Blind Leading The Blind – My New Job

Emily Davison smiling and waving, with her black guide dog Rosie sitting on the floor next to her, alongside a photo of Emily and Glen smiling together as Glen eats an ice cream.

Well, hello again. It’s been a while since I last posted about what I’ve been getting up to, and that’s because I took a step back at the start of the year to focus on other things for a couple of months.

But now I’m getting back into a normal routine again, I wanted to tell you about the big development – my new job!

As regular readers will recall, back in 2022 I was made redundant from Torbay Council, after nearly 18 years working in their Printing department, as the authority elected to outsource their print operations. So I left at the start of September, and took a well-earned career break for a few months.

During that time, however, I still did some research to lay the foundations for job-hunting in the new year. And as well as signing up to job alerts and bookmarking useful information online, I also tapped into some of the connections I had made since moving to London at the end of 2016. I knew that building a good social network would be essential, and I’m glad I managed to do so, because several friends and acquaintances did give me useful tips and leads that I could explore further, for which I’m very grateful.

But then, quite unexpectedly, one person in particular was able to offer something even more substantial than that…


Dedicated Follower Of Fashion

When I was preparing to move to London all those years ago, one of the things I discovered in my research was the extensive online community of disabled bloggers and Youtubers, who I hadn’t really been aware of before. And it’s thanks to them that I started to post my own ramblings as well. Indeed, it’s thanks to opening myself up online like this that I’ve met so many wonderful people and had lots of incredible experiences over the past 6 years, with hopefully plenty more to come.

One of the earliest people I stumbled across was a young lady called Emily Davison, with her Fashioneyesta blog and Youtube channel, in particular because of her videos about disability and visual impairment. I found her while searching for people with nystagmus, which for me is a side effect of my aniridia, and it’s due to those conditions that i’m partially sighted. In Emily’s case, nystagmus is linked to her septo optic dysplasia, a condition that causes her to be registered blind, among other consequences.

So she was one of various people I subscribed to at the time. And then she opened up community contributions (a feature Youtube sadly no longer has) for people to add subtitles to her videos, to help her make them more accessible. So as I was still living a quiet life in Devon at that point and had spare time to kill, and because I was enjoying her content, I was happy to add subtitles to a few of her videos to give something back. I didn’t do many to start with, not wanting to hog the process – but, apart from a couple of other people who contributed, she wasn’t getting a lot of additional help. So ultimately I ended up transcribing quite a few, earning myself the nickname Captain Caption in the process!

Consequently we ended up chatting and became good friends, and during my first couple of years in London we met up several times, for a visit to Knole Park in Sevenoaks, a Jack The Ripper tour, my first ever vegetarian meal, a ghost bus tour, a Halloween afternoon tea, fireworks in Blackheath and a Harry Potter exhibition. We then each got very busy with our own lives for a while, plus the pandemic hit of course. But we still kept in touch, and we finally met up again in December 2021 for a day trip to Rochester.

Along the way she’s also introduced me to TV shows, films and cuisine that I might never have considered or tried otherwise, as she’s much more culturally aware and experienced than I am. And now, coming to the reason for this post, she’s got me into something else that I hadn’t foreseen.

Let’s Work Together

While I was embracing my employment break last year, Emily was embarking on a new career path of her own, having landed her dream job as a journalist, a goal she’s been working very hard towards for some time. It came about after she completed a Certificate in Foundation Journalism with Ability Today’s Academy for Disabled Journalists, coupled with her substantial portfolio of media work that she’s built up over the years.

So Emily is now a trainee reporter with Newsquest, focusing particularly on the News Shopper website and social media that covers South East London, as well as contributing to some of their other titles across the capital. And she’s also studying for an NCTJ Diploma in Journalism with Darlington College, for which she attends classes online every Monday.

Of course, being registered blind means that the job is very difficult for Emily to do without some form of assistance. But thankfully we have the Access To Work scheme here in the UK, which enables people to get into and retain employment by funding the support they need.

