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Disability Awareness & Inclusion Series - Episode 6: Living with sight loss

Michael O'Brien

During our filming for Disability Awareness & Inclusion Training, we found some time to sit down and speak with each of our actors to gain an understanding of their lives living with a disability.

In Episode 6 of our Disability Awareness & Inclusion Series, we spoke with Michael O'Brien to learn all about him and his life living with sight loss. Michael spoke openly about his job, what could have been changed to make him feel more included and what measures could have been put in place, what he does in his spare time and the stereotypes of his disability that he would like to change.

Watch Michael's interview in the video below or you can keep reading our blog. 

When did you start to lose your eyesight?

From birth actually. 

I was premature and I had a complaint called Retinopathy of prematurity (ROP). And that means there's too much oxygen in the incubator and that sort of, I feel, like messed my eyes up initially.

I mean I used to go to like a normal school, I used to do normal things with all my friends locally. But then like things started to change obviously and it deteriorated... And then I went to a rehab centre and from there, I got a job locally in the local authority.

What do you do for work?

At the moment I'm unemployed, but previously I used to work for a company which used to manufacture materials for hand soap/sanitiser. And it was predominantly just for disabled people. But unfortunately, I got made redundant. I was there for about 7 years.

Before that, I was working for the local authority for 35 years. I couldn't do all of the job if I'm honest. I could do sort of 80% of the work and some of the tasks included machinery, like making jigs and that, for blind people and stuff to put parts in, and I couldn't do that part because of my sight. 

I could organise, supervise and all that sort of thing, but I couldn't do that side of it. And every time I went downstairs and said "look could you help me?", you know, "make this or do that or that" and they just said, "well, you get paid the same as me you do it".

What was the most enjoyable part of your job?

So I used to do the orders for the pick and pack so, we would get the invoices down from upstairs and then I used to read what the customer wanted, put the orders together, and then send them off. And I used to love it! Especially at Christmas time, it was so busy.

What could have been in place to make you more included?

I obviously progressed again from the organisation and became like a materials controller and stock control and all that sort of thing. And I realized then that I was able to access help from the government through Access to Work. In which they can provide a support worker, so to not do your job, just to assist with your job. 

What could have been in place culturally or structurally within that business?

I think the general manager should have come down harder and said look "come on, you know, give the man a chance". You know, if it was your son for example, and they were disabled, you know, what would you do? You'd be like proud of him, you want him to go on to be successful.

They were just jealous because they didn't think I was worthy of the job basically and that's what it all came down to.

Why were you and your colleagues made redundant at your previous workplace?

It was a charity originally and then obviously they were losing money hands over fist. And then another organisation bought it and things started to change. It got to a point where we weren't getting paid regularly and other colleagues weren't getting the furlough money. We still haven't got the redundancy money from that particular company...

You know, the downside is a lot of people lost their job, predominantly disabled people and again you know they probably will never work again.

What could be done to help your previous disabled colleagues find employment elsewhere?

These days you've got like technology, you know, which is great. You've got Access to Work which is a government-funded scheme which can help.

You know, employers just need to give us a chance, you know, to prove ourselves. We may need, you know, reasonable adjustments but you can get help with that. You know, you need to be a bit more patient, a bit more tolerant with us. It'd be good if employers could just, you know, take that chance on us.

What s your favourite thing to do in your spare time?

I love walking actually, I do enjoy walking it relaxes me. I like socialising, I've got some nice friends and family which I socialise with.

Are you comfortable with the term disability or do you use another term?

No, it's fine, disability. It covers all angles.

Has living with your disability taught you anything that you wouldn't otherwise have learned?

It's taught me to appreciate things more I suppose. It took time because, you know, losing my sight at an early age, it took time to adjust obviously to certain things. I said I've been lucky and the people I've met in my life who, you know, especially from the disability side of it, I'm very fortunate really.

Are there any stereotypes about your disability that you'd like to change?

People tend to ask your friends, you know, or ask someone else rather than you. Like I've had experience from that recently, where someone said, you know, "Can I speak to your friend?" and you're thinking well, "why don't you speak to me?", you know I am human, I'm not gonna bite, you're not gonna catch the blindness! Then I'll get people that don't believe I'm blind. People think I'm the trainer not the owner of the dog. 

And I had a previous experience a few weeks ago when someone said to me "Are you the trainer?" and I said "No" and they said "Are you b..." and I said, "You can say blind you know?".

What can others do to make society more inclusive and accessible?

It's got better if I'm honest.

I mean, there's things around like especially in London where you've got audio on the trains, on the buses. That makes a huge difference, that's the main thing really just getting information, you know, like audio information. So it helps us when we're getting around more than anything.

It is difficult but to be more aware, get people more aware. Companies could run more disability awareness courses, perhaps, to you know, get them to understand the situation more. Get us maybe to do more, I don't know, speaking or go to talk to different companies about disability, how we get on, what we do, how we cope. You know and we are, you know, we are like everybody else, we just can't see as well that's all. 

This video is part of our Disability Awareness & Inclusion Training

If you would like to know more about what you can do to create a more inclusive and accessible workplace or simply provide your staff with more knowledge about the equal opportunities those with disabilities should be given, then get instant access to this course today.

Disability Awareness & Inclusion