“Don’t’ give up. You only need one person to look at your application and see beyond your disability.” This valuable advice for blind and partially sighted graduates comes from Callum Stoneman, a Network Designer at BT.
In the video, Callum discusses what work means to him, the assistive technology that helps him in his role, and offers guidance to other blind or partially sighted people looking to start or progress their careers.
At the age of 21, Callum started on his journey as a Network Designer in the BT Graduate Networks Scheme, joining the ranks of 243 graduates welcomed by BT that year. Here he recounts the challenges he faced while applying for jobs, the application process itself, and the unwavering support he received from BT from day one.
Applying for jobs
Not long after starting university, Callum began applying for part-time jobs to have something to put on his CV beyond academic qualifications. He said, “For most of the jobs I applied for, I heard absolutely nothing back. I accept that for some jobs, I probably wasn’t experienced enough, but for others, although the employers never actually said this, I think my visual impairment put them off employing me.”
Callum made it a point to disclose his visual impairment on his job applications. He explained, “I think if you keep this from prospective employers until the interview you are not doing yourself any favours as the employer will think ‘What else are they keeping from me.”
After three years and over a hundred unsuccessful job applications, Callum approached the end of his university course, actively seeking full-time employment and graduate schemes. He recalled, “My experience with part-time job applications taught me that I needed to start looking for either a job or a graduate scheme as soon as my third year began. I discovered the graduate scheme on BT’s website, found the role appealing, and decided to apply.”
BT Graduate Scheme
As part of the interview process, Callum had an automated online video interview, which presented unique challenges due to his visual impairment. He reached out to BT to request a telephone interview instead and, to his relief, BT accommodated his request.
Callum’s boss, Katie Oldham, explained the application process, “ BT Graduate scheme applications are reviewed independently by a dedicated graduate team. Candidates progress through the assessment centre based on their individual merit. It’s only at this stage that we meet the candidates.”
BT went the extra mile to make the necessary adjustments for Callum. He said, “After learning that I had secured the job, BT’s occupational health team called about my visual impairment and its potential impact in the workplace. Katie and our Unit Manager Darren also reached out to discuss the adjustments I would need. I explained I would need a screen reader, a Braille display and made them aware I would have a guide dog with me. These adjustments were not a problem for them.”
Katie added, “We were aware that things might take longer, so we aimed to have everything in place before Callum’s start date.”
Accessible technology and Access to Work
Callum immediately applied for JAWS screen reader software and a BrailleNote TouchPlus through Access to Work. While the application process itself presented some challenges, notably documents to read and sign, the equipment arrived within six weeks, ready for him to start his role.
BT supported Callum with JAWS training sessions and evaluated the accessibility of its various platforms, actively working on improvements. Callum explained: “So far, I’ve found most systems to be pretty accessible. Most are web based which helps. The only area is the timesheet system and we are working on improving this.”
“Nothing has been too much trouble. On the odd occasion inaccessible slides have been shown in an induction presentation, an accessible version is sent through straight away afterwards. In team meetings colleagues send this in advance. Although I have only been here a short time, my initial experience has been really positive.”
Katie, who manages Callum, admitted that this was a learning curve for her. BT’s internal disability network, Able2, and the Digital Experience Team played an important role in helping the company understand vision impairment and the adjustments required. She emphasised that making small adjustments to ensure accessibility has not been a challenge.
Usually BT’s graduate programme involves rotations across various business areas. However, Callum’s role in the Technical and Service Design (T&SD) team is highly specialised and technical, so he will spend two years in this role.
Katie praised Callum’s problem-solving abilities, “Callum is doing so well and is easy to work with. If he encounters a problem, he generally has already figured it out how it can be fixed or resolved.”
Callum believes that more employers should prioritise training and awareness regarding disability and inclusion, using BT as a model of best practices. He said, “I think some blindness awareness campaigns are really unhelpful as they focus on the challenges blind people face. This reinforces the preconceptions among employers that employing blind and partially sighted people is a real problem. It needs to be flipped to what adjustments can be made and what visually impaired people can do.”
His advice to fellow blind and partially sighted graduates seeking employment or graduate scheme placements is simple: “Don’t give up! It is hard. So many times, especially during the long gap in the summer, I was applying for jobs 9am-5pm. It can be disheartening but you only need one person to look at your application and see beyond your disability.”
Inclusion and disability at BT
As a ‘Disability Confident’ employer, BT collaborates closely with leading partners like the Business Disability Forum (BDF). BT and its EE businesses have received a BDF ‘disability smart’ silver standard award. Many of BT’s innovations, such as the Disability and Carers Passports, have set benchmarks and are adopted by other companies to enhance their employees’ lives.
The Access to Work scheme ensures that the cost of providing assistive technology and support for employees with disabilities does not place a heavy burden on employers. It covers special equipment, adaptations, support worker services, and assistance with transportation. More information is available at www.gov.uk/access-to-work.