by Shannon Carollo
Is braille relevant in the 21st century workplace? It’s the million-dollar question in our sphere, isn’t it?
Adults want to know, “Can’t we get by without it? It seems so daunting to learn.”
Teachers of students with visual impairments and vision rehabilitation counselors want to know, “Can’t we teach magnification? There isn’t enough time to teach braille to all the students or clients with low vision.”
I hear you. There is truth to these points of view.
But take it from Ms. Fairchild, who grew up with low vision and made increased print size and magnification work, that is, until she realized it didn’t work well. A lack of braille, the equivalent of a lack of literacy, was hindering her career success.
Refusing to be inhibited, Ms. Fairchild determined to learn braille as an adult using online Hadley courses, which are created for adults and teenagers with vision loss.
Now a braille reader, Ms. Fairchild is in the perfect position to answer the question: Yes, braille is relevant to the 21st century workplace. She writes, “Braille is one of my top three employment skills, along with orientation and mobility and keyboarding by touch. I find it impossible to prioritize them any further than this because without one the others don't really stand alone.”
Read Ms. Fairchild's story; she describes her seasons as a low vision student, going to college with a visual impairment, working with vision loss, and learning braille. She then answers the question you may have weighing heavily on your mind, “Should I learn braille?”
Learn More About Braille
by Francesca Crozier-Fitzgerald
Bryan and Bradford Manning are designing a new business model to cure blindness, and it comes in the form of designer clothing. Their brand, Two Blind Brothers, is on a mission to donate one million dollars to life-changing research one t-shirt at a time. With each article of clothing sold, they are closer to finding a cure for blind children and adults around the world, and in the meantime, they are giving us something that feels as good as it looks.
Meet Bryan and Bradford Manning
Bryan and Bradford Manning, the co-founders of Two Blind Brothers, were diagnosed with Stargardt’s disease when they were kids. While their visual acuity is about 20/400 in each eye, they retain their peripheral vision. However, some retinal diseases take most or all of an individual's ability to see. With over 10 million cases of blindness-causing retinal diseases around the globe (30,000 of which are caused by Stargardt's disease), the brothers did not want to wait any longer to take action. All proceeds raised by their t-shirts and long sleeve shirts will be donated to medical research geared toward finding a cure for Stargardt's and other retinal diseases such as leber congenital amaurosis, retinitis pigmentosa, and Usher's Syndrome.
Curing Blindness Through the Softest Clothing Ever Made
“We’ve taken all of our network, our experts in design, in production, in fabric, to create what we think is the perfect shirt,” Bradford said on their website’s introduction video. And with those shirts, made of a high-quality tri-blend fabric—premium bamboo (66 percent), cotton (28 percent), and spandex (six percent)—the brothers are making incredible headway. Based in a factory in New York City's Soho garment district, Bradford, Bryan, and their innovative team are working to reach their immediate goal of one million dollars raised by selling "the softest clothing ever made."
The Goal Is in Sight
This one million dollar goal is in sight. Instead of receiving salaries, the brothers donate 100 percent of profits to research, and just this January, they received a substantial donation. Ellen DeGeneres donated $30,000 to Two Blind Brother's research after featuring them on her show.
Bryan and Bradford are convinced that the technology is finally available. The gene causing Stargardt’s has been identified, and there has been successful gene therapy for leber congenital amaurosis. Now, we’re just waiting on the financial backing to push that science into reality by providing researchers and research foundations with the backing they need to fuel further clinical trials, develop gene and stem cell therapies, and eventually develop the process by which these diseases can be prevented or cured.
The brothers have identified resources such as the Foundation Fighting Blindness (FFB) and the PBM Capital Group to assist them in their collection and allocation of funds to the necessary research projects. FFB, where Bradford also sits on the Board, has named three distinct researchers with The Harrington Project to carry out these clinical trials and move toward breakthroughs and commercialization opportunities.
Opportunities to Grow the Company
As the company is still under a year old, the team is small and concentrated. They are, however, hoping to incorporate an internship program for individuals who want to get involved in this innovative push toward a cure. College applicants across a wide array of disciplines—marketing, fashion production, fashion design, business and finance, philanthropy, communications, sales, and public relations—are invited to join. Above all, they must be passionate and dedicated to this cause.
