Access to Employment
2017 Employment Resources for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired
Editor's note: The majority of the content in this article was published in the October 2015 issue of AccessWorld in an article written by Joe Strechay. It has been updated for 2017 and edited for this publication by Aaron Preece.
October ushers in National Disability Employment Awareness Month, and each year AccessWorld strives to bring you information to assist in your employment search. Whether you are looking for your first job or have years of work experience, vision loss will impact your job search process. Having helpful resources to assist you on the path to employment is vital to your success. We hope the resources gathered here will prove useful.
The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) increases the focus on transition services provided by state vocational rehabilitation agencies and their contractors. In fact, state vocational rehabilitation agencies will be spending 15 percent of their service dollars on pre-employment transition services for students and youth with disabilities. For most states, this is considerably more than in past years. This legislation went into effect in July of 2014, but the regulations were not released until very recently. Transition services provide students with activities on career exploration, employment skills, work experience, and much, much more. The strategy is to provide students with opportunities for successful employment experiences by starting preparation earlier than in the past. The legislation provides a consistent focus, which is something that has been missing, and the use of partners in the education arena is encouraged. The fact is, transition services have been provided in many forms, but with a consistent and widespread implementation, the result will be improved success rates for the future.
The United States Business Leadership Network
The United States Business Leadership Network (USBLN) has been a strong advocate for connecting employers with job seekers with disabilities. The USBLN connects and provides employers with guidance on the policies and structure within organizations to help employers embrace and support disability.
IN conjunction with the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD), the USBLN developed a tool called the Disability Equality Index (DEI). This effort was aided by the DEI Advisory Committee. This committee includes representatives both from organizations advocating for those with disabilities and business leaders. The DEI was modeled after the successful Corporate Equality Index that assisted with large strides for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) population in the past.
The DEI offers employers the ability to assess their organization on many levels, as to their ability to support employees with disabilities through policies and hiring practices. The USBLN is a membership organization for employers, and there are local leadership networks around the United States. If you are an employer, or you are advocating on behalf of people with disabilities with employers, encourage participation with these types of groups. The USBLN supports a widening of diversity in the overall workforce, including the hiring of underrepresented populations such as people with disabilities and veterans.
In addition, the USBLN Rising Leaders Mentoring Program offers college students a great opportunity to participate in a structured mentoring program with corporate professionals as mentors. The program links college students with disabilities to corporate mentors. The program is offered on an annual basis and at the time of this writing, the USBLN indicated that mentee applications for the 2018 program would begin to be accepted later this fall. The program has seen great success and expansion due to the positive impact of the program.
Technology and the Employment Process: Benefits and Challenges
In most cases, the job application process involves the submission of employment-related information online via a job portal. At this point, even if you are able to submit your resume and cover letter via e-mail, you still need to be able to access online job opportunities. Many large companies still have inaccessible job portals or utilize platforms that are poorly designed for accessibility--a disappointing reality in a time when such importance is placed on user experience. Many companies trust their contractors or an automated check to determine if their website is accessible, when true accessibility assessment takes education and understanding. The AFB Chief Consulting Solutions Officer, Cris Broyles, works with businesses and organizations on recognizing the complexities of accessibility. His team provides consultation on the development of and fixes to websites and apps for businesses around the United States. The team can coach developers on navigating through the standards and evaluating their current state of accessibility.
The AFB Consulting Solutions team is passionate about innovation and bringing access to people with visual impairments. AccessNote, a free, accessible note taking app, designed by the AFB Tech team, works with Bluetooth keyboards, and is available for both Android and iOS users. The team has also updated the AFB AccessWorld app by adding a powerful search feature and customized appearance. The team developed a new version of the CareerConnect app that includes access to the CareerConnect profile. In addition, the team developed the AFB Vision Connect app, which allows users to search for their local services and connect to a variety of online resources. VisionConnect is now also available on Android devices. You can find a listing of AFB's apps with links to their respective App Store or Play Store entries at the previous link.
