Rehabilitation Officer (Visual Impairment)

The Job and What's Involved

Sighted people rely on vision to perform most everyday tasks, from getting about indoors and out, to cooking, cleaning and choosing suitable clothes. Most jobs and pastimes also rely on vision.

People who lose some or all of their vision therefore have to learn new ways of doing things. Rehabilitation officers train them to develop and use their existing skills in different ways and also help them to cope emotionally with their new situation.

People from all ages and backgrounds can lose their sight. Although most are over 65, some are children. Some people have additional disabilities, so support must be tailored to the individual.

Rehabilitation officers start with a detailed assessment of the person's situation, including:

  • Family circumstances - available support and any responsibilities (children, for example).
  • Employment and financial circumstances.
  • The quality of remaining vision.
  • Additional disabilities or health issues.
  • Emotional needs.
  • Mobility and independence in daily living.
  • Leisure interests.

They devise an individual action plan in agreement with the client. This plan could involve:

  • Emotional support - offering sympathy and encouragement.
  • Teaching safe ways to move about indoors, within the home and within unfamiliar buildings.
  • Teaching clients how to move about outdoors - how to use a white cane, cross roads and use public transport.
  • Teaching new ways to carry out old skills such as cooking, cleaning and personal care.
  • Discussing issues related to parenting skills - for blind parents of sighted children and sighted parents of visually impaired children.
  • Showing clients safe routes to the places they visit regularly.
  • Providing information on specialist equipment such as talking clocks, modified kitchen appliances and adapted computers.
  • Providing information on magnifying aids and enhanced lighting, and guidance on how to make best use of any remaining vision.
  • Discussing possible ways of adapting the client's current job or educational course to the new situation.
  • Discussing alternative careers.
  • Giving information on the availability of financial and other sources of help.
  • Discussing the pros and cons of registering as blind and considering the question of applying for a guide dog.
  • Informing about leisure facilities, such as talking books and newspapers and social clubs, for people with visual impairments.
  • Introducing new hobbies and interests.
  • Training clients to use communication aids such as Braille, recording equipment and computers.
  • Referring clients to other organisations offering advice.
  • Researching developments in technologies to aid the visually impaired.

Rehabilitation officers keep written records, produce reports, and attend meetings and case conferences. They liaise with members of social services teams, as well as with ophthalmologists, orthoptists, optometrists and other professionals.

Rehabilitation officers usually work normal office hours, though they may need to visit clients at weekends or in the evening. Part-time work or job share may be available.

Most officers are based in an office, but spend time in clients' homes or specialist rehabilitation centres. They work outdoors when providing mobility training or escorting clients.

Rehabilitation officers travel to visit clients and may drive or escort the client to appointments, so a driving licence is an advantage.

Starting salaries for rehabilitation officers may be between around £18,000 and £23,000 a year. An experienced officer could earn between £23,000 and £30,000.

Team leaders can earn £35,000 or more.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

Most opportunities are with local authority social services departments. Other employers include voluntary organisations such as the Royal National Institute of the Blind (RNIB) and Guide Dogs for the Blind, health services, schools and colleges.

Vacancies appear in the RNIB's NB journal as well as in local and national newspapers, online at www.lgjobs.com and on the websites and jobs bulletins of individual local authorities or of voluntary organisations for visually impaired people.

Education and Training

Applicants need a qualification in rehabilitation work (visual impairment). Three universities offer relevant courses:

  • Birmingham City University (BCU) offers a foundation degree and a BSc (Hons) in rehabilitation work (visual impairment).
  • Canterbury Christ Church University offers a foundation degree in health and social care (visual impairment).
  • York St John University offers a foundation degree in visual impairment.

Entry requirements are usually a minimum of one A level and three GCSE's (A*-C), or equivalent. The Diploma in society, health and development could also be a useful starting point. Courses last two years full time.