“Growing up as a kid with visual impairment is very hard,” Bryan said in a video on the company's website. “I had a big brother who could act as an idol or could act as a friend; 11 million people growing up across the country do not have that luxury, so more important than just fashion, it’s a community and it’s a place of hope.”
Bryan explained that not succeeding in this initial goal of donating one million dollars to research would be like failing those 11 million people. And, they are not about to allow that.
Individuals interested in applying for the internship program can contact Janice Wilson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Individuals with Vision Loss Finding Workplace Success
by Shannon Carollo
It’s a question I hear regularly. “What jobs can people who are blind have?”
If you’re asking this, perhaps
- you are futures planning as you recently received a diagnosis of a visual impairment, and you’re increasingly needing assistance at your job;
- your spouse is losing his or her vision and is afraid of losing a job;
- your young child or teen has recently experienced vision loss;
- you're considering hiring an individual who is blind or visually impaired, and you want to know their capabilities; or
- you are merely curious as to employment opportunities for those who are blind.
People who are blind or visually impaired are far more similar to sighted individuals than different. They have individual strengths, experiences, interests, lifestyles, and work values. As such, they hold as diverse employment as that of their sighted peers.
I know at first thought it seems vision loss would limit career opportunities, but apart from driving, job accommodations (most of which are free or extremely inexpensive) enable individuals to perform nearly all job functions with no sight or minimal sight.
As the National Federation of the Blind eloquently explains in a Future Reflections Publication, “One of the damaging stereotypes about blindness is the belief that the blind are limited to a specific and finite "list" of jobs that "blind people can do." Even when we hear about a blind person who is doing something new or novel (new to us, anyway), we either discount it (she is the exception), or we just add one more "job that blind people can do" to our list. Seldom do we rethink our erroneous assumptions about blindness.
The real tragedy is that we—parents, teachers, friends, enemies, relatives, and yes, even other blind people—teach this flawed thinking to blind children. These blind youngsters don't think, "What do I want to do?" and "How am I going to do it?" but, "What can blind people do?" and "Which one of these things that blind people can do am I most interested in?"
Thank you, NFB. I couldn’t have said it any better.
So, now that you’re aware that careers are practically limitless for individuals who are blind or visually impaired, take these next steps:
- If you or a family member is visually impaired and needing increased assistance on the job, it’s time to utilize AFB's Directory of Services to locate a nearby agency that teaches the skills needed to maintain employment.
- If your child or teen is visually impaired, it’s time to prepare him or her for life after high school.
- If you're an employer, it’s time to recruit from a pool of workers who are visually impaired.
- If you’re simply curious about employment opportunities for the blind and visually impaired, may your interests lead you to a career working with individuals who are blind, visually impaired, and deaf-blind.
There, I hope that answers your question!
A Few More Resources Related to Blindness and Employment
Blind Ambition Author and Champion Paratriathlete Shared Leadership Principles at the American Foundation for the Blind Leadership ConferencePosted on 3/16/2017
by Shannon Carollo
When keynote speaker Patricia Walsh took the stage at the American Foundation for the Blind Leadership Conference (AFBLC), it seemed all were fully engaged and unquestionably riveted. This year’s conference had a record number of attendees, and I’m confident I’ve never heard any AFBLC audience as quiet as when Walsh shared her anything-but-dull Paralympic adventures of epic proportion.
I have the mental image of Patricia laying on top of her bike in the back seat of a mini SUV [rear hatch open, mind you!] with her running guide [yes, she is totally blind] speeding to the triathlon. You see, her bags, which held her uniform and disassembled bike, had been lost by the airline, and Patricia and her guide, wearing makeshift, piecemeal “uniforms” which were almost prepped with puffy paint race numbers, received her equipment with minutes to spare. Patricia scrambled to assemble the bike, only to realize it didn’t fit in the SUV. She used her body weight to secure the bike and off the duo zoomed to the starting line. Patricia may have been jarred—but that didn’t stop her from a record-breaking win!
Yes, she certainly had our attention.
