness
- DES staff should be resourced and appropriately trained to assist people who are blind or vision impaired to find and keep employment. Information and advice provided by DES staff needs to be accurate and informed from a broad knowledge base.
A jobseeker wants a job in line with their interests, goals and qualification
- DES staff should assist a jobseeker to find a job that is in line with their interest, goals and qualifications. A successful placement is one where the jobseeker is placed in a role that ticks these criteria, rather than placed in the first placement offered.
Understand the specific needs of each job seeker, including how technology works and referral pathways
- Assistance provided by a DES should meet the specific needs of each job seeker and include specialist technical understanding of the needs and capabilities of people who are blind or vision impaired, or ready access to this information. This should include when and how assistive technology can be used (including capacity to deliver or support training in this technology) and knowledge of relevant assessments, referrals, strategies, government subsidies and blindness specific resources which are available.
Job seeker funding should also be available for training and professional development to build necessary skills needed for work
- Funding should be available to meet the identified training needs of job seekers to enable them to become work-ready. This might include training in how to use software packages with adaptive technology or undertaking a post secondary course to develop or build on existing skills or training.
Not everyone needs their resume written for them – be flexible in the support you provide and work to “skill up” the job seeker
- Support offered by a DES should be flexible. Many people who are blind or vision impaired will not need assistance to prepare a resume, but may require assistance to attend interviews in new and unfamiliar locations.
- Support provided by DES should include ‘skilling up’ of people who are blind or vision impaired for the world of work. This includes guidance and support to develop presentation, grooming and interview skills, communication skills and body language and assistance to gain relevant work experience and mentoring. In the longer term, the focus of DES should also include career counselling, knowledge of further education options and employment internships. Continued encouragement of job seekers is vital.
Work collaboratively with other service providers and peer support networks
- DES providers should also work collaboratively with other service providers to assist job seekers to develop disability-specific skills, especially blindness agencies best placed to develop orientation and mobility and IT skills. Links with disability specific peer support networks should also be encouraged. Facilitated peer support between people who are blind or vision impaired (both those seeking employment and those currently employed) can lead to encouragement about how to meet challenges, complete tasks and achieve success.
Know what you are talking about and explain it well to potential employers
- Clear communication between DES staff and potential employers is vital. DES staff assisting job seekers to find employment should be able to explain to potential employers, in a clear and easy to understand manner, how equipment is used (including allaying fears of how this might impact on other workers), what modifications are required to systems, how to make the role accessible and how tasks can be completed differently. DES should also be able to inform employers of the potential costs, if any, of making modifications.
Include jobseekers in discussions with potential employers
- Jobseekers should be included in discussions with potential employers from the outset, where this is possible.
Work with students to help them break into the labour market
- DES providers should have the capacity to work with students, particularly to assist students to seek work experience to help them break into the labour market. In order to meet this very real need, appropriate funding from government and regulation systems should be facilitated and reward this collaboration.
A stable DES workforce is important for job seeker confidence and success
- The high turnover and part time nature of DES staff can impact on a job seeker’s experience of a DES and the consistency of support that the person receives. This can act as a disincentive to continue to look for work for people who feel unsupported. Incentives should be investigated to support DES staff to remain in the industry and include education and training to keep staff informed and supported. People who are blind or vision impaired also need to be aware that changes in service provision can be part of the cycle until employment is gained.
Location should not be barrier to accessing the support of a DES
- All job seekers with disability should be able to access a DES regardless of where they live and receive comparable support to people living in metropolitan areas. This can be achieved through the use of technology such as Skype, videoconference, email and phone to maintain contact with jobseekers, and visits with jobseekers in their region or at a central location.Where a DES is unable to cover the town in which the jobseeker lives, the DES should aim to work in partnership with a local generalist employment service to assist the jobseeker to obtain work.
