My name is IAN FRANCIS and I'm the Founder and CEO of THE VIP LOUNGE GROUP, as well as being the Director of THE VIP LOUNG GROUP OF RADIO STATIONS.
I am a 48 year old Visually Impaired Person (VIP). I was registered in the U.K. as partially sighted at birth, but when I was 24, reclassified as blind. Since then my sight has continued to deteriorate and now I have no vision in my right eye and little useful vision in my left.
I was first schooled in main stream education which had a unit within dedicated to children with sight loss or hearing impairment. At the age of 14 I was sent to a boarding school that specialised in teaching children with sight impairment.
At the age of 18 I attended The Royal National College for the blind in Hereford, where I studied piano tuning and business studies.
Since leaving college I have worked as a financial advisor, door to door money collector, proprietor of 2 shops, car sales business owner, as well as working at various radio stations.
When the financial crash hit the world in 2007 I lost my car sales company so became unemployed. I was asked by my then wife who worked at Cardiff Institute for the Blind (CIB) to assist with research on behalf of THE WELSH ASSEMBLY GOVERNMENT, into the accessibility of post office branches and their services from the point of view of a person with sight loss.
This project involved me visiting locations throughout Wales at random. As I had to regularly visit both CIB and RNIB CYMRU, I got to know the staff and many of the service users.
When the post office project was completed, I was invited to commence working at both CIB as well as the RNIB as a volunteer. I began as a befriended supporting people in their homes and moved on to be one of the first members of the RNIB's "Tech Support Squad". I then worked as a receptionist at CIB, as well as training to demonstrate products on sale at the recourse centre.
While doing this I trained in welfare rights, supporting people with specific Benicia claims and difficult cases. Other parts of my work included the arrangement for transportation of service users, training them with gadgets designed to assist those with sight loss.
I was one of the original co-authors of FINDING YOUR FEET, a program still used by the RNIB today to help people coming to terms with blindness, how to adapt and cope in their new found circumstances.
While undertaking all of the above I was also present assisting people on social events, day trips and short term holiday breaks.
I then found out that my wife was having an affair with another member of staff. The RNIB were not very supportive, so I stopped working there. But after I left I approached them with my idea of setting up what has now become THE VIP LOUNGE. I was told that my idea would not work.
But I didn't listen to them and here we are three and a half years later with just shy of 17,000 people actively helping, supporting and encouraging each other every single day.
Thanks for your time,