Friday, April 22, 2011

In UK, blind man finds his calling as a plumber

From The Sunday Sun in the UK:

Plumber Robert Ainsley-Raffel (pictured) is determined not to let his disability stand in his way of his career dreams.

Despite being born blind the 25-year-old trained as a plumber to a professional level, but he has now found his career chances dwindling, as employers are unwilling to give him a chance.

But undeterred Robert, from Hexham, Northumberland, remains resolute about his choice of trade and is planning to start his own business.

He said: “It has been quite disappointing that no one is willing to take me as an employee but if anything it has made me more determined.

“The thing that people learn very quickly about me is that I will not take no for an answer. If someone says I can’t do something I will set about proving them wrong.”

On top of the blindness, specialist equipment such as a talking tape measure can cost Robert up to ten times more, whilst health and safety regulations have seen him turned away from colleges.

But determined Robert did gain a level 2 qualification and plans to set-up his own business under the trade name ‘Snappy Plumbin’ in the next year through the Access to Work scheme.

He said: “There are not many people who want to push the boundaries. But one day I hope to take on a visually impaired apprentice of my own, to give them a fighting chance.”

Robert moved out of his family home aged 21, where he took his first step towards getting into the trade and moved to Doncaster to train as a level 1 plumber in 2009, before gaining his level 2 qualifications in Carlisle.

He said: “Whilst I was living in Doncaster a plumbing friend came to fit the radiators and I just thought to myself why not?

“When I visited the college one of the tutors told me that there are certain aspects of the job that you need visuals for but 85% of what you can do is still open to a blind person.”

Penny Hefferan of the Blind Business Association Charitable Trust has been helping Robert along the way since they began contact three years ago.

She said: “Unfortunately blind people are the last category of people that employers want to take on, which makes it incredibly demoralizing for Robert.”

The BBACT also provided Robert with a mentor in Ian Parkin, 54, who was a trained plumber himself when he lost his sight to a hereditary disease 10 years ago.

He said: “Robert has worked hard and will have to continue to work hard to succeed in this industry; half the battle is getting people to trust you and actually give you the jobs.”

Robert has done the odd job for friends and family but is still waiting to make his big break.