Seeking the support of a DES once in employment
- Often work related issues don’t arise until after the person has commenced employment. An employee with disability should be able to seek the support of a DES to help address these issues, even where they may not have used a DES to get their job in the first place.People who are currently in paid work due to the assistance of a DES may require the continued assistance of a DES to resolve work related issues. The availability of this support should not be linked to a timeframe such as the duration of a wage subsidy. Likewise, an employee with a disability who has exited a DES should be able to re-enter the same DES, and be assisted in a timely manner, to access the support they require.
Career planning is also important
- For job seekers currently in work, a DES can be useful resource to assist with career planning or counselling to assist the jobseeker to determine what work they may want to do other than the work they are currently doing and/or to determine positions that can be completed utilising their current level of sight and skill set.
Ensure job seekers know how to make a complaint
- DES providers must have a transparent and accessible complaints mechanism.
Take the time to support and understand your job seeker – it may take a while to get a placement that’s right
- DES providers need to have a longer term view and recognise that in some circumstances updating resumes and organising interviews is not the answer, particularly for people who have just lost their sight. Sometimes the road back to employment will be a longer one that requires people new to vision loss to go through a process of grieving, re-skilling and learning to do work differently.
Best practice dos:
- Provide your job seeker with access to the appropriate assessments, referrals and tools they need, such as an orthoptist assessment, to assist the applicant or employee to identify their work capabilities and preferences.
- Provide all written information including job advertisements (particularly newspaper advertisements), service information, complaints processes and agreements in the jobseeker’s preferred format in a timely manner.
- Know your subject when it comes to specific disabilities and take the time to understand the specific needs of the job seeker you are working with. Assistance should be as flexible as possible – some people may need assistance to get to an interview and some may need assistance with tailoring the way they present themselves in an interview. A person’s access to public transport and the built environment are also important to consider when assisting a job seeker to find a job. A job which is very far away and difficult to access by public transport may not be a good choice.
Worst practice don’ts:
- Don’t push your job seeker into the first available vacant position. Just like any other job seeker, individuals may want to aspire for a role that is challenging, rewarding and in line with their skills, interests and specific career goals.
- Don’t make assumptions about the types of roles that people who are blind or vision impaired may be able to complete. Some people are unable to imagine how they would be able to complete a job without full sight, but this does not mean that job seekers who are blind or vision impaired are unable to successfully complete this role. Talk with your job seeker to find out what parts of the role are achievable and the types of adjustments that might be needed.
- Don’t lose faith or take what looks like an easy way out! Recommending a move to a capital city or asking jobseekers to lessen their aspirations can lead to discouragement and will not solve their employment problems. Persistence and determination on the part of the jobseeker and a DES will eventually lead to an employment outcome that is rewarding.
Case Study: Perseverance and a collaborative effort can lead to a successful outcome
Living in regional Victoria, Ross was seeking paid work locally to enable him to purchase a place of his own. Ross approached a local DES and outlined his interest in working for a government department to get some additional dollars and build some employment experience. Ross met with Sharon*, who would become his employment officer. Sharon took the time to understand how Ross completed tasks and compensated for his vision loss and right side paralysis. After doing some research of local options, she made a formal approach to a local call centre for a Victorian government department and set up a meeting. Sharon focused on the benefits of hiring Ross, including his friendly personality and ‘can do’ attitude and also outlined how Ross would be able to undertake workplace tasks efficiently and effectively.
Ross was asked to attend a job interview which led to further discussions about what modifications would need to be made. A task list was developed of what the employer, DES and Ross would individually and collectively work on to make the partnership work. Sharon provided support throughout the process, which including managing applications for workplace modifications, creating a close relationship with the employer to work through teething problems with technology and providing ongoing feedback and support to Ross during this process. Ross has noted that this support was invaluable. This groundwork led to Ross being hired as a contractor with the Department locally. Shortly after commencing the role, Ross was able to place a down-payment towards his goal of a place of his own. Four years on, Ross is still working with the Department and is looking at building his skill base.