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A Cheat Sheet to Help You Self-Advocate for Accommodations as a College Student Who Is Blind or Visually Impaired

I don't know a soul who isn't nervous to make the leap from high school to college or a university. If this is you, you're in good company.

A long list of changes is inevitable and exciting. Will you leave home to live on or off campus? Will you enjoy the company of your roommate(s)? Is the meal plan worth the money? Are you confident in your cooking skills? (Hey, let's be honest—most college students aren't known for their cooking skills.) How many classes can you handle in your first semester?

Then there are changes in accommodations as you enter college. If you are blind or visually impaired, you had an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) in high school. Your IEP team, hopefully with you as the lead, decided on necessary accommodations and the school provided the support in order to help you succeed. The school was legally bound and federally funded, thanks to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), to assess your needs and provide you with a free and appropriate education.

Enter college or a university. Your postsecondary education will not provide a team to write an IEP; it cannot even legally approach you and offer assistance. Here, you must self-advocate.

Whereas the focus of your IEP was to help you to succeed, the focus of any disability accommodation service at the university level is to provide access to learning materials. It is up to you to succeed or fail. I know this sounds harsh, but it is a gift, as it is good preparation for work life.

Here's basic information to help you advocate for resources likely available at your college or university:

  • You must identify yourself as a person with a disability. Contact the school's disability resource center and schedule a meeting to discuss services prior to the start of school.
  • You must be qualified to receive accommodations. Ask your university for the documentation they require. If you are blind or visually impaired, a recent eye report will be necessary.
  • Describe your functional limitations at the disability resource center meeting. Provide documentation, such as a recent Functional Vision Assessment and IEP.
  • Advocate for your accessibility needs, such as receiving handouts in braille or electronically, taking tests orally or with large print, accessing audio books, using a tape recorder or talking calculator in class, accessing tactile graphs, using a reader to read textbooks to you after class, etc.
  • Know that coursework and tests are not modified. You will have the same workload as the general population of students. Universities typically offer tutoring services (sometimes free of charge) that you can schedule.
  • Most colleges have a dedicated computer lab with assistive technology such as closed-circuit televisions, text magnification or text-to-voice software, dictation software, embossers, etc. Ask if these resources are available to you.
  • Ask the disability resource center to recommend community resources, such as a local agency that provides orientation and mobility services.

Learn now to assertively self-advocate. Entering post-secondary education is an opportunity to practice requesting reasonable accommodations, just as you will continue doing throughout your career.

If you are blind or visually impaired, go to AFB CareerConnect and scan the message boards to connect with peers and find out how others advocated for their needs in college and beyond.

If you are a teacher or professional working with youth who are blind or visually impaired, prepare your students to assertively self-advocate by utilizing CareerConnect's Assertiveness Training lesson series.

Check out AFB CareerConnect's College-Ready Challenge audio piece for a fun and educational list of the differences in attending high school versus college or postsecondary school.


Topics:
Planning for the Future
Assistive Technology
Employment
Online Tools
Education

Achieving Success: Do You Have That Needed Fire in Your Belly?

If you’ve ever had a fire in your belly to do something so challenging that no one believed you could do it, you are not alone. You also know what it feels like when people tell you that you can’t do what your heart says you can. Have you given up or are you still trying? Go ahead; take another look at the picture on the canvas of your imagination. Read about and learn from Nancy Shugart to get motivated and inspired by a genuine people builder, who found a way to make her ambitions successful realities!

When you’re finished reading, be sure to share with your own personal networks to inspire others too!


Topics:
General
Personal Reflections

Top 10 Ways to Lose a Job: What Not to Do as an Employee Who Is Blind or Visually Impaired

In an effort to provide tips for maintaining employment, I decided it would be far more engaging to read a "what not to do" list. Enjoy the list and please don't try these at home… or at work!

Without further ado: In order to lose a job….

  • Prove to be dishonest. Lying, cheating, stealing—take your pick. This includes lying on a job application or resume.
  • Make a habit of showing up late for work and/ or meetings. Choose the snooze button instead of ensuring you make the bus and definitely don't have a plan B for getting to your location of employment.
  • Miss deadlines and skip important meetings. Go on, delete your virtual calendar.
  • Demonstrate poor communication skills. You can do this any number of ways. Ideas: Forgo eye contact or directing your face to the speaker, use closed body language, fail to speak articulately, be passive or aggressive, gossip, and dominate every conversation.
  • Abstain from problem solving. Don't show your employer you're innovative and efficient in solving problems. Any time a problem or issue arises, ask your employer to fix it for you. Seriously, every problem. It will irritate and overwork him or her.
  • Refrain from continued job education and development. Do not increase your value to the company by learning skills used to meet its needs and fill its gaps.
  • Refuse to learn technology which would make you more efficient and accurate on the job. Don't become proficient in typing, using the internet, or using a word document. If you are blind or visually impaired, be unwilling to learn assistive technology.
  • Mentally check out while at work. Constantly text, chat, surf the Web, and lounge around on the job. My husband is in the United States Air Force. The Air Force has an acronym for mentally checking out at work, called being on "ROAD" status. R.O.A.D stands for "Retired on Active Duty." Active duty means full-time military service. In other words, if you want to lose your job, act retired at work.
  • Don't assume personal responsibility. Never admit a mistake and always blame errors on others. Allow others to assume responsibility for getting you to work, for creating your work-related goals, and for providing your motivation to work.
  • Appear unhygienic. Don't bother with frequent bathing, using deodorant or an alternative when it's needed, or wearing clean and neat clothing. You will appear unmotivated, insecure, and unprofessional.