LinkedIn is an important social media player in access to employment. LinkedIn users utilize the job search feature, network with other professionals, monitor and comment on groups, and are recruited by businesses via their LinkedIn profile. The accessibility of LinkedIn was reviewed in the October, 2015 issue of AccessWorld.
Useful Apps and Innovations for Accessible Job Searching and Professional Productivity
The KNFB Reader app offers access at a cost, but it is a useful app for individuals who are blind. The app provides the ability to access print documents, menus, and much more in everyday life and employment settings through a portable OCR solution. People use the KNFB Reader to independently access printed material, and the developers continue to add new features. IT is also possible to import PDF documents or images that contain images of text and have them converted into readable text with the KNFB Reader.
Microsoft's Seeing AI app provides recognition of text, products, and people. The app also has an experimental mode that aims to provide a description of an overall scene. The app has two OCR modes. One feature that could be particularly useful in the workplace is called Short text. This feature uses the camera to constantly scan for legible text and upon detection read it automatically. This feature is useful in many situations from reading error messages on a computer's screen in real time to sorting printed documents. AFB reviewed this app in the August 2017 issue of AccessWorld
The Be My Eyes app is a free app that allows people to volunteer to video chat in order to provide visual assistance to people who are blind or visually impaired. You can use this app for access to all kinds of information ranging from captchas to thermostats in hotels.
Aira is a service that allows someone with a visual impairment to request visual assistance from someone who has been professionally trained to provide assistance to people with visual impairments. We have reviewed Aira across two articles. The first article was published in the September 2017 issue of AccessWorld. Part 2 has been published in this issue.
There are a number of GPS apps specifically for people with visual impairments. These include BlindSquare, Nearby Explorer, and Seeing Eye GPS. Beacon technology has revolutionized the development of indoor navigation solutions for people with visual impairments. There are many apps available that take advantage of this technology to provide step-by-step directions or the equivalent of accessible signs indoors. Some of these include BlindSquare, Right-Hear, Aware, and ClickAndGo. No matter what app you use, an app will not replace the use of proper orientation and mobility skills with a white cane or dog guide.
Aside from mobile apps, there has been a lot of innovation prompting accessibility to be discussed within mainstream media and among many businesses. One such project is Depict, a crowdsourced image description tool to aid visually impaired web users to browse the web with ease. Depict is a two-part project composed of a browser extension and website that provides web users with visual impairments with a platform to request image descriptions from sighted web users. The developer researched common issues faced by Internet users who are blind or visually impaired. The creator of Depict, Niamh Parsley, stated, "I want to get people thinking about web accessibility. Depict deals directly with image descriptions, but is part of a much wider conversation."
Employment Resources Revisited
CareerConnect is a fully accessible member of the AFB family of websites dedicated to promoting the employment of people with vision loss. CareerConnect boasts a number of helpful resources, such as articles about the employment process, stories from successfully employed people with vision loss ("Our Stories"), and access to message boards with topics specific to careers for blind or visually impaired individuals. CareerConnect also offers useful resources for career exploration, as well as job application and resume and development tools. In addition, CareerConnect provides useful tools and activities for professionals working with clients who are blind or visually impaired.
Transition to Work Program Activity Guide
The Transition to Work: Program Activity Guide was created for Community Rehabilitation Program (CRP) Providers, Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) Agencies, and Teachers of the Visually Impaired (TVI's) working to improve employment outcomes for teens and young adults who are blind or visually impaired. The activities are intended to equip service providers to provide instruction and services to youth who are blind or visually impaired in three of the five Pre-employment Transition Services areas required by the Workforce Innovation & Opportunity Act (WIOA): job exploration, work-based learning, and workplace readiness training. The materials were developed by a Teacher of the Visually Impaired with the intention of providing instructors easy access to a variety of activities in several formats to meet the learning media needs of all of their students. The activities can be printed, accessed electronically, and even e-mailed. The activities are also available as electronic braille files (BRF) in the Unified English Braille (UEB) Code ready to be embossed.
