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Counting Down to Graduation: April, Getting a Job, Part 2

A teenager in a suit and tie reads his notes, preparing for a job interview.

Question: How can you prepare for your “first” job interview?

Your resume gets you in the door, but your interview can get you the job. Whether you are the nervous type or not, job interviews can be very stressful. That one moment can determine what you might be doing for the next couple of years, so it is important to come prepared and wow your interviewer.

The best way to overcome any trepidation or nervousness is to be well prepared. Job seekers who have researched the company, prepared any disclosure information, and practiced their interviewing skills tend to perform better than those who do not.

But how do you prep for such an important interview? How can you be successful?

Research. Researching the company in advance is a great place to start. You can learn the mission of the organization, the values the company looks for in employees, and grasp a better overall understanding of the business. Potential employers will be impressed when you can easily connect your personal goals with that of the company’s.

Be Yourself. Make sure you approach your interviewer in a friendly way. Try not to be too intimidated even if you are really nervous. Be prepared to tell the employer a little bit about yourself, but make sure you stay relevant. Your potential employer is interested in your personal goals and achievements, but they probably aren’t concerned about what you did last night.

Think Ahead. Although you won’t know the exact questions the interviewer will ask, you can still think ahead and prepare some answers. It is helpful to come to an interview with at least three reasons why you deserve the job or why you are the best candidate for the available position. It is also a good idea to think of any questions you have for the employer in advance. When you ask a question, you are actively engaged in the interview. You are showing your interest in working for the company.

Be Honest. As a job seeker who is blind or visually impaired, it can be difficult addressing your disability with a potential employer. However, answering their questions and being prepared is the best way to overcome any concerns an employer might have. Focus on your positive attributes, your ability to do the job, and address any misconceptions. Check out these additional tips for your functional disability statement.

These are just a few tips to get you on the path to an awesome interview. If you really want to impress, you will have to put in a little bit more work. After all, finding and getting a job is a job in itself.

AFB CareerConnect offers tons of advice when it comes to disclosure and the interview process. You can check out Module 4- The Interview in the Job Seeker’s Toolkit for more information on how to prepare for your big interview.

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Spring Forward in Your Career: Career Advancement Tips for Employees who are Blind or Visually Impaired

Two employees who are visually impaired, hard at work at their desks.

Are you feeling stagnant in the workplace? Are you lacking advancement in your career roles and responsibilities? If this describes you, you're left with two choices. I envision the iconic scene in the movie, The Matrix, when the character Neo is forced to choose between two fates (depicted as choosing a red pill or blue pill). I half-jokingly present you with two fates, yours for the choosing.

Fate 1, the red pill: Continue as you are at work. If you're lucky this will end in remaining at your current job. If you're not so lucky, this will end with your supervisor finding a legitimate reason to replace you.

Fate 2, the blue pill: Step it up and alter your course, springing forward (my seasonally-themed term for advancing) in your career. While there is no 100% effective route to job security or promotion, this is as close as it comes.

You chose the blue pill? Good. Here's the instruction manual:

  • Cultivate a good reputation. Be a reliable worker, be a provider of excellent work, be a team player, be thoughtful of others, be humble, and be kind. Think through how you can improve your reputation, and invest the effort.
  • Pursue leadership opportunities. In most occupations, career advancement involves supervising teams of employees. Practice this skill. When leading, cast a vision for the team; display genuine care and concern for each team member; verbally acknowledge and utilize each person's strength; give each team member the freedom to own a specific portion of a project; and provide clear expectations.
  • Set personal goals for improving your job performance. I don't know what it is you are paid to accomplish at work, but I do know advancement will involve accomplishing whatever work you do with excellence. Goals you may set in order to improve your performance include: pursuing up-to-date research and skills, utilizing a mentor, seeking insight from peers in your network, learning new skills through volunteer work, and taking calculated risks to increase your work experience.
  • Occasionally re-evaluate your accommodations. The accommodations you use to minimize or eliminate workplace barriers are not guaranteed to be the best accommodations for the entirety of your career. You may acquire new job tasks that require a change of accommodations; you may realize you could be more productive with an updated or different accommodation; or your workplace technology may evolve, necessitating a change in your assistive technology. I recommend staying informed of available assistive technology by periodically perusing AFB AccessWorld Magazine, and I recommend remaining willing to adapt your workplace accommodations to meet shifting needs.

You and I must heed this advice; for if we are not actively pursuing excellence in our job roles, another applicant will. Don't feel discouraged, CareerConnect wants to help you on your journey. In fact, be on the lookout for CareerConnect's newest accessible, self-paced, and free online course on maintaining and advancing in your career. Coming soon to a website near you!

CareerConnect app icon Take the time to 'Like' AFB CareerConnect on Facebook and Download the Free AFB CareerConnect App in the iTunes App Store.


Gaining Volunteer Experience as a Person who is Blind or Visually Impaired

A woman and a visually impaired young man working with an ipad

Gaining volunteer experience is one way to develop some job skills, make new contacts and help to fine tune your work ethic. There are many options for volunteering, and most will provide you with a chance to help develop skills that can be transferred to a real job setting. The one thing volunteering will not provide you with is a paycheck. Therefore, I do think that volunteering can provide you with many benefits, but I think that it should be used sparingly and not as a replacement for paid employment.

