National Council for the Blind Ireland - putting the spotlight on digital equality

January 11 2023

NCBI Photo Collage

This month we are putting the spotlight on the National Council for the Blind Ireland (NCBI).

NCBI works to transform the lives of children and adults who are blind or vision impaired throughout Ireland, ensuring they have access to the same opportunities, rights, and choices as anyone else in society.

We met with CEO Chris White and spoke to him about the work of NCBI, their plans for the year ahead and about the ongoing challenges facing disabled people when it comes to accessing digital spaces.  

On the work of NCBI Chris said, "NCBI is a 93 year old charity. It has always had big amibitions. That transformational piece is something that is very central to everything we are trying to do. Where we start in that journey is where the individual starts and stops so we do an assessment of the individual and their needs and the we allocate our staff around them as opposed to them around us. So we look to work with the individual and the more individuals we work with we see what their challenges are, what their needs are and then we do one really important thing - we get people with sight loss ready for the outside world and how they can adapt and work with the world where they don’t have sight. But equally we are becoming more and more convinced that we have to get the world ready for people with sight loss!"  

Chris spoke about what has changed for people with sight loss over the past 20 years. He said, "I would love to say that there has been a huge improvement but there really hasn’t. Children with sight loss are less likely to be in work when they finish education They are less likely to finish school. They are less likely to finish university. And we have an employment rate of only about 18% so that means 82% of people of working age with sight loss are unemployed.

NCBI Image"So, despite the improvements in technology and despite the improvements in mobility, despite the improvements we have seen all around the place, we are still seeing huge gaps between what can be done and what should be done. That figure of 18% is improving. It was down to 14% but you have got to compare it to the UK where it is 41% employed; Australia is 36% employed and Canada is 38% employed. We are at 18% employed!

"Now we are trying to see much more activity around the public sector in terms of meeting their quota, their legal quote, which they don’t! But on the flip side we need to have greater engagement with the private sector and also encouraging people to be entrepreneurs as well and that’s social entrepreneurship. 

"So there are lots of improvements and certain people have done really well but equally I would say the large majority of people with sight loss are not well served by the State that we are in." 

Chris went on to speak about where NCBI begins to address some of these issues. He said, "The key point is understanding what we can do and what we can’t do. We are not the State!  We are a body that reflects the needs and tries to provide support. But we need to have an understanding of what we are fundamentally about – which is access. We are about encouraging and improving access to education. We are about encouraging and improving access to employment, to technology, to benefits, to transport, to leisure, to sport.

Chris White quote "If we are encouraging access, working hard to improve access then taking that approach well then everything else becomes much more straight forward. That’s our role. Our role is to talk to the Department of Transport about why transport is difficult for people with sight loss. If transport is difficult then getting into employment even if you have a job is difficult. So all of these things are interconnected but they are all around access.

"So where we start is looking at the individual and what their access needs are. How well engaged are the National Council for Special Education? How well engaged are they with the schools and the university? How well engaged are they with the college of further education? When you look at education and the transformation from primary to post prinary and from post prinary to third level and further education. Those are the pinch points where people just fall off the map. Therefore you are looking at how you support that transition and we made these points to Minister Harris recently as the Minister for Further and Higher Education.

"If you take it as access then everything we are trying to do is to ensure smooth access and that things that are not an obstacle so as people can enjoy a life the same as everyone else." 

On the year ahead Chris said, "It’s our 93rd year in operation. It's an exciting year ahead. I would be very positive. A huge number of innovations are going to be rolled out by NCBI in the physical access space, in the digital access space, in the education access space, in the employment access space. We are very confident that the quality of our services will improve and we will be able to demonstrate how we measure that better than we have done before with external validation and we will deliver more services for more people with sight loss and a better quality than ever before in a way and format that they want." 

You can listen to the full podcast interview with Chris here 

You can find out more about the work of NCBI here

You can also see the snapshot below of NCBI in numbers as shared by Chris: 

NCBI in numbers

Digital Equality

In this video Chris White, speaks about the challenges facing disabled people when it comes to accessing digital spaces like websites and social media. Chris highlights some tips on making online spaces more accessible and appeals to organisations and brands to think about the equivalent of a digital ramp into the online world in the same way that we have access ramps into buildings as a minimum requirement.

Watch his short video here