Returning to employment after vision loss – Annalise’s story

If you’ve had a successful career and describe yourself as an extrovert, it can still be nerve-wracking starting a new job. Even more, if you have a vision impairment.

We placed Annalise, who has neuromyelitis optica and is legally blind into a customer service role at the Water Corporation, through our Disability Employment Services. The Water Corporation is a state government entity providing water, wastewater, drainage and irrigation services in Western Australia. With 3,300 staff, it’s one of the largest employers in Perth.

Annalise sits at her desk with Guide Dog Alfie at her feet
Annalise and her Guide Dog Alfie are well known at the Water Corporation

Her Manager, Ally Kelsch describes Annalise as a ‘ball of energy’ and ‘very committed’ to her role.

She believes Annalise’s appointment has helped the team to have a greater understanding and empathy towards people with a disability.

Annalise has been ‘gushing’ with enthusiasm about her role. We thought we’d ‘drop’ in on Annalise to meet her and Alfie, her Guide Dog, to discover why she’s the perfect fit.

Explain about your background and vision loss?

I had found my niche working in the retail industry as the regional manager of nine fragrance stores. It was a busy role. In 2017, I moved across to Perth Airport to manage the duty-free shops in the arrivals hall.

About a year earlier, I had undergone Lasik surgery. One day I noticed I had trouble seeing the customers, they looked blurry to me. I could only see shadows. The problem happened overnight, and it was a frightening experience. I convinced myself it was to do with my surgery, but it wasn’t.

At the Lions Eye Institute (link opens in new window), I was diagnosed with neuromyelitis optica (NMO) (link opens in new window), also known as Devic’s disease. It’s a rare condition, where the immune system damages the spinal cord and the nerves of the eyes (optic nerves).

What happened after your diagnosis?

It knocked my confidence, and I went into a dark place. I had to give up my job because of health appointments.

With NMO, I also had memory loss, and my speech became slurred. Intensive speech therapy and orientation and mobility followed. I applied for a Guide Dog with Guide Dogs WA (link opens in new window) as I felt it would give me greater confidence.

My Guide Dog, Alfie, opened up a new world to me. I started going out more. We went on camping adventures, daily trips to the swimming pool and I became involved with the Guide Dog Users Committee.

Then my thoughts turned to securing a job and returning to employment after vision loss.

I spoke to Recruitment Partner Qonrad, at VisAbility’s COACT Disability Employment Services. He asked me what I wanted out of a job and said I should secure employment on my terms. The post at the Water Corporation sounded ideally suited to me because it’s 25 hours a week, and I only wanted part-time hours.

Describe your role at Water Corporation?

I work in a large call centre that serves the whole of WA, so I am answering lots of calls from customers throughout the day. It’s a busy, constant role and no two days are ever the same.

Annalise stands next to a water Corporation sign at the front of her office
Annalise works at a call centre at the Water Corporation’s office in Balcatta

I work with an incredibly supportive team who do not see me as having a disability. Being a productive member of the team has instilled me with the confidence that I lost after my diagnosis.

Returning to employment after vision loss is not as daunting as I’d expected.

What would you say to others thinking of returning to work with vision loss?

I live in Port Kennedy, so I had a few sessions with an orientation and mobility therapist, because I wanted to become familiar with the bus and train route to my workplace in Balcatta.

A number of vision aids, including high-contrast keyboard and a large computer screen (27 inches) provided by VisAbility are a great help. Strong magnifier glasses also allow me to read text clearly.

I catch up with Jason from VisAbility’s CoAct Disability Employment Services who are my recruitment partners fortnightly. I am lucky as they take me home and we have a catch-up. During our journey, we discuss what’s happening and how I am doing. This one-on-one time is invaluable, and I’ve developed a good rapport with the team, who I consider my friends.

I absolutely love it at the Water Corporation and I can envisage staying here until I retire. There are plenty of opportunities to move across to other departments and my Guide Dog, Alfie is well known and is part of the Water Corporation community as well.

I can sense the Water Corporation’s appreciation of what I do because I won an award recently for achieving personal work goals.

Annalise stands with her award in the office
Annalise secured a Water Corporation Award for achieving her goals

To anyone else considering returning to employment after vision loss, I’d say don’t be apprehensive. You can adapt the way you approach work, where there’s a will, there’s a way.

There’s always a different way to approach tasks. VisAbility’s CoAct Disability Employment Services exist to help people with a vision impairment or sensory disability to secure employment.

How to get support

Please complete the form below to make an initial enquiry about the low vision services and support we can provide. Our Client Experience Team will contact you to discuss your individual needs both now and into the future.

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