According to Employment First, an organization that advocates for paid employment for individuals with disabilities, employment is the first priority and preferred outcome of people with disabilities. They indicate statistics that show that the number one predictor of gaining a paid job after high school graduation is to have paid work during high school. Students who have one or more paid jobs during high school are twice as likely to get a paid job after high school than those who have not worked a paid job. Those who have had two or more paid jobs during high school are three times more likely to find a paid job compared to those who did not have one during high school. With these statistics in mind along with the fact that there is a 70 percent unemployment rate for working age blind, I feel that it is extremely important for students who are blind and visually impaired to have a paid job during high school. For various reasons though, I feel that students who are blind and visually impaired get far less paid jobs during high school than their sighted peers. Some reasons for this may include less free time due to a more demanding schedule to provide instruction in the elements of the expanded core curriculum, lower expectations by self, parents and educators, lack of adequate transportation services, negative attitudes of employers and lack of job skills, confidence or motivation by the students themselves. My advice then is to start with volunteering at an early age and then once you turn 16, aim for a paid job.

Any sizable community will have lots of volunteer opportunities available. Some may require you to be a certain age or possibly require you to be accompanied by an adult. There are typically volunteer positions at hospitals, nursing homes and assisted living centers, humane societies, zoos, parks, childcare agencies and many nonprofit agencies. Also, a lot of special events utilize volunteers, such as local runs, farmers markets, festivals, etc. Volunteer tasks may involve anything from putting together mailings, handing out brochures at an information booth, sorting and filling orders at a food pantry, to refurbishing used computers or building homes with Habitat for Humanity. There are also opportunities for assisting the elderly with home chores, editing new letters and running fitness programs at community centers. I have volunteered for some events that allow you to sign up with another person, where I was able to sign up with a friend and then have natural supports with visual tasks. This included handing out water to participants in a portage and paddle event and handing out glasses and programs at a wine and cheese tasting fund raiser. An added benefit of volunteering at the latter was free admission to the event once our volunteer shift was finished.

Generally when you volunteer, you need to complete a brief application. For positions such as those in childcare or in a hospital, for example, you may be required to complete a background check. Often larger organizations will have applications online, whereas with smaller agencies, you will need to complete a paper application. Some organizations require all volunteers to complete a training, which will give you important information about the particular agency and what procedures to follow. Many larger organizations such as hospitals will have a volunteer coordinator. A good place to start for finding volunteer opportunities is a website called Volunteering and Civic Life in America.You can begin by typing in your area of interest and your zip code, and it will give you options.

A great advantage of volunteering may include the chance to meet people who do the hiring for a particular agency. I have heard that over 50 percent of job openings are never advertised, so you may get a chance to get information about job openings by those in the know. Volunteering also allows you to develop good people and job skills that can then be transferred to that much desired paid job. I recommend using your volunteer positions to develop your resume. This would include a resume entry listing the volunteer position, the agency you volunteered for and some accomplishments. In addition to showing a potential employer that you are active and involved, who knows, he or she may have an association with a particular agency that triggers fond memories which may lead to a foot in the door. So get out there, find some volunteer opportunities meet some new people and develop some job skills, and soon enough you will be ready for paid work.

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A New Perspective on Accessibility in STEM: Going Beyond the Physical and Technological

Student and teacher read tactile map in classroom

Students with disabilities – in particular, those who are blind or visually impaired – remain under-represented in STEM disciplines, for a variety of reasons: A lack of mentors/role models in the field; inaccessible laboratories; lack of access to assistive technologies and alternative formats; negative attitudes of educators and service providers; a knowledge gap on how to instruct a student with a disability; and, a lack of knowledge of how to solve logistical concerns around integrating students with disabilities in STEM fields.

When we think of accessibility in the science lab environment, it is easy to think of the physical (accessibility of sinks, fume hoods and lab benches) and technological (potential requirements for assistive devices; adapting mainstream scientific instrumentation for someone with a disability) challenges. These are expensive issues, to be sure, and often require a level of creativity, an understanding of disability, and an intimate knowledge of the scientific discipline. They are, however, by no means, the only aspects of accessibility that need to be thought about in the context of STEM or science labs.

In July 2013, when we were asked by the Council of Ontario Universities to develop a background paper and resource guide for postsecondary faculty with respect to the accessibility of the science lab environment, we realized that this was the perfect opportunity to delve into those other areas of accessibility, to begin to research how to create a truly accessible science lab environment, and to create a novel educational resource for faculty, service providers and professionals working with students with disabilities at all levels of postsecondary, and in all scientific disciplines. In essence, we saw an opportunity to create broader, deeper, and more enriching conversations around accessibility in STEM than had been done previously.

Our mandate was broad – our work needed to be cross-disciplinary, cross-disability, and relevant to all levels of post-secondary education. We also accepted the challenge of developing a novel “cross-accessibility” approach. The project culminated in two background papers – one focusing on STEM laboratory environments specifically, the other expanding the discussion to other “practical spaces” where students experienced hands-on learning opportunities – and a series of 16 resource guides, many of which are applicable to multiple educational settings across the continent.

