by Joe Strechay
The latest issue of the Journal on Visual Impairment & Blindness (JVIB) is focused on employment and transition. This special issue happens to be edited by a friend and mentor of mine, Dr. Karen Wolffe. It has only been out for a few days, but this issue is already a mainstay in my library, as the topics it covers relate to my everyday work at the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB). I can't say that often; there are not a ton of volumes of anything that relate directly to employment, transition, visual impairment, and blindness.
In honor of this awesome issue, I thought I would bring you some insight from my years of working in the world of transition and employment for people with visual impairments in which I have been given the opportunity to work with youngsters, adults, and professionals around the United States in relation to these topics.
When I think of planning for students making the transition from high school to higher education or work or from college to work, I start thinking about assessment and creating an inventory of an individual's interests, strengths, weaknesses, skills, and values. For adults, in many cases the same type of assessments need to be done, but it all depends on a few factors that we will discuss later. The ultimate goal for youths and adults is to achieve a level of independence that is commensurate with the individuals' abilities. (If you ask me, the real word should be "interdependence," since we all are interdependent on others. In fact, our whole societal system and economy are based on interdependence, but that is a topic for another blog.)
Education and Rehabilitation Programs
The similarities are greater than the differences in education and rehabilitation programming. Career planning when a student is in school needs to be related to his or her Individualized Education Program (IEP)—for adults in rehabilitation programs, career planning is tied to the Individual Plan for Employment (IPE)—but establishing a career is much larger than that, and requires additional work. Establishing a career requires individuals to understand what they have to offer and how their assets match career opportunities (career exploration), how they can convince an employer or customer to take what is offered (job-seeking skills), and how they can sustain employment over time (job maintenance and career advancement).
A Goal is Necessary—At Least One!
Multiple goals need to be addressed in the career planning process. The typical goals that come to mind might be employment, behaviors, current education, training (skill training or development), or postsecondary or vocational training. The ultimate goal is employment. Education, however, is very closely related to employment. Ideally, the educational path needs to be congruent with the career goal. Individuals with visual impairments wishing to make the transition to college or gain employment need to also work on factors that could impede their success, such as appropriate self-advocacy skills or appropriate workplace behaviors.
Start with the Big Picture and Set Objectives
When addressing the various goals needed for a successful transition, I like to have my clients start with the big picture and then define the detailed steps that they will need to take to accomplish their goals. For example, a youth's primary goal could be employment with self-awareness as the subcategory.
As professionals, we need to empower and involve our students and clients in planning for their futures. Therefore, individuals need to be counseled to create their own lists of goals and objectives. When establishing benchmarks for a transition goal, objectives for each accomplishment should be specific and list expected dates of completion, because objectives provide a way to map out the path toward reaching the goal. For example, the objective, "I will have my disability statement developed by one week from today," uses the phrase "I will" to encourage the student to take responsibility for the objective. It is also important for clients to put objectives in writing and share them with professionals or family members, as this activity provides some accountability.
Students and clients should also be encouraged to conduct as much research as possible over the Internet during career exploration and transition planning. AFB's CareerConnect and O*Net Online include a wealth of information related to specific careers or jobs. While conducting research, the individual should think about the educational path, necessary skills, employment projections, and the congruence to the individual of a particular transition goal.
Five Strategies for Successful Career Planning
Whether you are working with children or adults, individuals who are considering what they would like to study after high school or individuals who have work experience, individuals exploring careers for the first time (habilitation), as well as those who are interested in re-careering (rehabilitation), the following strategies should help you as you work with students and consumers in setting transition goals.
- Work through activities related to career exploration. These activities include occupational interviews, exploring career clusters, and job shadowing; other examples of such activities are listed online in the CareerConnect Lesson Plans for Teachers and Professionals. Another great resource is the American Printing House for the Blind's Transition Tote (recently revised and released). As individuals complete career-exploration activities, the path for a successful transition will become better defined for the individual.
- Help guide individuals through the career planning process by asking them questions to help them find their path. However, don't set goals for them! Individuals need to buy into goals and the steps required in meeting them. Make sure they understand that their path can change and be updated.
- Start with large goals, goal subcategories, and then created more detailed, focused objectives or steps toward reaching these goals. Include dates of completion to help create accountability. Take the example of employment as the large goal with behavior change as the goal subcategory. An objective for this subcategory could be, "I will introduce myself and attempt to create conversation with one new person (not known prior) each day for the next 30 days." Using the example of self-advocacy as a goal subcategory, an objective could be, "I will meet with my physical education teachers to discuss how I can be included more in my physical education class by one week from today."
- Help students and clients create career portfolios that include the research and action plan.
- Teach individuals how to present or explain their career plans to their families and other professionals. In order to benefit from such presentations, encourage them to be open to feedback on their plans.
This blog is part of the JVIB Special Issue on Transition and Employment. Readers are encouraged to comment below to discuss any topic related to employment and transition. The individual who leaves the best comment, as judged by the editors of the journal, from today (Nov. 18th) through Friday, Nov. 22nd, will receive a free AFB Press publication of their choice. For more information, write Rebecca Burrichter, senior editor JVIB, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
by Detra Bannister
Online social media is well known to help you build personal connections and relationships. But what about career building or job-seeking? Today, many human resource managers, recruiters and headhunters are looking to see if you have an internet presence and what is being said about you on the Web. If they find a negative message or none at all, you could lose an opportunity without even knowing it. LinkedIn provides an accessible way to create a professional brand and build connections.