Now please, reverse these tips and maintain employment!

Teachers and Specialists working with youth who are blind and visually impaired, please use the Leadership Training lesson series, Assertiveness Training lesson series, Social Skills lesson series, and the Problem Solving lesson series as tools for instructing students in maintaining employment.


Topics:
Planning for the Future
Employment
Online Tools
Education

Maintaining Employment Interview 2: A Café Owner's Perspective for Youth and Adults Who are Blind or Visually Impaired

Anyone else obsessed with fish tacos? I'm pretty sure I could eat one every day, particularly one topped with diced red onion and cilantro. Though I don't love to cook, I’m a foodie at heart. My love of fish tacos brought me to a fresh food and smoothie café this week. Commence my second maintaining-employment mission.

I sought the business owner and asked him, "What are the qualities of an employee that will ensure he or she maintains employment? He was eager to provide his opinion.

Josh, the business owner, stated integrity as the most important maintaining-employment quality. He said an employee who steals money from the cash register or otherwise shortchanges the company cannot maintain employment at his worksite, and I'm guessing the employee would leave with a very poor reference. Bottom line: If you are not trustworthy, you are not keeping your job and it would become difficult to find employment elsewhere.

Punctuality was Josh’s second main most valuable quality in which he associates with maintaining employment. Being on time for work helps the workplace operate smoothly and demonstrates respect for your boss, your coworkers’ time, and your position. Additionally, punctuality demonstrates good time-management skills, and a strong work ethic sounds like the makings of a leader.

Josh concluded with strong social skills as the third most valuable quality for maintaining employment. He desires to keep and advance employees who are not only trustworthy and punctual, but who are also pleasant, engaging, and who interact well with others. Strong social skills include eye contact, good manners, smiling at customers, a positive attitude, reciprocal conversations with coworkers, and good hygiene.

Those who are sighted generally learn social skills by observing positive and negative social behavior, while those who are blind or visually impaired may need instruction and honest feedback in learning and improving specific social behaviors. Put yourself out there and ask a trusted mentor and friend how your social skills can be improved. This lesson goes for blind, visually impaired, and sighted individuals. For the record, and I've asked and received very beneficial feedback (minimally painful with a lifetime of paybacks).

If you desire to maintain employment, and I sure hope you do, you must be valuable to your business or company. According to Josh, the owner of a successful café, a valuable employee demonstrates integrity, punctuality, and strong social skills.

If you are a professional working with youth who are blind or visually impaired, consider using CareerConnect's pertinent lesson plan series, Leadership Training and instruction in Social Skills. AFB CareerConnect is a great resource for professionals and youth or adults who are blind or visually impaired. Follow these tips and you might be serving up a nice cup of long-term employment.


Topics:
Planning for the Future
Employment
Online Tools
Education

Maintaining Employment Interview: A Salon Owner’s Perspective for Persons Who are Blind or Visually Impaired

Yesterday, I was on a mission on your and my behalf. I was determined to ask a business owner what employee-qualities she finds most important in maintaining employment. I had an epiphany as I was getting my semi-annual manicure- what if I could track down and interview the salon business owner. I did. Now in case I’ve lost you at ‘semi-annual manicure’ because you are absolutely not the manicure-type, allow me to reign you back. She is a wise and prudent small business owner and I promise to no longer mention my freshly manicured nails. Read on!

Lee needed no time to think. Without hesitation she explained the top three qualities she appreciates and requires in her employees. She said and I quote, “The number one quality I need in my employees is honesty. If I have a very skilled technician who is dishonest, he or she will not remain at my store.” It makes sense. A skilled, yet dishonest, employee is not an asset, but a liability. Lee and other employers need to trust each employee is logging accurate hours, avoiding short-cuts, speaking the truth, and not shortchanging the company.

The second vital quality Lee ascertained was continued job education and development. She recognized technology and job skills are forever evolving. An employee who wishes to maintain employment should continually seek opportunities to acquire and improve skills beneficial to the company. You must be an asset to your employer and an employer’s needs change over time. Consider this, ten years ago you would not be reading this blog written by me, a teacher living in Japan. The world is changing (said in my best Downton Abbey British accent.)

Quality number 3, take it from Lee, be fully present at work from the time you enter until the time you leave for the night. An employee cannot expect to remain employed if she is repeatedly performing non-job-related tasks at work. Texting is great fun, don’t get me wrong, but don’t do it on the job. Be engaged, stay connected, and focus on the task at hand. These qualities required for maintaining are equally important for a worker who is blind, visually impaired, or fully sighted.

For more information on exceeding employer’s expectations, read the articles within the Succeeding at Your Job subsection of CareerConnect. You might find the tip that allows you to nail down that job with continued success.


Topics:
Planning for the Future
Employment
Technology
Education