Blog: My experience as a blind summer placement student at Unilever
Find out how Ademola Adeleke, a Summer Placement student with our Leonard Cheshire partnership, got on during his time at Unilever. Hear more on what he got up to and what inclusion means to him.
Hi, I’m Ademola, a blind summer placement student working at Unilever
I’m a 30-year-old male from Nigeria. I am tall, dark, and slim. My childhood started out like every other kid, and then took a bad turn when I was seven, when I was diagnosed with Glaucoma. By 16, I had completely lost my sight which forced me out of conventional school. I knew I had to get educated. So, I enrolled into a blind school for rehabilitation classes. I think I made the right decision because I’m in the UK studying for my master’s degree under a fully funded scholarship. Just when I thought I must have exhausted all my good luck, I got an offer from Unilever for a summer placement.
Time at Unilever
I was nominated to Unilever by Leonard Cheshire through the Change 100 programme designed to give disabled students workplace experience. I was told that this might involve me relocating from Liverpool to Leatherhead, but I didn’t mind. I don’t think anyone would pass up such opportunity. After some uncomfortable days of waiting for Unilever’s decision, I eventually got confirmation, which was arguably one of my happiest moments this year!
Working at Unilever was my first experience of an ‘office job’. I've learnt a lot, but my biggest learning is how to multitask. I noticed my line manager doing this a lot, and so I started copying her. She juggles a lot, and I’d admit that I found it a bit weird at first!
A typical day in the office on placement
A typical day in the office started with a catch-up with my line manager. During this regular meeting, I reported to her any progress I’ve made with my given tasks. I would get back to work afterward, which entailed producing an Employee Guide for people moving from our Leatherhead office to Kingston.
If someone was considering their summer placement at Unilever, I would highly recommend going for it.
Something to note is one reason for my excitement working at Unilever. Right from childhood, Close Up toothpaste has been our family toothpaste, and it’s been my favourite Unilever product up until recently when I tasted the Ben and Jerry’s ice cream here in the UK. It tasted like heaven and has since then been my favourite.
How to support a blind colleague
I use a screen reader to access my devices, so it sometimes takes me a little longer to complete some tasks. But I’m not complaining. Without such assistive technology, there would have been no room for me in the corporate world at all.
My advice for welcoming a blind person into your team would be to make sure they have onboarding training focused on how to use a screen reader to access vital technology.
I would also encourage people to think about how to make meetings and presentations accessible, for example sharing meeting slides prior to meetings taking place, this means blind or visually impaired colleagues can read this in advance and focus on the speaker during the meeting and not their screen reader.
In the office, we often require extra assistance, so I would recommend mobility orientation training. This is a fantastic way to support a blind colleague.
Also, markers and/or electronic beepers placed at strategic spots in the office space could help someone like me to move around a bit more freely.
And finally, colleagues attitudes towards a disabled person will decide whether the space is considered accessible and inclusive or not. I had the warmest team members during my placement, all of whom were ready to support me all the way.
Accessibility on pack and in-store
From a blind person’s perspective, I think having braille labels or brand names embossed on product packaging for easy identification by blind customers would increase accessibility. It would also be helpful for screen reader users if product packaging came with a QR code detailing information about the product. In addition, customer assistants stationed in supermarkets would improve the shopping experience of persons with accessibility needs.
Inclusion on a whole, to me, is the partnership Unilever has with Leonard Cheshire. To give selected disabled students the opportunity to have a workplace experience at the company which otherwise may have remained just a distant wish. That effort, that empathy, that consideration to make space for disabled individuals to bring their ability, to be part of the workforce, to play a part in nation building, irrespective of the nature of their impairment, is what I consider ‘inclusion’.
I’ve always believed that for a more inclusive world for blind people, more people need to understand our lifestyle, capabilities, and challenges. To me, it’s the best way to drive a more positive social attitude towards the blind, which will in turn lessen if not completely eradicate the discrimination we sometimes face in society. This is why I’m passionate about educating the public on blindness through sharing my personal experiences online. Also, I love to extend philanthropic gestures to people who could use some help, particularly blind people who have it tougher than myself. I recently floated an NGO to that effect.