Work & Education

CLARITY Employment for Blind People: helping disabled people into employment!

Adelina Chalmers, who publishes a blog called The Geek Whisperer, writes about a fantastic organisation which helps people who are blind into employment.

Whilst I was putting together some final details and getting all the partners on board this European project on Roma communities’ education, I got an email from my husband (Ben Chalmers) saying: “Stephen Fry just mentioned on twitter this inspirational charity, I think you should look into it for your blog”. I immediately looked up their website and called the organisation to arrange an interview; within 10 minutes of Ben’s email I was on the phone with David Sore, CLARITY – Employment for Blind People Marketing Manager who was very happy to speak to me and arrange an over-the-phone interview about their inspirational organisation! It goes to show the power of Twitter and other social media sites!

I am a big fan of good news stories (hence my blog, I guess) and I love learning about people who despite considerable challenges get to achieve what they want and make their life a success! But what I love even more, is finding out about the elements, the people, the projects, the organisations that were key to these people’s success and from what I can see, CLARITY is clearly one of them!

What do they do?

One of the things that impressed me most about this charity is not only that they help people with disabilities (visual impairments & blindness) or that they do this in a sustainable way (without depending on grants and funding), but the fact that they have been in existence since 1854! They must be doing something right to be around for over 150 years!

CLARITY – Employment for Blind People does… what it says on the label – they produce various toiletries and cleaning products in order to fund the charity’s aims of helping blind people to obtain meaningful employment and become active members of society. One of the things that makes CLARITY different is that all of their factory and call centres staff are disabled (mainly visually impaired or blind) and they are a charity that basically self-fund by selling their products and services – which is a model I think in the new funding climate all of the charities and NGOs should replicate in order to survive and continue to do their work.

How do they do it?

CLARITY takes the time to get to know each employee or trainee who then is given a Personal Development Plan built around their specific needs. I looked into what a typical Development Plan at CLARITY entails and something I found particularly interesting is the holistic approach to employment and training that they have. They don’t just say: “here is some training, here is a job, we have made some adjustments for you, now get on with it!”.

The Development Plan does indeed include workplace training, but then they also offer NVQ Qualifications (mainly in Manufacturing and Performing Manufacturing Operations/Customer Service and Team Leaders) as well as job search/career support (because they want people to be able to move to other employment they would like to do). What’s more, if an employee wants to improve their reading, writing, maths or computer literacy, CLARITY offers such classes during the working week.

One of the things I liked most about this Development Plan is that the organisation acknowledges that people are… human and problems outside work can affect their performance; so they have a Welfare room where employees are able to meet with a welfare officer to talk through any concerns or issues they may face.

I was rather surprised to hear that the organisation did not need to make many actual adjustments in order to employ disabled people, they basically keep the factory tidy (which is a good thing anyway) so that people with visual impairments don’t trip over and in the Pick & Pack area they have an electronic magnifier and an overhead projector to enlarge the writing so that visually impaired staff can read the order list.

What is impressive is that most of the people who come to work at CLARITY have never had a job before and because this organisation opens for disabled people a window of opportunity to build their confidence, their skills and knowledge as well as their wellbeing in such a holistic way, there are countless success stories of former and current employees who have now gone on to do amazing things, such as Mohammed Shaikh who now started his own car repair garage in London!

CLARITY have had a history of famous people that saw the value in supporting their cause (from Queen Victoria in 1856 to King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra and even Charles Dickens) and recently they have even been mentioned in the Vogue Magazine Beauty Blog as well as receiving a visit from Vision Australia, who wanted to look into CLARITY’s model as something they could replicate back on their continent.

Even the new British Coalition Government recommended CLARITY as the way forward for the civil society in the UK as they were showcased as an example of a successful social enterprise in Government’s report “Growing the Social Investment Market“; even Nick Hurd MP, Minister for Civil Society, visited their offices in London in 2011 to see this success story for himself. It is nice to give something to charity and feel you are helping in some way, however it is sometimes nice to also get something back and I absolutely adore CLARITY’s approach to funding: they don’t ask for money, they just suggest you buy from them the sorts of things you would buy anyway. I definitely know where I will be purchasing my Christmas presents this year!

By Adelina Chalmers

Adelina publishes a blog called The Geek Whisperer.

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