Applicants with either personal experience of visual disability or experience of working with people with a visual impairment will also be considered if they can show ability to study at foundation degree level.

Access courses may be available to prepare people for study at degree level.

Applications from people with disabilities including visual impairment are welcomed. Learning materials are adapted to this. However, candidates must confirm their own competence in the independent living skills they will be passing on to others.

There is also a BTEC Professional Diploma in rehabilitation studies (visual impairment) at Levels 4 and 5, available through Provision Solutions. Applicants are usually employed either full or part time or are working as volunteers in a local authority or voluntary agency. They do need to have regular access to people in need of sight loss services.

Advanced Apprenticeships in health and social care may be available.

Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer. As an apprentice you must be paid at least £95 per week; you may well be paid more. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week. Your pay will depend on the sector in which you work, your age, the area where you live and the stage at which you have arrived in the Apprenticeship.

Entry to Employment (e2e) can help to prepare those who are not yet ready for an Apprenticeship. In addition, Young Apprenticeships may be available for 14- to 16-year-olds. More information is available from a Connexions personal adviser or at www.apprenticeships.org.uk.

There are different arrangements for Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

For further information visit My World of Work www.myworldofwork.co.uk/modernapprenticeships, Careers Wales www.careerswales.com; and for Northern Ireland contact www.careersserviceni.com.

Because they will be working with vulnerable individuals, rehabilitation officers must have Criminal Records Bureau clearance and be registered with the Independent Safeguarding Authority.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

The foundation degree courses all involve many practical sessions and cover areas such as:

  • Communications, activities of daily living and orientation and mobility (at foundation and practice level).
  • Contemporary practice issues in rehabilitation work.
  • Low vision, blindness and impairment.
  • Low vision therapy.
  • Professional development and employability.

The BTEC Professional Diploma is modular with six six-week units spread over the year. Each unit takes around 15 hours a week, although this depends on the student's previous experience. Most of the study is done by distance learning, but there are lectures, written assignments and practical observation.

Further training for newly qualified rehabilitation officers depends on the employer. Local authorities offer induction training and continuing professional development (CPD).

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A rehabilitation officer should:

  • Be able to communicate with all kinds of people.
  • Have patience for teaching skills to people with a range of abilities.
  • Be able to stay calm and motivate clients who get frustrated or disheartened.
  • Have a resourceful approach to solving problems.
  • Be comfortable using a computer.
  • Be able to produce written reports.
  • Be able to work independently without direct support.
  • Respect confidentiality and anti-discrimination policies.

Your Long Term Prospects

With experience, rehabilitation officers may be promoted to management posts or may specialise in a particular field, such as working with children with visual impairments.

There are also posts in training.

Get Further Information

Action for Blind People,
14-16 Verney Road,
London SE16 3DZ
Tel: 020 7635 4800
Website: www.actionforblindpeople.org.uk

Birmingham City University,
Cox Building, City North Campus,
Birmingham B42 2SU
Tel: 0121 331 6405
Website: www.sightlossmatters.com

Canterbury Christ Church University,
North Holmes Road, Cantebury, Kent CT1 1QU
Tel: 01227 782900
Website: www.canterbury.ac.uk

The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association,
Burghfield Common, Reading RG7 3YG
Tel: 0118 983 5555
Website: www.guidedogs.org.uk

Provision Solutions,
28 Rectory Court, 189 High Road,
South Woodford, LondonE18 2PE
Tel: 0208 22 000 33
Website: www.provisionsolutions.co.uk

Royal National Institute of the Blind (RNIB),
105 Judd Street, London WC1H 9NE
Tel: 020 7388 1266
Website: www.rnib.org.uk

Social Care Association,
350 West Barnes Lane,
Motspur Park, New Malden KT3 6NB
Tel: 020 8949 5837
Website: www.socialcareassociation.co.uk

York St John University,
Lord Mayor's Walk, York YO31 7EX
Tel: 01904 876598
Website: www.yorksj.ac.uk

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