The materials were designed for youth whose primary (and possibly only) disability is their visual impairment, but activities can be modified for individual student needs and for students with additional disabilities. The activities are designed to facilitate individual and small group instruction and can also be used to facilitate distance instruction with students in rural areas when face-to-face instruction cannot occur or is limited.
The Job Seeker's Toolkit
CareerConnect's Job Seeker's Toolkit is a free, self-paced online course aimed at people who are new to the employment process. The Toolkit consists of a series of lessons and assignments that cover self-awareness, career exploration, job seeking tools, pre-interview and interview skills, and job maintenance. As you work your way through the Toolkit, you can save your assignments (ranging from your network contacts, to your resume and cover letter, to a list of job leads, in your My CareerConnect portfolio) where they can be accessed for future reference or use.
Maintaining and Advancing in Employment
The Maintaining and Advancing in Employment course offers 25 unique lessons and assignments to assist adults and youth in getting ready to maintain their employment and aim for future advancement. Professionals can sign up for free and associate to users as well. So, stay on the job and prepare to move up the employment ladder with this great resource.
The CareerConnect app offers access to the CareerConnect Blog, Our Stories section, and the Lesson Plans for Teachers and Professionals section. In June 2015, AFB launched version 2 of the CareerConnect app, which added access to the CareerConnect social networking features. Use the app to connect with mentors and accept connection requests.
The NIB CareersWithVision website is the result of a collaborative effort between AFB CareerConnect and National Industries for the Blind. The NIB has compiled a large list of jobs from around the US within organizations that do work in fields related to blindness, or that have hired people with visual impairments. A unique feature of the site is that you can submit your CareerConnect resume to participating organizations in order to apply for jobs. This service requires the creation of a free CareerConnect user profile to gain access to the job board, develop a resume, and apply to positions.
Hadley Institute for the Blind and Visually Impaired
The Hadley Institute for the Blind and Visually Impaired offers online and correspondence courses for people with vision loss in subjects related to blindness skills, business writing, employment, and more. Hadley's exciting program, the Forsythe Center for Entrepreneurship, offers in-depth information and training for entrepreneurs who are blind or visually impaired and who want to start their own businesses. This resource has seen growth and innovation through partnerships with groups like the Veteran's Administration.
Accessing Federal Jobs
Federal agencies have two job application methods available for people with disabilities: competitive and noncompetitive placements. As with any employer, job applicants must meet specified qualifications and be able to perform essential job duties related to the position with reasonable accommodations.
Jobs that are filled competitively are advertised on USAJOBS, the official job-posting site used by the United States government. There are approximately 16,000 jobs available on the site each day. Once you register on the site, you can set up notifications for job advertisements related to selected keywords. Jobs filled non-competitively are available to those with mental, severe physical or psychiatric disabilities who have appropriate documentation as specified by the US Office of Personnel Management. Your VR counselor can provide this documentation to you if you qualify.
The US Department of Labor's Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) offers useful connections to resources for self-employment, youth employment, employer advisement, the latest disability policies, and more. This office advises the US Department of Labor and other government agencies on employment issues regarding people with disabilities.
Job Accommodation Network
The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) is an online resource for accommodation advice for all disabilities. The website also allows users to submit questions regarding special accommodations and ADA issues in the workplace. JAN hosts webcasts on the provision of job accommodations, and the programs can be accessed through their website.
Career One Stop
Career One Stop is a free resource provided by the US Department of Labor that allows you to search state job bank databases.
Career centers help people perform research to support professional goals. Community Colleges, universities, and vocational schools often have career centers, and many are available to the public. You may have to visit, call, or do some online research to find out what is available to you locally. Keep in mind that many career centers maintain robust websites accessible to anyone with an Internet connection, and these sites may offer many free resources and materials. Career centers are often underutilized, and most are eager to have visitors. Some receive grant money to offer services to the community or state, and some actively recruit people with disabilities to their centers.
Vocational Rehabilitation Agencies
Vocational rehabilitation agencies help people with disabilities prepare for entry or re-entry into the workforce. Your local vocational rehabilitation agency will offer a range of programs, resources, and services to help you prepare for and find work. The range of programs offered by these agencies varies from state to state, so research your local vocational rehabilitation agency, determine what programs and services you are eligible for, and apply.
