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It's National Disability Employment Awareness Month: Expect. Employ. Empower.

Each October, we mark National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM), a time to raise awareness about disability employment issues and celebrate the contributions of America’s workers with disabilities. The theme for 2014 is “Expect. Employ. Empower.”

AFB’s CareerConnect team is dedicated to building tools, content, resources, and awareness around employment for individuals who are blind or visually impaired. We believe it is an exciting time in the United States with so many big changes and legistlation working toward equality for persons with disabilities. We still have a lot of work to do, but we are making progress.

I often hear stories around the United States from professionals working in the blindness field and for “mainstream” organizations that their employers don't understand accessibility. Whether it’s creating accessible tables or accessible PDFs, many people still don't understand how to do it or why it’s important to do so. I have heard of government and corporate employees who are using access software that is far from up to date because their employers don't understand that this impacts accessibility and efficiency. Ensuring software is up to date allows employees access to current Internet browsers and changes in websites. These are functional improvements that cost employers money each day because they keep employees from being as efficient as they can be.

There are also barriers to becoming employed, such as online application systems. The Partnership on Employment and Accessible Technology (PEAT) initiative is looking at this issue and I look forward to seeing the results of their work over the coming years. Our AFB Policy Guru, Mark Richert, and consumer groups, such as our friends, the National Federation of the Blind and the American Council of the Blind are pushing legislators hard to change and create legistlation that considers our population. Blindness is a small-incidence disability group, but we also have large barriers impacting our participation in aspects of work and life. Recently, Mark has been drumming up support for the Alice Cogswell-Anne Sullivan Macy Act around the United States. This legislation would ensure students with visual and hearing impairments receive the expert instruction and services they need to succeed in school and beyond. Helping kids with visual impairments to succeed in school sets them up for success in employment as adults. Please contact your Congressional representatives and ask them to support this important legislation today.

AFB Tech and Consulting work to make workplaces, websites, apps, and devices more accessible. These teams make innovative recommendations to provide better access for persons who are blind or visually impaired. Make sure you read AccessWorld, AFB’s monthly online magazine filled with in-depth articles that highlight the positives and negatives of mainstream and assistive technology with regard to the needs of individuals who are blind or visually impaired. Accessibility is a primary key to access to employment, and AFB’s work through AFB Tech and Consulting is making a difference every day.

Accessibility gives individuals who are blind or visually impaired access to employment and much more. Take the steps to make sure your website and workplace are accessible to workers who are blind or visually impaired. Otherwise, you are missing out on a talented and diverse workforce who could aid to your success in the coming years.

Assistive Technology
Personal Reflections
Public Policy

Celebrating Disability Mentoring: Saying Thanks to Our CareerConnect® Mentors

Two men, one older and one younger, work together at a desk.

Oftentimes being successful depends on developing relationships with other people. A case in point is AFB CareerConnect. CareerConnect offers job seekers with vision loss ways to connect with others who can strategically help them in their career development process. For nearly 13 years, our online mentor program has put thousands of blind or visually impaired students, job seekers, professionals, and friends and family members directly in touch with mentors who have been able to help guide them in their field of interest, choose technologies used on the job, and more.

These CareerConnect mentors, who are professionals with vision loss or blindness, have volunteered their time and expertise to the AFB community by making themselves available to answer questions and provide advice to job seekers with vision loss about employer expectations; job requirements, education, accommodations, and technology; training; salaries; and the future prospects of their field. Because our mentors all have some level of vision impairment or blindness, they are unique sources of firsthand information you won’t get anywhere else.

AFB is deeply grateful to the mentors in this program for all they do to help students and job seekers with vision loss. They are truly the greatest enhancement of all we do. We know there are numbers of you out there who have been helped by one of our mentors and we would love for you to let them know you appreciate what they did for you recently or years ago, large or small.

The only way mentors can know how they're doing is if you tell them. Along with your success, your appreciation is the best thing you have to offer them. Take time to let them know about the impact or difference their help has had on your past or current successes.

Showing appreciation means a lot. Whether it’s simply telling your mentor you appreciate the time they gave you, what they did or the advice they shared we want to encourage you to drop your mentor a note of appreciation at We will post the messages for the mentors to see.

There is no better time than the present to say “thank you!” Here are a few ways to help you show your mentor that you genuinely appreciate their support and guidance.

