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Tips for Working with an Employee, Employer, Coworker, or Client who is Blind or Visually Impaired and has Multiple Disabilities

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

I hope you are reading this blogpost because you are anticipating the arrival of a new employee who has multiple disabilities. You likely know I can’t fully prepare you to work alongside the specific individual who is blind or visually impaired and has multiple disabilities, because each person with multiple disabilities is incredibly unique in abilities, preferences, personality, and needs. I can, however, encourage you to clear your pre-conceived expectations and enter the partnership with an open mind and respectful behavior.

Here are tips for successfully embarking on your partnership:

  • Even if you have worked alongside or known well an individual with multiple disabilities, don’t assume you understand your new employee’s abilities, preferences, or needs. Instead, ask the individual what he needs in regards to job accommodations and communication preferences.
  • Out of common courtesy, speak directly to the individual instead of speaking to an interpreter or job coach. If you know the individual has decreased cognitive or intellectual functioning, speak in simple sentences, pause frequently to allow for processing time, and provide adequate response time. Unless the individual is hard of hearing and encourages you to speak loudly, speak in a normal tone of voice. If the employee appears confused on an important matter, do communicate with his job coach or support team.
  • Don’t assume the individual has limited cognitive functioning. The disabilities may be entirely physical.
  • Use people-first language. For example, "Lisa, who is visually impaired,…" emphasizes that Lisa is first-and-foremost an individual and is not defined by her eyesight or disability, as would be the case in "visually impaired Lisa" or "handicapped employees".
  • If you're unsure about specific terminology to use regarding a disability, ask the individual.
  • If you want to know more about the disclosed disability, ask if the individual is comfortable answering a few of your disability-related questions. However, she likely doesn't want to talk about a disability every day; there's far more to the individual than her disability.
  • Never talk about the employee while assuming he does not understand. For example, saying “Don’t give that responsibility to Jon, he can’t do it” or “There goes Jon again, rocking in his chair” is, of course, disrespectful and inappropriate. While this tip is painfully obvious, it is surprising how easily negative talk (in front of the individual) creeps into homes, schools, and workplaces. Don’t allow it to transpire by setting a good example for others, and speaking up when you notice its occurrence.
  • Provide clear expectations. If the individual has impaired cognitive, developmental, intellectual, or social functioning, provide clear goals, instructions, deadlines, and expectations.
  • If you observe inappropriate behavior, calmly tell the individual the specific behavior is inappropriate for the office or workplace. If the behavior continues and you want to assist him in ceasing the behavior, try offering an appropriate behavior to replace the inappropriate one; the suggested behavior should attempt to meet the need the inappropriate behavior met. If the inappropriate behavior continues, don't hesitate to discuss the issue with the individual’s job coach or support team.
  • Encourage the employee’s independence. Avoid over-helping and assuming the individual requires assistance. Additionally, allow the individual to make mistakes; don’t come to the rescue unless it is absolutely necessary.
  • Does the individual work best in a particular environment? If so, accommodate the work environment to the best of your ability. This includes noise levels, preferred lighting, and organizational strategies.
  • Review the Job Accommodation Network to learn typical job accommodations for specific disabilities.

For information and strategies specific to working with an individual who is blind or visually impaired, read How Employers Can Enable Employees with Visual Impairments to be Successful and Simple Strategies for Providing an Accessible Workplace for Blind Employees. Lastly, peruse AFB's For Employers section.

Low Vision

Embracing who You Are as a Person who is Blind or Visually Impaired

Young blind man sitting and smiling at the camera

What if there was one shade of green? One variety of tree; one texture of leaf; one type of forest; one season per year; one cry of a baby; one song of a bird; one scent to discover.

What if people were the same? What if your story was the same as mine and the same as your neighbors; your experiences a mimic of all who run beside you and came before you?

There would be little to learn; even less to appreciate.

The world would be a predictable arrangement; your story would offer no weight or distinct experience. Your strengths would be invaluable as they parallel the masses.

Today in this vibrant, season-revolving, fruit-producing, experience-differing, diverse world, your story is your own. Your personality, your dreams, your motivation, your intellect, your abilities, and your aptitudes are a vast ocean to explore. You’re not even stagnant, but you mature, develop, and produce the fruit of your labor over time and experience.

I challenge you, today, to own your physical self, intellect, essence, character, and all that makes you the same as others, as well as all that makes you different.

Inventory and accept who you are over time and experience. It is you. Nobody else is, nor will they ever be.