The process of claiming and receiving that support is very slow at the moment, and the RNIB are campaigning for the DWP to reduce the backlog of cases still under review. But it’s worth persisting with, because once you get the help that enables you to do the job to the same level as your non-disabled peers, by allowing you to make full use of your skills and talents, it makes a huge difference. I used it for my old job, with Access To Work funding magnification software, a CCTV unit for reading documents, and taxi journeys to and from the office. I couldn’t have done my job without that.

Emily has therefore been through that process, and as a result she’s been able to acquire specialist equipment, taxi journeys…

…and a support worker…

Back in November, Emily approached me to ask if I fancied taking on the role of her support worker. She already knew I could do transcriptions because of the ones I supplied for her Youtube videos, she was aware of my general IT skills from my job, she’d heard about my redundancy, she knows my eyesight is better than hers, and we’ve been good friends for several years.

I was of course very surprised and flattered by her generous offer, as I hadn’t expected her to single me out for consideration amongst the huge number of people she knows, and I had just assumed she would need someone with full sight who lived locally to her. But it quickly became apparent that all the help she needed could be done online, which is easy for me as my computer is already set up with the accessibility adjustments I need.

So I was happy to give it a go, as it would be lovely to work with and help someone who I get on well with, it would be nice to do something interesting that was different from my old job, and I was thankful for the opportunity to get my career back on track again.

Money, Money, Money

We then exchanged a few emails with Access To Work to give them my details, and to agree an hourly rate that fairly compensates me for my skills, time and effort.

The job is only part-time (22 hours a week, which may be increasing a bit soon), but the salary we’ve agreed ensures that I have financial stability again. It means I can afford to pay the bills and other essential costs, and still have some disposable income for other things. I also don’t have expenses like rent, a mortgage, a car, children, pets, loans credit cards, etc, so that all helps a great deal as well. Plus I can still earn a bit extra in other ways if I want to, such as the occasional disability-related research projects I do with Open Inclusion, and any other little jobs people might want my help with.

This new arrangement also means I’ve become self-employed for the first time – because I’ve been hired by Emily, not by Newsquest (although they have kindly set me up as a freelance user on their online workspace).

But registering with HMRC for self-assessment tax purposes was pretty easy to do online. I just had to prove my identity in a few different ways (including my National Insurance number, some passport details and specific figures from my last P60). And then I had to give myself a trading name – for which I’ve chosen Well Eye Never of course! And as I’m just working from home, doing my tax return each year should be pretty straightforward, as I can do cash-basis accounting and use simplified expenses.

So all I have to do going forward is invoice Emily for my time each month – and it was easy to knock up a template for that, having produced countless such documents in my old job! Each invoice is then sent with a claim form and my account details to Access To Work, who should then pay me directly.

I say ‘should’, as at the time of writing the invoice for my first month’s work hasn’t been paid yet, 3 weeks after sending it off with the signed paperwork (which I’m told they’ve received). However, in fairness, I was warned that the first payment would take a few weeks, as given their backlog I’ll be in a queue for my payment details to be approved and added into the system. Nevertheless, we will chase them to be sure it’s going through, and hopefully I’ll get my first payment soon.

Update: I was finally paid on 17th March, 4½ weeks after I posted the forms off on 14th February, giving Emily and I the peace of mind that everything’s sorted at last. Subsequent payments will hopefully be quicker now that my payment details are in the system.

But what I am actually being paid to do? Well, let’s get on to that…

Have I Got News For You

I’ve now been working with Emily for 8 weeks already, having started in mid-January. And it’s been going really well so far.

On Mondays I sit in on her diploma lessons and take notes, which basically means I’m getting paid to observe a journalism course without having to do any of the coursework or exams! And while I’m not tempted to become a journalist myself, it is really interesting to watch, as it’s giving a comprehensive insight into the rules and issues that reporters have to consider and some of the tricks of the trade, which the general public are often blissfully unaware of. It does help you appreciate the work that goes into the articles and videos you see, there’s a lot more behind it all than people realise.