In “Identifying the Essential Requirements of a Course or Program” we highlight the concept of essential, or necessary, skills and competencies that a student must learn in a science lab environment, and work through a thought process for faculty, service providers and professionals to use in understanding what those requirements are and how a student may be accommodated within that framework.

Inclusive Teaching Practices in the Lab Setting” discusses the application of inclusive teaching practice (or Universal Instructional Design) principles to the specific nuances of the lab, as opposed to the classroom, environment.

Planning Accessible Science Lab Sessions” adapts an event-planning checklist framework to the planning of science lab demonstrations, and encourages the recognition that all students – not just students with disabilities – will learn differently from one another. Ways to deliver accessible content in the context student learning in the science lab environment are highlighted in “Resources on Accessible Content Delivery and Universal Design.”

The key elements of communication between faculty/educators and students with disabilities are highlighted in “Ensuring Effective Faculty-Student Interaction” while the importance of faculty mentorship, and what students with disabilities look for an good mentors, are described in “Faculty Mentoring Students with Disabilities.”

Novel approaches to accommodating students with disabilities in the science lab and practical space environments include the adaptation of mainstream technologies and scientific equipment for use by students with disabilities (“Selecting Accessible Science Equipment”); hiring technical or laboratory assistants for students with disabilities to serve as their “hands and eyes” in the lab (“Hiring Lab Assistants for Students with Disabilities”); and, simulation learning solutions (“Simulation Learning”).

A comprehensive “Checklist for Making Science Labs Accessible for Students with Disabilities” was also produced as part of this project. In thinking about all aspects of accessibility, including the physical, we also wanted to ensure that the entirety of the physical space in a science lab could be thought about and reviewed from an accessibility perspective. This checklist, developed specifically by one member of our study team, has already been utilized in the design of the laboratories in the new Science Building at the University of Toronto at Scarborough.

We also produced an “Overview of Assistive Technologies” as an educational resource for faculty who may not be familiar with the role such technologies play in enhancing the learning experience of students with disabilities.

Key principles for faculty, service providers and professionals to think through in working with students with disabilities in science lab and practical space environments were synthesized from our research findings, and discussed in “Creating Accessible Practical Spaces.”

Finally, a Glossary of Key Terms and an Annotated Bibliography of Online Resources were also developed and included as educational resources for faculty, service providers and professionals.

It is our hope that the background papers and attached resource guides will serve as an educational resource for faculty and service providers working with students with disabilities in STEM disciplines and laboratory/practical space environments. There is an opportunity now for faculty to work with students and service providers to develop creative solutions and work to adapt them to their students’ needs – and a need to do so in a flexible and solution-oriented manner.

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Sow Seeds to Harvest Employment: A Letter to Career-Seeking Individuals who are Blind or Visually Impaired

Upclose of a Gardener Planting Flowers

Dear reader who is currently unemployed and blind or visually impaired,

I don't know your specific story. Maybe you're a full time student with graduation just around the corner; maybe you're a stay at home parent who is close to returning to work outside of the home; maybe you are between careers and need to find a job "last week". All I do know is you are currently in the "seed planting" phase of your career search, whether or not you realize it.

What are you sowing, tilling, and cultivating now that will help you reap a healthy, ripe career?

  • Maybe your local economy has extremely limited employment opportunities. Perhaps it's time to relocate, or time to consider relocating.
  • Maybe your local neighborhood has extremely limited public transportation. Perhaps it's time to move, or time to consider moving.
  • Maybe your Orientation and Mobility skills, assistive technology skills, or other skills specific to blindness or visual impairment are very limited. Perhaps it's time to enroll in skills training or rehabilitation courses. If you're currently unemployed, this may the ideal time to attend a residential vision rehabilitation program. Please note that blindness-specific skills can be learned even if you are in the process of losing sight.
  • What career-specific skills can you develop, refine, or enhance? Take active strides toward polishing your career-specific skills and record your developments on your resume. Think: find a volunteer position, take a related college course, or attain a relevant certification.
  • Get out there and build connections. If you know you're most likely to attain employment through someone you know, get to know people! Go to career fairs, attend a conference in your career field, get to know your neighbors, converse with the folks at the dog park, make small talk with fellow parents at your child's school, etc.
  • Get a job, any job! You are more likely to be hired if you are currently employed, not to mention any paycheck is better than none.

Most importantly, and as you well know, the hunt for a full time job must be a full time job. You must be diligent in searching for careers which you are qualified for; you must be meticulous in talking with your wide network, searching for gaps that you could potentially fill; and you must take the time to send your resume and cover letter (which should be tailored to the job opening) to a wide assortment of workplaces.

Sow the seeds. Reap the harvest. Get to work.

Your cheerleader,

Shannon Carollo

CareerConnect app icon Take the time to 'Like' AFB CareerConnect on Facebook and Download the Free AFB CareerConnect App in the iTunes App Store.