If a rose bush wishes its entire existence to bear magnolias, it will feel dreadfully useless and inferior. Time would be well spent to accept and appreciate its roses, and offer them as gifts to shape and sweeten the world.

Likewise, discover your aptitudes and interests, and practice them into talents. Proudly bestow and use them.

As for your blindness or visual impairment, own it. It is a part of you, a share of your story. It has shaped you. It doesn’t mean you are no longer a plentiful rose bush. You are.

As you accept your visual impairment and gain confidence in all you are, you can proudly and assertively describe your talents and how you make your job work to potential employers; you can definitely answer blindness or employment-specific questions as they come; and your certainty will be contagious. Your visual impairment is okay with you? It will be okay with a good employer after you’ve provided proof of your work and job accommodations.

Lastly, allow me to encourage and provide a resource for professionals working with youth or adult consumers who are blind or visually impaired. Continue on; your career, your life, is positively altering the course of many stories. Thank you. To assist with teaching your clients to own their story, utilize the lesson series, Your Employment Story.

Attending Professional Conferences: How It Can Boost Your Career

Joe Strechay in a suit speaking to a group of people

Many of us attend conferences, either as part of our job or conferences that are of special interest to us. Attending such conferences is a great way to make new connections, learn about new legislation or programs, learn about new technology and even get continuing education credits for various certifications. I work in the special education field as a Transition Specialist, and regularly attend several conferences in Wisconsin, where I work. Attending such conferences gives me the opportunity to learn about new trends that are happening in the field of special education, including updates on relevant legislation, new transition and employment initiatives in the state and catching up with colleagues and making new ones. Often, key leaders in the state will be in attendance and/or presenting. I have also presented at several conferences, which gives me the opportunity to share my expertise and improve my presentation skills.

For students and job seekers, many opportunities can be gained from attending conferences. By learning about new programs, grant initiatives and so forth, you can often gain firsthand knowledge about where new hires may be taking place. Generally people in attendance are quite approachable, and it’s not unusual to catch someone after their presentation and let them know that you are seeking employment. It’s a good way to meet with potential employers in a more casual setting than in an interview setting while allowing you to get more information about their organization or what they do. You may then want to request a visit to their agency so you can learn more about it and get a better sense of it and try to see how you may fit in. If you are serious about a job search, I recommend carrying a resume with you to share with potential employers, or at least request their business card so that you can send it to them later.

Many conferences have reduced registration fees for students, making it more affordable. Some look for volunteers to do various jobs, such as work at the registration area, assist vendors with set up or introduce speakers and then give you free admission in exchange for your service. These are good ways to get into a conference for low or no cost. Even if you have to perform your volunteer duties for much of the conference, you will still have the chance to network with people you meet.

Blindness related conferences, such as the American Foundation of the Blind (AFB) Leadership Conference, the National Convention of the National Federation of the Blind, (NFB) and the American Council of the Blind (ACB) offer much to job seekers. There are many opportunities to meet with leaders in the field and often times hear how they got to where they are in their career. For those who have questions about entering into a specific field, there is a good chance that you can find someone in that field and meet with them to learn specifics about best practices, how to get started, etc. NFB has an employment seminar every summer at their National Convention, addressing topics such as how to best disclose a disability to an employer, interviewing strategies, mentorship opportunities, etc. Last year at the AFB Leadership Conference, I attended a great session by Carl Augusto, who is the president and CEO of AFB. He presented on Tips for Success for blind professionals, sharing great advice on how to best work with sighted coworkers, using technology but not to the extent where you no longer interact with coworkers, how to be involved both in and out of the blindness field and how to best use mentors. I have not attended an ACB conference, but both the ACB and NFB have great student divisions. These divisions provide students the opportunity to learn about accessibility issues, scholarship opportunities, and the ability to connect with great mentors and develop leadership skills. In addition to their national conventions, the ACB and NFB both have affiliates in each state. The NFB has annual state conventions in each state as well as many local chapter meetings.

The Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired, (AER) has a biannual international conference and many state and regional conferences. This year, the Arizona AER is teaming up with AFB for the Leadership Conference in Phoenix April 9-11. AER is a professional organization for those who work in the field of blindness, such as teachers of the visually impaired, orientation and mobility instructors and those who work in rehabilitation. AER conferences generally offer continuing education units, (CEU’s) for those who have certification as a teacher or counselor. In addition to these blindness specific conferences, there are conferences in virtually every field from information technology to hospitality, retail workers, private business entrepreneurs, manufacturers, etc. For any job seeker or somebody who is interested in moving up the career ladder, I highly suggest attending a conference or two relating to your career interests.