Read Grow Your Connections Through LinkedIn by CareerConnect Mentor Empish Thomas to hone your skills using social media for professional reasons.
by Joe Strechay
Recently, I was interviewed by the Associated Press' David Crary, who I think did a great job in writing the piece, Employers' wariness thwarts many blind jobseekers. Disability employment issues don't get a lot of coverage in the national press, despite being an important topic.
I spent a good amount of time on the phone with Mr. Crary and provided him with links to articles, blog posts, and the NIB study referenced in the article. That study hit me pretty hard, and I had blogged about the commentary from the Wall Street Journal.
When reading this article, I especially appreciated the story about the human resources specialist who lost her sight and then actually saw the light about her previous mistakes. She told of interviewing a blind man for a job at a manufacturing company, back in the 1980s, and being skeptical of his ability to do the job. I agree totally with her about preparing job seekers to sell themselves. I spend a lot of my time traveling around the United States and speaking to adults who are blind or visually impaired about that. I spend just as much time creating materials that can be utilized online with that type of information, too.
I am a strong believer in the elevator speech, which refers to the idea of having a short period of time, perhaps only the length an elevator ride, to pitch yourself. I think there is a science to this, and I speak about it all of the time. I think this is something that can be learned and practiced. It should be practiced, just like people practice any other skill.
I can sell myself with the best of the best. I practice this skill all of the time because it is not just an employment skill, it is a life skill. Every day, we have opportunities as people with disabilities to practice selling ourselves. I am speaking of the idea that we all are salespersons and our product is ourselves. We have to be able to talk about our strengths, skills, accomplishments, and our disability in practical terms, how we will do our work, and be comfortable speaking about it.
Employers will not be comfortable with our disability, unless we are comfortable speaking about it. First of all, employers cannot ask about our disability unless we disclose it. It doesn't mean they will not ask, but we should be prepared to bring it up and address it with practical information. I strive to motivate young people who are blind or have low vision, and get them interested and creating action plans toward success. I ask young people and adults a lot of questions, and I want know they will show initiative. Work is not often handed to people; we have to work many hours to get the opportunities. If job seekers create an atmosphere of success, it will make life a lot easier.
We are living in an exciting time. I think employers are starting to embrace the diversity of hiring people with disabilities. Organizations such as the United States Business Leadership Network are helping to create opportunities for persons with disabilities. We are nowhere close to the end zone. I don't even think we have crossed midfield truthfully, but we are starting to move the line of scrimmage in my view.
I really enjoyed Mr. Crary's piece, and I felt it was one of the more accurate pieces about employment for persons who are blind or visually impaired that I have read of late. I am grateful that he included me and CareerConnect® in this piece. It is an important issue and we hope that sharing these stories will help chip away at the misperceptions out there about the capabilities of those of us with vision loss. Check out CareerConnect's Our Stories and mentor search, and you'll see that people who are blind or visually impaired can do just about anything!
by Joe Strechay
As we get towards the end of National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM), AFB CareerConnect has added a new subsection to the Explore Careers section. The Conducting a Successful Job Search section offers needed job seeker advice and tips for teenagers and adults navigating the employment process. This series of articles provides useful and practical information specific to self-awareness, finding a job, appearance, interviews, and exploring careers.
The series of articles is a teaser to our very popular Job Seeker's Toolkit, which is a free self-paced online course within AFB CareerConnect. To access the Job Seeker's Toolkit, you must register as a CareerConnect user. This is a free registration for all persons. This new content provides a taste of the in-depth information offered through the course. Conducting a Successful Job Search provides 16 articles covering major components to navigating the employment process in an easy to understand format.
Take some time and visit the new content, Conducting a Successful Job Search!
"New Job" sign photo courtesy of Shutterstock.
by Joe Strechay
Last week, I had the opportunity to meet with high school and middle school students who are blind or visually impaired. I love getting the opportunity to work with youth specific to self-awareness, career exploration, and navigating the employment process. Patricia Leader, a program coordinator in Cupertino Public Schools, made this visit possible. She is a shining example of a great teacher who is quite passionate about guiding youth to success. They have a number of great teachers in Cupertino.
This visit is relevant because it is October, National Disability Employment Awareness Month. AFB CareerConnect is ending National Disability Employment Awareness Month with a lot of activity. We are posting a lot of new content this week, and here is the first of a few great additions to our program. Hopefully, you've had a chance to explore our Lesson Plans for Teachers and Professionals section since the launch in July. I promised you that we would be bringing it hard with a lot of new lessons. We were not fibbing! Yes, I just wrote fibbing; it seems like a fun way to say lying.
Shannon Carollo (a great friend of CareerConnect) has been really busy—she has provided us with a few more sections of lesson plans for all of you teachers and professionals out there in the field. The new section is packed with lessons related to social skills. I think we all know how important social skills are to the success of our youth who are blind or visually impaired. The lessons provide a variety of structured activities to utilize around building the appropriate social skills. A few weeks back, we posted a section of lessons related to stress management, and I am thinking I might have to revisit some of these lessons for my own benefit.
In addition, we also posted a section of lesson plans specific to problem solving. We spend our lives encountering problems and working to overcome them. People who are successful are great problem solvers. Visit the Lesson Plans for Teachers and Professionals section for a number of transition-related lesson plans.
Teacher and student photo courtesy of Shutterstock.