In particular, so far, we’ve been learning about the Editors’ Code of Practice, a variety of legal issues and ethical matters, and the best ways of filming and editing videos for websites and social media. The video module has actually got me to look at my What Is Normal? documentary from a few years ago with fresh eyes, because it’s clear that the Met Film School students who made it for me used some of the same techniques. I’ve always been pleased with it, and now I have a greater understanding as to why it works so well.

The teachers from Darlington College are experienced, engaging and friendly too, so the lessons aren’t dull, and they’ve been helpfully sharing slides and handouts with us. And the students are actively encouraged to get involved, which I’ve been pleased to see Emily doing, by asking questions and discussing issues they’ve encountered while working on stories for their respective publications.

Beyond that, we divide up the rest of my hours across the week to help Emily with her work at Newsquest. Generally speaking I work 2 full weekdays (starting at 9am), and have the remaining 2 days free, in addition to weekends. But every so often we have to do early shifts (starting at 7am and thus finishing earlier) or work at weekends instead. So when we do a weekend I usually get 4 days free in a row just before or after it, which is nice (and Emily gets one or two weekdays off in lieu as well). It is nice that I have some weekdays free, because shops and attractions in London are usually less crowded than they are at weekends, and there can be some shows and events that only happen on weekdays.

We have a rota in any case, so I know several weeks in advance when I’m going to be required, which helps me to book and arrange things I want to do. But there is also some flexibility to change when I work at short notice. It very much depends on what Emily’s reporting on and the help she needs with it, and also the availability of other staff if she needs to cover for anyone. There will be times when I can’t help her at short notice if I have a prior engagement, but if I can assist then I will.

So the work I do involves a variety of things, including transcribing interviews, proofreading articles, creating images and collages, looking through datasets and reports to extract and summarise relevant details, producing charts and maps, and searching for information online. I also help to monitor social media, traffic alerts, weather warnings, emergency service reports, etc for breaking news items, or for live updates and images of stories already in progress.

In other words I’m locating, converting and checking information that would otherwise be extremely time-consuming or impossible for Emily to do given her visual impairment. And that in turn allows her to focus on the actual journalism side of things, such as identifying key story points, conducting interviews, taking photos, recording videos, doing more focused research, contacting people and organisations for information, writing articles, producing social media content, etc.

She does also perform some of the tasks I do as well – e.g. transcriptions, searching websites, monitoring social media, etc – and she’s perfectly free and able to check over, amend, add to or discard things that I send her as necessary. After all, it’s not that she can’t do some of those things – the point is simply that if she were left to do all of those jobs on her own, it would take so long that she’d barely have any time to do anything else. So I’m just taking some of the weight off her shoulders.

And the nature of news means there’s always something for me to do, so I’m never bored. But I’m never overwhelmed either – Emily’s a very caring boss and doesn’t throw too much at me at once, and we’re constantly in contact throughout the working day. And her colleagues are lovely too, I’ve briefly chatted to some of them as well.

Emily also gets invited to press events too, at theatres, restaurants, attractions, etc, so it looks like I’ll be able to attend a few of those with her as time goes on. And we are meeting up socially outside of work as well, which I’ll mention in my monthly Favourites posts (and there will be a post about my other updates from January and February very soon).

The A-Team

So it’s all going very nicely. I’m enjoying working alongside a good friend, Emily’s over the moon that I’m supporting her, and her editor’s happy with her progress too. We’ve got off to a great start.

Thank you so much to Emily for taking me on and entrusting me to support her, I’m proud to be playing a part in her career development. Thanks also to Newsquest and Emily’s colleagues for welcoming me into their organisation, and Access To Work for enabling this arrangement. Here’s to what hopefully continues to a be a successful working partnership!

Author: Glen

Love London, love a laugh, love life. Visually impaired blogger, culture vulture & accessibility advocate, with aniridia & nystagmus, posting about my experiences & adventures.

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