  • Write a letter detailing the ways your mentor has helped you develop and succeed.
  • Post a tribute to your mentor on CareerConnect.
  • Express how much you enjoyed a conversation you learned from.
  • Follow-up on advice and suggestions that your mentor provides and then let them know how it goes.
  • Let them know about a raise, promotion or other acknowledgment you received.
  • Share a story about your mentor on the CareerConnect website.
  • Pass on the great experience that you received from your mentor by becoming a CareerConnect mentor to another blind or visually impaired job seeker or student.
  • Make a financial contribution to the AFB CareerConnect mentoring program in your mentor’s honor.

Social Skills

Helen Keller: Nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize

S. T. Dajani, Chairman of the Arab Blind Organization with Polly Thomson, Helen Keller and a worker at the workshop for the Arab Blind Organization, Jerusalem, 1952

Last week, Malala Yousafzai and Kailash Satyarthi were awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace. Almost fifty years ago, there was a movement afoot to secure nominations for Helen Keller. Keller did not receive the Nobel Peace Prize, but the letters that were received from around the world are a wonderful reminder of this extraordinary humanitarian. Two are excerpted here below:

Letter from S. T. Dajani, Chairman, Arab Blind Organization, Jerusalem, to the Secretary-General World Council for the Welfare of the Blind, NYC, November 16th, 1953

"She spent only a few days in our country in May, 1952, but the official and popular reception and the spontaneous applause and admiration which were expressed by widely varying groups were undeniable signs of her spiritual influence.

…On every occasion her message to her audiences stressed the equality of human being and the divine character of peace. Peace to her is not the quietude of the cemetery but the actual cooperation between peoples to realise the divine purpose on earth. Her life and her career have been a reflection of this idea. That is why, we in this country feel that Miss Keller has worked for peace among the races more than statesmen and politicians. The world is certainly in need of such personalities and we consider it necessary that the world should recognize and esteem this contribution even though this recognition is only symbolical. "

Letter from Dorina de Gouvea Nowill, President, Fundaçao Para O Livro Do Cego No Brasil, Sao Paulo, Brazil, to the Nobel Peace Prize Committee, Oslo, Norway, November 25, 1953.

"Very few women in the world have been able, through their intelligence and their heart, to do so much to humanity, as Miss Helen Keller has done; not only the blind and the deaf have received the benefits from her example of courage and will power, but also everybody who had the good fortune to meet her or read about her.

Helen Keller is peace itself, because she has been able to communicate to others her admirable inner peace; this is almost a miracle in a world like the one we live in and for a creature who would have every reason to be revolted and unsatisfied.

Her words always full of an everlasting moral elevation, have the power to drive those who listen to her to moral and cultural progress.

Her travels around the world have established the friendship interchange and the policy of “to love each other”, which is the aim of all countries.

A fact which illustrates very well her power over the human soul has happened here in Sao-Paulo, in May of this year. During her last lecture, the theatre was completely crowded with about 2,000 people, one hour before the time fixed for the beginning of it; hundreds of people who were not able to go in, stayed in the halls or in the street, refusing to go away, listening in silence to Helen Keller’s words they could not hear through the walls.

We join in the wish of all, to honor one of the greatest women of this century. "

Image: Left to right: S. T. Dajani, Chairman of the Arab Blind Organization with Polly Thomson, Helen Keller and an unknown man at the workshop, Jerusalem, May 1952.

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In the News
Helen Keller

Celebrating White Cane Safety Day with People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired

Joe Strechay, with his white cane

If you know me, you know that I am a big proponent of using the white cane or the long white cane. I speak around the United States to youth and adults who are blind or visually impaired about employment, postsecondary education, and various other topics. I couldn't do it without the training I received in the area of orientation and mobility (O&M). I received my first white cane from an O&M instructor from the State of New Jersey's Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired. I can't say it was love at first sight, but I definitely gained confidence in myself, the use of the white cane, and my skills over the years. The NJ Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired is a state vocational rehabilitation agency, and these services need to be protected. You can find articles on protecting these services in the revised section, Protecting Specialized Services.

Truthfully, I probably should have started using the white cane all of the time much earlier than when I chose to do so. A wise man, Mr. Purvis Ponder (former Florida State University O&M program coordinator) told me that you can't make someone use the cane all of the time, but you can encourage them to use it and allow them to choose. I can think back to a couple of moments in particular that encouraged me to use my cane all of the time. One was stepping off what I thought was a curb onto a surface, but it was actually a four-foot drop onto another sidewalk. Luckily, I wasn't badly hurt from this and caught myself. I was left with scraped hands and a bruised ego. Not long after that, I stepped off another step onto sand, and it turned out to be a three-foot drop. Again, I was fine, but these incidents made my decision for me.