Here are a couple of suggestions for getting the most out of attending a conference:

  • Review the agenda prior to arriving. This will give you the chance to familiarize yourself with the names of presenters, and give you a heads up on sessions you may really want to attend.
  • Dress professionally. If you want to impress possible future employers, other conference goers or possibly somebody of the opposite sex, you need to dress for it. The last conference I attended, I was told there were a lot of people wearing sweat pants and sneakers. Even though it was in a hotel were there was a water park, that is just not my style. I generally wear business casual, i.e. nothing less and maybe a step up from what I wear to work. People do notice.
  • Requesting accommodations. Typically, when you register for a conference, there will be a question about necessary accommodations. I typically request a braille agenda, as that works best for me to review during the conference. Other than the agenda though I generally request electronic documents for specific presentations. The trend lately for most conferences is to give all registrants a password, which allows you to a website where you can then access or download any handouts.
  • Networking. At almost every conference I attend, there is ample opportunity to meet other professionals, whether it be sharing a lunch table with others, asking directions to my next session, sitting next to somebody in a session or meeting other conference goers in the evening at the restaurant, bar, fitness center or pool. I make it a habit to carry business cards to share with others and then I often connect with people on LinkedIn. This way it is easy to follow up with them if I need to and to follow their career path. It also helps to remember someone the next time you meet them. It is also a good idea to always have some means of taking notes, so that you can write down important ideas, contacts or reminders.

So I hope you will take advantage of attending professional conferences to give your career a boost.


New Blog Series: Monthly Favorite

blank list titled top three

As May comes to an end and I search for new stories to share with you I can't help but to take a look back onto all the blogs and stories we at AFB CareerConnect have shared with you readers over this month. Then it hit me: If I'm looking over the blogs more than once, maybe you as readers are as well. Do you have a favorite blog from this month? I think it can be fun to rediscover helpful tips I may have missed through my first reads, or maybe to just enjoy a piece for a second time. It's also fun to pick a favorite. So that’s my challenge for you as loyal AFB CareerConnect readers: join me in picking a favorite AFB blog for the month.

Every month I will rediscover blog posts and comments, left by you, and determine which blog is my favorite for the month. Then I will dive a little deeper into the blog for a second look, alongside all of you. The challenge is for you to do the same and comment in the comment section. It's simple: Pick your favorite. Tell us why. This leads to a discussion together on which blog was most interesting or helpful for the month. If you need help finding all the blogs posted during the month, it may be helpful to like and follow the AFB CareerConnect Facebook page which posts links to each blog!

So at the end of every month, starting this month of May, look for a Monthly Favorite blog! Start re-reading and choosing your favorites now! I look forward to seeing you in the comments section!

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

Our Stories Interview with Carly Becknell, Beauty Pageant Contestant, Blog Operator, and Student

Three years ago AFB CareerConnect had the privilege of sharing a story about Connor Boss, the Miss Florida USA contestant with a visual impairment calledStargardts Disease. Today, AFB has the pleasure to introduce you to another pageant teen facing the odds and inspiring others.

Carly Becknell sitting with guide dog Brinkley

If you are from the East coast, you may have heard the name Carly Becknell in the news recently. Carly is an 18 year old student with Usher Syndrome. Usher Syndrome effected Carly early in life and continues to do so, but it has yet to hold Carly back from accomplishing all the goals she has set for herself. In Carly's journey she has since won multiple pageants, aims to become Miss South Carolina, and even started a blog about her disease and how she has overcome its trials.

AFB loves to open its readers to the stories of influential and inspiring people. The Our Stories section of AFB CareerConnect features provides a small glimpse into the transition of lives of people with vision loss into employment and everyday life.

Carly Becknell was gracious enough to take time and answer a few questions for AFB CareerConnect about her journey, experiences, and future goals. It has been a pleasure getting to know Carly and how her story has led her to inspire and inform others about diseases like Usher Syndrome and how to stay positive. Maybe I am biased having just been a teenager myself not too long ago, but Carly's story is one that inspires youth with visual impairments and disabilities to never stop dreaming and reaching for success.

Click here to read more about Carly Becknell and her interview with AFB CareerConnect!

Also, take time to follow Carly's journey and mission by following the links below:

Eye 2 Eye Blog

Eye 2 Eye Facebook

Carly Becknell and Brinkley Instagram (@guidemebrinks)