July 2010 Issue  Volume 11  Number 3

Educational Issues and Resources

AFB CareerConnect Brings Innovation to Training for Teens, Young Adults, Adults, and Professionals

AFB CareerConnect is a part of the American Foundation for the Blind's family of websites. Years ago, the CareerConnect program started as a database of blind or visually impaired individuals from around the country who volunteered to advise and mentor others about the assistive technology they used. All of the individuals were employed in various fields of work.

The mentor-mentee relationship differs for each user. Some users rely on the mentor to find career or technology information. Others may look to their mentors for life guidance to help reach goals. The latter type of relationship often leads to strong bonds that can last for many years. There are instances where mentors have hired their mentees years down the line. Some have become close friends after years of mentoring. It all depends on what the mentee is looking for and how the mentor is willing to assist.

As the database of mentors has grown, so too has the interest in providing quality information and resources on employment, including certain technologies. If you have not visited CareerConnect in a while or fully explored it, you may find some pieces of the career exploration puzzle that you have been missing. Today's CareerConnect is much more then a database of names of visually impaired persons who are employed. The website offers various sections that allow specific audiences to review relevant information. The categories are divided into "For Job Seekers," "For Employers," "For Mentors," "For Professionals," and "For Family & Friends." It boasts search functions that allow users to explore careers, connect with mentors, find up-to-date career details, labor market statistics, job duties, work personality traits, and more. More means there are videos, old-time radio dramas, virtual work sites, message boards, webcasts, National Industries for the Blind job postings, job search resources, interviews, career education activities, articles, and our "Just for Fun" and "Success Stories" series.

CareerConnect has not forgotten about the need for users to search for and connect with our numerous mentors. Not only are keyword searches available, but the search mechanism still allows users to find mentors by their occupation, types of technology used, and state. Because the site allows registered users virtual contact with mentors through a safe messaging system, those users can interact with mentors anonymously if they choose to. This allows users to maintain their privacy. CareerConnect promotes and advocates proper Internet safety because we have many teen users and we want to protect their well-being and the well-being of all of our site visitors.

You must be a registered CareerConnect user to contact mentors (registration is free). However, that is not all you get out of being a user. Registering will give you the ability to fill your "My CareerConnect" folder. You can compile useful tools in it by filling out your personal data sheet, generating a resume, and utilizing the online calendar system and the ability to contact mentors.

Delve into the possibilities by exploring the mentors list on CareerConnect. The site enables you to look for and find profiles that list, if available, a mentor's primary job, vision status, location, job tasks, technology used, former jobs, and current jobs. You can get this info by either doing a generalized keyword search or an advanced search.

Explore the Success Stories webpage, which provides in-depth information through first-person accounts from a number of our exceptional mentors who have reached their employment goals. Their occupations vary from professional body builder to assistant city attorney. There are many success stories to enjoy and contact information is provided for the mentors. These success stories have also proven to be good sources of transition materials for teachers.

Often, people do not get the opportunity to hear about the hobbies or recreational pursuits of adults with visual impairments. CareerConnect put together a series of articles about the mentors and some of the things they do outside of work called Just for Fun! Because research shows that leisure time is something we require as much as food or sleep to stay healthy and sane, we wanted to provide a glimpse into some of the activities that people with vision loss or impairment pursue. Activities in this series vary from jogging to gardening to sky diving.

Humorous, fun, informative, and educational multimedia components have been added to CareerConnect over the past few years. These works can be found in the CareerConnect Multimedia section. There one can find multimedia content for all ages and purposes. Check out the video hosted by Dr. Karen Wolffe about teens in California exploring summer jobs. In addition, you may be interested in listening to Washington state teens interviewing CareerConnect mentors. If you want a good laugh, it is highly suggested that you listen to all of "Aaron's Adventures in Employment." These can be great learning tools for teens or just a great laugh for adults. The issues that "Aaron" encounters are issues that many of us have experienced or seen in the past.

The Aaron's Adventures in Employment series comprises a video and old-time radio dramas, such as "Resume Genie" (building an appropriate resume), "Dress & Impress" (dressing for an interview), "Attack of the Co-workers" (initial experiences with co-workers), "Attitude Adjusters" (first evaluation on the job), and "Aaron's Graduation" (closing the series with a fun look back at all of the adventures with a humorous '80s pop style music video).

In the spirit of "Aaron's Adventures in Employment" comes "College Ready Challenge," styled as an old-time radio drama. This Jeopardy-like game show, where two high school students face off to find out if they are prepared for college by answering questions about the differences between high school and college will appeal to students with vision loss who are thinking about their future. The questions reference the different types of skills, supports, and technology that will be beneficial to success in college or post-secondary training.