Joining the Cane Gang

While working with a postsecondary preparation program, I unoriginally called a group of students with white canes (and myself) “The Cane Gang,” instead of a chain gang. You get a bunch of people walking together with white canes and it is a lovely sight to me. I think there is thing of beauty in a good traveler using a white cane, and I really appreciate that.

I can remember explaining my consistent use of my cane to acquaintances, and they typically understood. The real obstacle was my own adjustment to using the cane and a comfort in explaining it. If I had started using a cane consistently earlier, I might have fewer bumps on my head and bumps legs from walking into fire hydrants—believe me, a fire hydrant can really hurt. My white cane, affectionately nicknamed "Slim," offers me protection and the ability to detect those objects. My white cane provides identification to drivers and causes them to think a little harder about making that illegal right turn on red or not stopping at a crosswalk.

White Cane Safety Day

White Cane Safety Day is quite important as it is about creating awareness in the community about the use of the white cane and the laws protecting white canes users while crossing the street. On October 15 each year, you will possibly find events in your local area around creating awareness and enforcing these important laws. Every so often, I hear about someone who is blind or visually impaired who is hit by a car while using a white cane. This hits home for me, as I have been hit by two cars in my life while using a white cane. One was a more serious incident where I ended up on the hood and windshield, even though I was crossing the road properly. I rolled off, and the driver didn't even open the window or stay to help. Instead, I limped my way to a local business in tears. Those were good times (sarcasm)!

If you love your white cane or want to support those who do, take the time to visit the American Foundation for the Blind's Directory of Services, and find organizations in your area that are hosting events to celebrate White Cane Day.

Be sure to also check out our orientation and mobility resources for adults who are new to vision loss on and for families of children who are blind or visually impaired on, too!

Personal Reflections
Orientation and Mobility
Getting Around

Helen Keller at the United Nations

Helen Keller is 'listening' to a debate at the United Nations. Keller's companion Polly Thomson manually signs into Keller's hand, interpreting the debate, November 1949

As world leaders gather for the United Nations General Assembly, it is interesting to read the speech that Keller wrote for the United Nations in 1950.

"Dear Friends:

Truly it is an exalted privilege for me to address such a splendid gathering representing the humanitarian public spirit of world citizenship. As United Nations Week brings home to us the far-speeding activities of our global Prometheus, it is fitting that we hail an organization whose final triumph is bound up with the salvation and welfare of mankind. It is as if the Pentecostal tongues of fire had descended upon earth.

Last Spring I attended a meeting of a committee on the blind under UNESCO in Paris which was trying to unify the divergent Braille systems used by the sightless throughout the earth, and I have been thrilled by its victory in devising a world Braille script which will enable them to communicate freely with each other, to exchange ideas and information and grasp more fully the treasures of intellectual life.

If it was possible to gain this benefit for the fourteen million blind of the world, what cannot we accomplish for peace, when the Security Council has prevented or stopped wars that involved one-fourth of our race? And there is incalculable challenge in the United Nations’ achievement of establishing a code of human rights that will ultimately shed its blessings upon every land. Already it is a guiding star in the protection of mandated peoples and assistance both technical and financial to backward or undeveloped areas. There are other luminous rays of encouragement in the fact that through the United Nations hundreds of millions in Asia and Africa are being lifted from humiliating dependence to equality in the world community.

Another story rich with significance for all men is the energy with which the United Nations through its World Health Organization and UNESCO is combating age-old epidemics, laboring to promote fundamental education for backward communities in the Middle and Far East, and facilitating access for all study groups to the science, literature, philosophy and scholarship of the different countries. And those huge enterprises were begun only four years ago!

I believe that the majority of mankind are essentially decent, and that as they know more fully the problems that are agitating one another’s minds, they will draw closer together. I do not think that the difficulty is lack of moral forces. There are plenty of brains and goodwill, and as soon as the peoples are satisfied that we are moving along roads of practical living, we can be sure of understanding and cooperation everywhere.

Let us then hold up the hands of the United Nations in its noble efforts to abolish ignorance, prejudice and strife, to kindle faith in the dignity of many, and to distribute equitably the fruits of his knowledge and achievement.

Hartford, Conn. October 27, 1950

Image: Helen Keller is seen "listening" to a debate at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City. Keller's companion Polly Thomson manually signs into Keller's right hand, interpreting what is being said. November 23rd, 1949.

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Public Policy
Helen Keller