Guiding Principles of Leadership
Patricia shifted gears and shared her career journey as an [award-winning, mind you] engineer, which was somehow as captivating as her adventures, and the leadership principles she’s learned along the way. Here are her guiding principles that we are wise to absorb:
We must have good communication—Say what we mean to say; listen to other people intently; speak to our audience with a level of awareness of our audience; and trust our audience is competent. You can learn more about communicating on the job as a person who is blind or visually impaired.
We must see the strength of others. Find the strengths of others and utilize the strengths of others. You can learn more about group success and social capital and motivating a team by recognizing their "personality colors".
If we solve big problems, we need a team. One person should not attempt to accomplish it all, but rather rally a team to group success. You can learn more about influencing others and solving problems at work.
Commit to excellent execution. Whatever it is you do, do it well. This may mean taking on less! You can learn more about when to say "No" at work and improving job performance as one who is blind or visually impaired.
Become comfortable being uncomfortable. This one hit home for me. We all have a level of anxiety about taking on new job responsibilities. Regarding this, Ms. Walsh stated, “People ask me about being fearlessness, but I have fear every day. I have fear of being less than, fear with crossing streets, fear of getting lost in an airport, etc. That’s human condition. You’re going to need to learn strategies to move on and propel yourself forward. Emotional and human element is how to bring anxiety back home instead of getting frustrated and quitting (when I do this, I regret it). I don’t want to quit because I gave up.” You can learn more about pushing your limits and taking measured risks, developing grit, and how to beat work-related stress when you are blind or visually impaired.
What a treasure it is to glean from Patricia Walsh, who is at her core, a leader. Remember, a leader is one who influences others can captivate and influence us she did effortlessly.
Resources to Hone Our Leadership Skills
by Shannon Carollo
You enter the office, first day on the job; the big meeting, your nerves accompanying; the interview, for the long-awaited position; or you enter a routine day at the office.
Are you picturing yourself? Good. What was your outfit of choice?
I’m hoping it was one that makes you feel assertive, self-assured, and distinguished because what a difference an outfit makes.
Wrinkled clothes? You may feel a bit self-conscious.
Clothes too tight? You may feel stiff.
Uncomfortable shoes? You may feel preoccupied.
Clothes too casual? You may feel sloppy.
Self-conscious, stiff, preoccupied, and sloppy? No thanks.
Assertive, self-assured, and distinguished? Yes, please. Clothes that make us feel like this—let’s call them our power outfits.
To create a wardrobe of power outfits, helping you look and feel confident and competent, begin by purging. Rid of clothing items that are faded, stained, ill-fitted, ragged, or uncomfortable; utilize the sight of a friend or family member to detect fading or stains. If any piece of your office wardrobe (shoes, belt, jewelry, tights, shirt, or pants) is not presenting you as confident and competent, toss or donate it.
After the purge, it's time to splurge. Evaluate your wardrobe and recognize what is missing or in need of updating in order to be work appropriate, keeping in mind the formality of your workplace. [Don’t know how formal others are dressed? Ask a coworker-friend or your supervisor.] Perhaps you could use attractive shoes and a few sophisticated shirts. Shop wisely by purchasing items within your budget, that can be mix and matched, and that are a timeless style. When shopping, whether you are fully sighted, blind, or visually impaired, bring along an honest, assertive friend who understands professional styles, clothing choices for specific body shapes, and has an eye for colors that look good with your skin tone. (I'd go with you if I could!)
Lastly, if you haven't already, implement a simple system for organizing and labeling clothing that doesn't require sight. Perhaps the Tactile Clothing Tape would be a good labeling system for you. Now you can independently choose a power outfit for each day at the office.
If you are a teacher or rehabilitation specialist working with individuals who are blind or visually impaired, utilize the Self-presentation lesson plan for instructing consumers in choosing appropriate work clothing and properly caring for the office wardrobe.
Go, be amazing, and dress the part!
Wardrobe Organization for Persons with Visual Impairments
- Employment (320 posts)
- Low Vision (63 posts)
- Planning for the Future (130 posts)
- Leadership (10 posts)
- Transition (92 posts)
- Online Tools (57 posts)
- Education (110 posts)
- Personal Reflections (80 posts)
- Technology (42 posts)
- Social Skills (41 posts)
- Getting Around (35 posts)
- In the News (4 posts)
- Social Life and Recreation (8 posts)
- Arts and Leisure (2 posts)
- Sports (2 posts)