CareerConnect has also created some images of what a possible workstation for a person with low vision or no vision might look like in different types of workplaces. These images can be found on the Virtual Work Sites pages and list likely types of technology that might be used in a particular job setting. The newest addition to this is a video of a store vendor who runs his own business and has no vision. He shows the technology he uses to be successful on the job. These virtual worksites and videos are often utilized by individuals to demonstrate to employers what technology someone with vision loss may use on the job. The technology is referenced and links to related information are provided.

NIB CareerNet (CareerNet is used under license from CareerNet, LLC) is the result of a collaborative effort between AFB CareerConnect and the National Industries for the Blind (NIB). NIB has compiled a large list of jobs from around the United States for positions within organizations and businesses associated with industries for the blind. These businesses work in fields related to blindness or have hired persons with visual impairments. The unique feature to this portal is that when you build your resume on CareerConnect and store it, you are then able to submit your resume with one click to participating organizations and apply for those jobs. If you are interested, create your user profile on CareerConnect and get started! This service is provided at no cost to you. Search this job board on CareerConnect to see what is available. You may find your next job there! (If you are not yet familiar with NIB, please check out the organization's website.)

In the spring of 2009, CareerConnect launched a series of professional development webcasts to give professionals the opportunity to stay up to date and earn continuing education credits. Sessions included information on career education, assistive technology, preparing for college, and discussions and tips from successfully employed professionals with vision loss. Thousands of professionals and consumers from around the world logged in to participate in these exciting offerings. These webcasts can be found on the CareerConnect Webcast Presentations page.

One of the most popular parts of AFB's family of websites is the message boards area. Just as there is a message board associated with AccessWorld and technology, there are two message boards associated with CareerConnect. If you are a teenager or know a teen with a visual impairment, we'd like to suggest the TeenConnect message board. TeenConnect can be found within the "For Teens" portal of CareerConnect or through the message board portal on AFB.org. This message board gives teens with visual impairments the chance to discuss the everyday issues they encounter with other teens and young adults. Because minors use TeenConnect, AFB staff closely monitors these pages to ensure the safety and well-being of the users. The teens discuss such topics as issues at school, college preparation, assistive technology, cane versus dog guide, and other fun topics of interest. The other message board sponsored by CareerConnect is Work Life. This message board allows job seekers or people exploring careers to post questions and related information. This message board can be a great forum to ask for career advice.

Professionals and consumers from around the country have expressed their need for new tools to use with career exploration and teaching job-seeking skills. CareerConnect has heard this call and answered it enthusiastically by creating new content for teens, young adults, adults, and professionals. AFB brings new training for teen and adult job seekers through a free online course designed just for them. Participants will have a greater opportunity to prepare themselves through training in basic compensatory skills, self-awareness, career exploration, job seeking, and job maintenance. CareerConnect worked with experts to create content that will provide a unique and effective learning system that is fully accessible. This self-paced course, called the "Job Seeker's Toolkit," fits well into hectic schedules. The "Job Seeker's Toolkit" will allow a professional, parent, or family member to monitor the student/client's progress and comment on the assignments. The assignments are not intended to be busy work. Rather, users will find that the assignments are "tools" that can be used for job searches, college research, and college and scholarship applications.

The "Job Seeker's Toolkit" is uniquely built into registered users' My CareerConnect folders, allowing users to save their assignments or tools for future use or updating. The tools include a cover letter, resume, disclosure statement, ability statement, and numerous reference guides. The "Job Seeker's Toolkit" should be launched in the fall of 2010. Keep watching!

Also under construction for release later this year is "Career Clusters," a new addition that will give users a fresh approach to exploring a large variety of in-demand careers in the current labor market. It will contain pages dedicated to specific information on featured careers and a message board monitored by mentors from that field. Each "cluster" will contain current labor market information on the featured career, links to related articles and resources, and a portal to related mentors. This will be an exciting and user-friendly addition to CareerConnect that we hope will generate lively discussions among users.

In addition, CareerConnect hopes to launch new content designed to address vocational issues faced by teens and young adults, followed by mini lessons that will optimize the use of CareerConnect resources. These mini lessons will allow professionals to work with their students or clients on career exploration while using AFB's great online content.

Register for FREE to be a user of CareerConnect. It takes only minutes and can be a tool for a lifetime. Users have the ability to contact mentors, utilize "My CareerConnect," and other great features. If you are visually impaired or blind and employed, please go to CareerConnect and register to be a mentor. This is so important because you could be a great asset to another young adult, teen, or professional who is trying to be successful in your field or another. It is time to give back and help a new generation to succeed. Being an e-mentor takes very little time and it can make a big difference. Go to CareerConnect and register today!

CareerConnect brings innovation to your career exploration, job search, "edutainment," instructional activities, professional development, mentor searches, e-learning, and more. Come explore and learn about the next generation of career education activities and learning tools on the American Foundation for the Blind's CareerConnect.

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