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Succeeding without sight or sound.

When a customer walks into the Cardiff NatWest branch, Andrea Salt is tapped on the arm by her support worker, Paige. This is how she knows when to say ‘hello’ and start helping them with their banking needs. Andrea has a condition that means she is partially deaf and completely blind. And yet, she is excelling in a customer service role.

Seven years ago Andrea’s sight and hearing began to deteriorate, and although she knows her condition is similar to Usher’s Syndrome, her exact diagnosis has not yet been determined. I wanted to speak with Andrea and her manager, Lindsay Hoyle to talk about the first few months of Andrea’s role, and asked her what a typical day was like.

‘There’s no such thing as a typical day!’ Andrea laughs, ‘So far, no two days have been the same. I’m doing a lot of different things and everything feels different when the branch is really busy.

‘Sometimes I’ll be front of house so I’ll greet the customers when they come in. I’ll have my support worker with me who signals to me when the customers approach me so that I know they’re there and I can engage with them and help with their queries.

‘I’ve also just started working on the tills which has been a massive challenge but is working really well. I can now help customers do all sorts of things like pay in cheques and pay their bills.’

And how do you manage to use the tills and computers without your sight?

‘I use a screen reader called JAWS which has a Braille display and allows me to read everything on the screen in Braille with my hands which frees up my ears to speak to the customer. I’m still getting to grips with it but I’m getting much faster at reading and processing instructions, and Paige helps me with things like the amount on the cheques that I’m paying in.

‘My focus now is to get better at every element of the role. It was such a massive challenge at the beginning; when I first started, we had to get the necessary software installed on the computers, and Paige and I hadn’t worked together before so we had to spend time working out how we could silently communicate with each other. It feels incredible now that it’s all falling into place.’

Considering the obvious hurdles Andrea was facing, I asked why this role appealed to her.

‘Before starting this job I worked in retail and there was suddenly a situation where I was needed on the shop floor. At that point I didn’t realise a blind person could work in that sort of role and it was life changing as it made me realise I was capable of working in a customer service position, and that that’s what I really wanted to do. I started looking for different positions, found this one on the NatWest website and really liked the sound of it!’

The unique induction required for this role was challenging for the team as well as Andrea. Andrea’s manager Lindsay played a huge role in her on-boarding and talked us through some of the obstacles she faced.

‘It’s been a real learning curve for all of us from HR, Recruitment and Technology to the branch team. It’s all been really pioneering and Andrea’s been fantastic at feeding back so we can improve and make the process faster and more straight-forward for future employees. The whole experience has opened our eyes to all the areas of support that we wouldn’t have known existed in terms of the people who’ve helped with training and the software we’ve had installed. What’s been fantastic about all the obstacles we’ve faced is that we now know who to pick up the phone to and where to go to resolve any issue, and we have a much more proactive approach.’

And was the on-boarding process as Lindsay expected?

‘I don’t know what we expected but Andrea showed her amazing personality right from her initial interview which encouraged me to be open and ask questions; How’s it going to work? How will you be able to count money? We’ve had to be really honest and responsive to each other which is a mentality that’s spread across the team and to our customers. It’s helped and encouraged our employees to be a bit more mindful of some of our own and our customers’ possible disabilities or vulnerabilities. We’re all really proud to be working alongside Andrea and making a success of it. She’s an inspiration and it’s giving us more motivation to be there for each other as well as our customers; I think this situation has given us more of an understanding and respect for one another’s needs.

‘From day one, Andrea’s been there for the customers and the reception she gets from them is incredible. Several customers approach me everyday to say how great the service she’s provided has been and how amazing it is that’s she able to perform so well in this role. And that’s the part of the job she enjoys most too.’

‘It is!’ Andrea adds, ‘I love being there for the customers and meeting all sorts of people. Having the opportunity to help people is the main reason I applied for the job, and I can’t believe how supportive and accommodating the bank has been. I’m quite aware that I’m one of the first few totally blind people to work in a customer facing role for the bank, and after the support I’ve received, I would advise anyone in a similar position to jump at the opportunity to do the kind of job they want to do and not let their condition hold them back!

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