Mark Kerry Barley and Ian

NHSBSA welcomes first blind customer call centre employees

The NHS Business Services Authority (NHSBSA) has successfully brought in its first blind customer contact employees against the backdrop of COVID-19.

Around 75% of blind and partially sighted people are unemployed and some of those who do find employment, go on to experience difficulties in accessing their employer’s IT systems.

Husband and wife, Mark and Kerry Fielding are both blind and working on-site in Fleetwood. They joined the NHSBSA late last year and together with their guide dogs Barley and Ian, they work in the contact centre. Mark and Kerry love working with other people in the contact centre and helping others.

It took weeks of training, coaching, building changes and IT adjustments to make sure that they could start taking calls. The pandemic caused its own unique issues in getting the Fielding’s on board. One example of this is a Jaws assessor (JAWS is a screen reading software package designed for people with a vision impairment who use Windows-based PC systems) was unable to travel to the Fleetwood office from Wales to help with the adjustments for months due to lockdown.

NHSBSA’s status as a Disability Confident Leader and work with the Fieldings has put it in a great position to welcome future blind or visually impaired colleagues and make the onboarding experience much smoother.

Mark Fielding said: “It was an incredibly bold move by the NHSBSA to bring us in. If there was an organisation less progressive in thinking and if we had not been so committed to making it work, I am not sure it would have worked.

“The NHSBSA has a vision and a mentality of ‘we will make it work and if it doesn’t, we’ll find a way to make it work’, which having trained as an engineer is similar to my mentality of finding a way around a problem.

“Our dogs have settled in easily and they have been so calm even when the window cleaners came over which is different to what they’re like at home! Everyone has been brilliant and…. colleagues could not be more keen to help.

“It has not been normal (because of COVID) and I’ve not been able to meet many colleagues. I’ve only met two people on my team in person but have got to know them through Teams. I’m excited to go down the pub with them when we can!”

Kerry Fielding added: “I look at the whole experience we’ve been through with the NHSBSA and just think, wow! The whole ethos of the NHSBSA has been incredible, they’ve really stood by us.

“I was offered a similar position elsewhere but that was not progressing quickly at all and they did not appear to be as committed to overcoming some of the obstacles. There’s not knowing how to help, then there’s not being prepared to and showing real apathy. When you compare that to our experience with the NHSBSA it is so different.

“My most recent working experience has been working from home so I was very excited to come into the office and it has helped to give me a sense of purpose.”

“I wanted to be involved with people, I like talking to people and I enjoy helping people and if I can improve someone’s life by saving them some money or in any other way then great.

Carolyn Bell, Service Delivery Manager at NHSBSA’s contact centre said: “I am extremely proud of what has been achieved, it has been a massive team effort.

“It has been a very challenging process. Kerry and Mark haven’t worked in call centres before and we didn’t have any other blind agents.

“Kerry and Mark have been able to settle really easily because of our preparation and the support we have been able to provide. The rollout of Microsoft Teams has been great and enabled them to take part in meetings, coaching sessions and meet other members of their team virtually. We also have coaches and a manager on site to support them (from a distance).

Rachel Brown, Diversity and Inclusion Manager added:

“Working in a call centre is generally one of the most difficult jobs for someone who is blind as it involves needing to see a lot of information on screen. We had to find a way to adapt complete workarounds and solutions that had never been done before in the NHSBSA. People from all areas and roles came together to overcome these barriers which was great to see.”

“Now we know we can do it for roles like this we can definitely do this for other roles and improve the likelihood of blind people being employed in future, which is crucial as blind people are more likely to be unemployed.”

Contact Information

Sahdia Hassen

Senior Media and Campaigns Officer

NHS Business Services Authority

Notes to editors

Mark and Kerry also appeared on a podcast to discuss their experiences since joining the NHSBSA, by Tom Walker: That’ll be the Day – Employment for blind people, not always a tale of woe! - YouTube