Putting ability first at Deloitte | Accounting on The Gateway

Putting ability first at Deloitte

University graduate, chartered tax adviser, senior manager at Deloitte –and registered as blind. Jamie Weller tells Lucy Mair his inspirational story

Ilost my eyesight when I was 20, and it turned my world upside-down. After working hard to qualify as a Sea Harrier aircraft engineer, I had to leave my dream job in the Royal Navy and adjust to the world as a blind person  which was like being a child again. People asked me what I was going to do with the rest of my life, and because I couldnÂ't see I was told that I didnÂ't have many options.

That was 20 years ago, and now IÂ'm a senior manager in the tax practice at Deloitte. I work in our Private Clients Services team in Nottingham and Birmingham, advising high-net-worth individuals and entrepreneurs on their tax affairs. My job involves tax planning to help our clients pay their personal taxes as efficiently as possible. I specialise in assisting clients who want to sell their company, buy a private jet, pass on the family wealth with the least tax leakage or move abroad. I also deliver training courses in personal tax for new joiners on the Deloitte graduate training programme.

Many of my clients and colleagues are astounded by how I meet the challenges of sight loss and do my role at Deloitte. But for me, itÂ's normal: I come in and do my job, just like everybody else. My loss of vision raises challenges, but I always overcome them and get on with my life.

Learning to adapt

IÂ'm an ambitious person and I loved aviation when I was younger. For me, there was nothing better than working on an aircraft carrier deck, travelling the world and having the career development opportunities the Royal Navy could offer. But my eyesight began to quickly deteriorate shortly after I finished my aircraft engineering training.

My first awareness of losing my vision came when I was driving along a dual carriageway at night and the flashing headlights of an oncoming car made me realise I was on the wrong side of the road. After this incident, my eyesight continued deteriorating until I completely lost my central vision in both eyes, leaving me with a large blind spot. Nobody really knows how or why it happened, but doctors believe itÂ's because I was exposed to excessive amounts of sunlight during my service.

IÂ'm registered as blind, but I donÂ't have a guide dog or a white cane. Although IÂ've lost my central vision, I still have some blurred peripheral vision. If you imagine holding a large white dinner plate about six inches from your face, thatÂ's what my vision is like Â- I can see around the edges, but nothing in the middle.

When I left the Royal Navy I went through a rehabilitation course with Blind Veterans UK, followed by doing my A-levels at the Royal National College for the Blind. I then studied Maths, Economics, Statistics and Operational Research at the University of Warwick. University was a difficult time socially, as well as academically, because it was the first time I had to learn to live in a sighted world Â- I always had to rely on people coming to talk to me or to find me in the student union or the pub. ItÂ's still hard today, because people use so much body language to communicate Â- they might smile or wave, but I donÂ't see any of that.

I wasnÂ't sure what I wanted to do after university. In my final year, I went to several on-campus graduate recruitment presentations with my friends and started considering professional services. Deloitte invited me to London to meet a graduate recruitment manager and discuss what challenges IÂ'd face and what equipment IÂ'd need if I were to join the firm in either the audit or tax practice. Although I hadnÂ't done the job before and didnÂ't know exactly what to expect, I remember telling them: Â"I know I can do this, and I know IÂ'll cope with the challenges.Â" I joined Deloitte as a tax trainee in 1995 and became the first blind qualified member of the Chartered Institute of Taxation.

Ability before disability

Deloitte has always been very supportive of me, and I feel lucky and proud to be part of the firm. If I come across an obstacle, I sit down with someone and we talk about how the firm can help me do my job more efficiently. But at the same time, IÂ'm treated the same as every other employee: on the basis of my ability, rather than my disability.

My job involves writing reports, holding meetings with clients, giving them advice and managing my team. I spend time at my computer, even though I canÂ't see my screen properly. I have an external 21-inch monitor connected to my laptop and I use software to magnify everything. My computer also has speech output, so I wear an earpiece and when I open a document or an email, the computer reads it to me. Using these pieces of technology means I can operate independently at my desk. When I go to client meetings, I usually take someone else with me to combine their eyesight with my knowledge.

I think my job has become easier as my career has progressed. When I first started, not only did I have to learn about tax, I had to adapt to working in an office environment. I also had to do difficult, practical work, such as tax computations and preparing tax returns. Now, as a senior manager, I can delegate these tasks to my team, while I take more of a big picture approach and spend more time with my clients. ItÂ's also got easier because of technology: when I started I had a pile of books and IÂ'd have to put them under a projector so the pages would be magnified on my monitor. Now, almost everything is available electronically, but where it isnÂ't my work colleagues help me.

Changing attitudes

I think peopleÂ's attitudes towards disabilities have changed, too. At Deloitte we strive to be the best at what we do. ThatÂ's not just in giving client advice, but also in delivering the best possible workplace for our people, which includes hiring from diverse backgrounds and those with disabilities. Deloitte also has a WorkAbility network, which is an internal group of employees who are either disabled themselves or have family or friends who are disabled.

This summer, I think the Paralympic Games at London 2012 were especially inspiring. The athletes wowed everyone because of the challenges and the efforts theyÂ've had to go through to do what they do. I always tell people that just because I canÂ't see, it doesnÂ't mean my lifeÂ's over. I think the Paralympics provided a real education for everyone, and now more people understand that you can carry on achieving things if youÂ've been injured.

People donÂ't treat me any differently because IÂ'm blind Â- and I wouldnÂ't allow that to happen anyway. At work, people donÂ't see me as Â"blindÂ" Jamie, just as Jamie.

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