In most cases, these organizations exist to help you become job-ready and find employment. Some may also train you in independent living, orientation and mobility, and access technology. These agencies will also know about other available resources in your community and state. To find a local or state agency near you, use the AFB Directory of Services.
Bender Consulting Services
Bender Consulting Services is a highly successful recruitment firm that specializes in meeting employers' needs through the employment of qualified people with disabilities in the technology, science, government, and other employment sectors. The organization has been making a difference for a long time. Joyce Bender also hosts a popular audio show specific to disability and the employment process.
DisABLED Person, Inc.
DisABLEDperson, Inc. is a non-profit foundation with the mission to reduce the extremely high unemployment rate among people with disabilities by providing online recruitment solutions as well as program initiatives. A primary goal associated with this mission is to connect individuals and veterans who have disabilities with employers who are proactive in hiring them. It accomplishes this goal through their disability job matching system.
Another goal is to assist community members in gaining marketable job skills that will translate into sustainable employment, accomplished through their Microsoft Imagine Academy program. You can visit the Web portals at the disABLEDperson, Inc. website or the Job Opportunities for Disabled American Veterans (JOFDAV) website.
Eyes on Success
The Eyes on Success audio show is an excellent resource to find interviews with successful people who are blind or visually impaired and get employment tips. There are hundreds of shows accessible online that offer tips on job seeking and the use of resources. Find out about great blindness-related resources and inspirational stories.
NFB Where the Blind Work
The National Federation of the Blind has a resource that allows individuals who are blind or visually impaired to post information about their work. Where the Blind Work is a portal for learning about the jobs people who are blind are doing.
Project Aspiro is a website developed by the World Blind Union around addressing the employment issues specific to the needs in Canada and abroad. This is a career exploration resource that aims to illuminate employment options and programs without a Western-centric focus.
During NDEAM, take the time to evaluate your presentation to the public, online, and when approaching employment opportunities. When you step out into your local community or professional community, what brand are you presenting? Every one of us has our own brand, and it is up to us to evaluate that brand to see if it supports our intended message. The perception of the public is their reality of who we are as an individual. Put forth the best brand possible. We all are unique and offer valuable skills. Even professionals with the best brands have to reevaluate their messaging from time to time. Define the message you want to present in the public, create that message and image, seek feedback, correct your brand, and test your revamped brand in the community. This could be the difference between being employed and not being employed. This doesn't have to cost a lot of money.
Take the time to reevaluate your online presence. Look at your presentation through social media, and evaluate whether this is the professional image you seek. Social media offers both new opportunities and obstacles in the employment process. More and more jobs are released first through social media and associated online contacts. Corporations and recruiters are mining online profiles for qualified and talented candidates.
Even the most seasoned professional needs to update their skills for navigating the employment process. Individuals who have been employed for longer periods might be even more in need of making this effort. The employment process has changed, and our skills for interviewing and addressing the needs of new employers may be stale. The employment process is about bringing your skills to meet the needs of an employer. Defining and listening to the needs of an employer can be the thing that gets you a second interview. Each employer is different, and the fact is most interviewers have little to no training in conducting an interview, and this is especially true for a person with a disability. Most operate on their own biased assumptions of what an effective interview should be. Interviewers don't typically role play or practice the process, especially those who are not human resources professionals. The people who will typically interview you are professionals in a specific field. Take the time to practice your interviewing skills with various professionals who work both in and outside of human resources, This takes a lot of time and preparation. We all have misjudged our own readiness and proficiency in this area at some time in our professional lives.
Besides getting your brand to the highest level, take the time to give back to the community. Make the effort to schedule time to assist in creating more awareness around the employment of individuals who are blind or visually impaired. We are more than our blindness or vision loss. We are corporate professionals, nonprofit managers, retail associates, sandwich artists, scientists, counselors, lawyers, entertainment stars, and so much more. The positive impression you leave forever changes the world's perception of people who are blind or have low vision.
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