36-year-old Scott Watkin, an eye care and vision development officer for the charity SeeAbility, is one of this year’s deserving recipients of the British Empire Medal. Scott, who has a learning disability and the eye condition keratoconus, has been recognised for his tireless work in the learning disability community. Our writer, Carrie Aimes, caught up with Scott to find out more.
A dedicated ambassador for his charity and people with learning disabilities, Scott began his career co-chairing the learning disability partnership board on the Isle of Wight (IOW), where he lives. This led to an influential role as co-national director for learning disabilities within the Department of Health. He also lectures at the University of Hertfordshire, focusing on eye care, vision and equal rights. However, he notes his work with SeeAbility as a major milestone.
Scott, can you please tell Disability Horizons readers a little about yourself and your disability?
I was born with the developmental disorder Williams syndrome, which means that my co-ordination isn’t great and some of my muscles can be weak. It’s quite a rare condition – apparently, I am one in 10,000!
I went to a ‘special school’ and teachers never really paid attention to me. As a consequence, I didn’t get the grades I wanted. I was bullied too, which made learning very hard.
My condition also means that I am more likely to have vision problems. I was diagnosed with keratoconus, which is where a normally round cornea becomes cone-shaped over time, causing distorted vision. I’ve had two corneal graft operations on it so far and a difficult daily routine involving eye drops and contact lenses.
How does your learning disability and eye condition affect you, and how do you find working with a disability?
My learning disability only really shows when I’m nervous or worried about something. Otherwise, I’m a very confident person. I just need a bit of support to do my job, and I’ve been really lucky to be supported well at SeeAbility.
My vision varies, some days it’s ok, while other days it’s really poor. But I’m always ready to work!
How and why did you get involved with the charity SeeAbility?
I first met Paula Spinks-Chamberlain (Director of External Affairs) at the Department of Health. SeeAbility supported me when I was diagnosed with keratoconus, which led me to do some work as an ambassador for the charity. After that, I was offered a job!
Can you please explain the role you play within SeeAbility?
As an eye care and vision development officer, I make sure people with learning disabilities get good eye care. I travel around the country giving training sessions to people with learning disabilities and carers.
I also help with lobbying Government to make sure it understands that eye care for people with learning disabilities is really important, as we are much more likely to have sight problems. Not only that, but they are the least likely to get the eye care they need.
We are also working to ensure that eye care professionals make reasonable adjustments to eye tests. However, what we really need is a national eye care test processes in place so that everyone with a disability can access sight tests easily.
What adjustments have you and your employer had to make to enable you to do your job effectively?
If I don’t know a journey, my manager will meet me in London and we will continue the journey together. I know my way from the IOW to London very well, having made the trip many times.
If my vision is really poor, we put all the information I need on yellow paper in Arial 16pt font, so that I can read it better.
But for me, it’s more about knowing I can talk to someone when I need to, to know the support is there. That’s certainly the case with SeeAbility.
You are also on the board of Learning Disability England. What are your aims and objectives in this capacity?
I try and make sure that people with a learning disability have a voice. They need to have the same access to services as everybody else. As well as eye care, we need good annual health checks.
We also deserve the same opportunities. Most people with learning disabilities want to work, but we need employers to give us the chance to achieve. We have so much to offer, but we just need the chances to shine.
It’s also about setting the direction of learning disabilities in England; lobbying Government and challenging the social care cuts. So I need to make sure the Government takes people with learning disabilities seriously and listens to what they want.
Congratulations on being awarded a British Empire Medal in the New Year’s Honours List 2018. How does it make you feel being recognised for your achievements?
I never thought I’d get an award like this – it’s a really big honour.
I’m glad my work is being recognised nationally because it’s really important. It sends a message to all the eye-care professionals I work with that they need to know how important eye-care for is people with disabilities.
Finally, what tips would you give people, like yourself with a similar disability, who are seeking employment?
Don’t stop trying to find employment. Don’t be afraid to say you have a learning disability and it’s ok to ask for reasonable adjustments. You will have so many positives to bring to any role and it’s important that you don’t forget that. If you’re like me, you’re likely to be very reliable because it’s important to you, more than other people!
By Carrie Aimes
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