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What Networking Isn't…for Individuals Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired

We’re often led to believe that the purpose of networking is the creation of ties that will help us succeed. The more connections we make, that raise us to the next rung on the ladder of success, the better. Right? Not so fast!

This is important. When we meet individuals and present ourselves, consciously or subconsciously, as eager to get to know them because they may benefit us, we've missed the authenticity of true relationships. Folks generally recognize when they are getting stepped on so that you can step up; and that is the quickest way to squash your social network.

Therefore, networking isn't simply a means to get ahead by using and name-dropping the "higher up" people you know or have met.

Now How about this-- does this sound familiar? "Hi, I'm Emmaline. Nice to meet you. I noticed you are wearing jewelry. I sell jewelry. Here's my business card. Want to get together over coffee and we can discuss a jewelry party you could host?" Here is what I think when I am approached similarly to this example: She is pursuing a client, and trying to make a connection with me in order to make money. It’s a little irritating. She could have simply been friendly to me, and at some point let me know she sells jewelry if I’m interested.

Therefore, networking isn't simply a means to increase clients and business.

Next--naturally, we will encounter a crisis or two (or two hundred) during the course of our careers. It's tempting to go about as usual, focusing on our jobs, until we run into a big issue. You lost your job; you need a favor; you need assistance; you need advice, or what-have-you. Suddenly someone comes to mind who could help you and you brush the dust off his e-mail address and send him a "HELP ME!" message, also known as an SOS. Yes, you're using him, and yes, he knows it. It didn't have to be this way. You could have kept in contact with him and it could have been a favor for a friend. If that had been the chosen route, he would have known you value him (not just his connections) and it would have preserved your reputation.

Therefore, networking isn't simply a means to get help, and get it fast, from a long-ago acquaintance.

Instead, a healthy social network is a web of relationships that are mutually supportive and appropriately fostered. You meet people in your neighborhood, in your child's school, in your synagogue, at your job, at a conference, and on a business trip. You spend time talking about what you have in common. You exchange contact information and you check in with each other on occasion. If you think you can help him, or connect him with someone who can help him, you do your best to make it happen. Time moves on and you have met and kept in touch with many, many folks. Some of the people you really enjoy and maintain friendships, others you talk to on occasion. You help each other and you appreciate each other. Now that is a healthy social network.

Stay tuned for tips on enriching and strengthening your social network.

Social Skills

Where Are They Now? Visually Impaired Nurse and Blogger, Audrey Demmitt

Audrey Demmitt and her dog guide

If you are a frequent follower of AFB blogs, you probably have heard of Audrey Demmitt, VisionAware peer advisor and blogger extraordinaire. But did you know that Audrey worked as a nurse for 30 years before she became a writer? Better yet, did you know that Audrey is also a mentor of AFB CareerConnect?

In honor of the upcoming National Nurses Week, we decided to take some time this month to learn more about Audrey to see how she is inspiring others through her continued workplace and personal success.

Check out this preview of Where Are They Now? A Profile of Visually Impaired Nurse and Blogger, Audrey Demmitt!

After graduating from the University of Arizona, Audrey was on the fast track to finding workplace success. She had earned her degree and landed her dream job at a hospital, but life took an unexpected turn when she was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa. Audrey, 25 at the time, struggled with accepting and adjusting to her vision loss. She didn’t want to lose everything she had worked so hard to achieve, so she tried to hide her vision loss from her employer.

“My vision loss is a progressively degenerative condition and so for years, I chose to hide it from my employers and co-workers,” Audrey explained. “It was stressful, always worrying about whether someone was going to discover my vision loss and if I would lose my job.”

In the early stages, Audrey continued to work at the hospital. She and her husband started a family, and she tried to imagine a world where her vision would stop deteriorating. Unfortunately, Audrey continued to lose her vision over the next few years making it more challenging to perform her job responsibilities.

Read more of Audrey’s story in the latest “Where Are They Now?” article. Learn how she overcame her vision loss and found success!

Personal Reflections

Nurses with Disabilities Have Great Abilities, Part One

Are you interested in pursuing a career in healthcare? Pursuing your dream job can be an arduous process, but it is one that can really pay off in the end. But what if you are visually impaired? Or what if you develop vision loss during your pursuit? No matter your visual impairment, you have to believe in yourself. With enough hard work and motivation, you can achieve your goals.

Nurses with Disabilities Have Great Abilities by Detra Bannister

Older woman in wheelchair with caregiver

For some odd reason when I was growing up I never thought about nurses or doctors being sick or having disabilities. I guess their association with treating the sick and injured back to health just gave me a picture of strong, healthy workers who never had to put up with things that the people they treated and took care of had to put up with. Silly, right? But, remember, I was a kid.

I was a kid with Type 1 (Juvenile Diabetes) with onset at age 11. My dad had serious heart problems and allergies. So from the time I was a child we gave each other our needed injections, mine insulin, his allergy injections. I think this is what got me interested in becoming a nurse, as did visiting the lab and people in the hospital, which was attached to the clinic we went to for checkups. Every time we were at the clinic it seemed there was always someone we knew in the hospital. So I had ample opportunities to observe nurses and doctors at work and they impressed me.

When I graduated from high school and had to make a decision about what vocational path to take, I quickly and easily chose nursing. I did very well through nursing school and was always able to get jobs as a student nurse, graduate nurse, and finally, a real nurse. When the hospital I chose hired me as an Operating Room Nurse, I was as happy and proud as I could be, for this was my dream job. It was here scrubbing with the surgeons and circulating the room at other times making sure everyone from the anesthesiologist, scrub techs, doctors, and patient had everything they needed at the moment they needed it. Coordinating the operating room activities and keeping things running smoothly was a job I loved. This is where I began to realize I could do just about anything I put my mind to.

I loved every minute of this work, even taking call and working all hours of the day and night. My longest stint was 20 hours on the Fourth of July where we had all kinds of trauma cases from firecrackers blowing up in the hands of careless users leaving them with missing fingers and sometimes worse. After a number of years working like this with a disease that is complicated to manage in an ongoing environment, I decided it would be in my best interest to change fields in nursing. Thinking that a new job would be less stressful and more manageable, I went back to school and became a Community and School Health Nurse. This is what I did for the next 14 years.

After 20 years of working as a Registered Nurse, I suddenly lost my sight due to the longevity of childhood diabetes. Without going into a lot of detail, it was a long and arduous road getting back into nursing. First of all, I had to deal with the loss of sight emotionally and mentally, then physically had to go through a rehabilitation program in order to develop the very necessary blindness compensatory skills everyone who loses sight needs.

All the while I am thinking of nothing more than getting back to work as a nurse. There was absolutely nothing that interested me like nursing. So I worked hard and discarded every bit of advice I got from friends, family, counselors, or anyone else who said I needed to change careers.

Tune in tomorrow to read the rest of Detra’s story, Nurses with Disabilities Have Great Abilities Part Two, on the Visually Impaired: Now What? blog. Discover how Detra found gainful employment in the healthcare field despite her vision loss.

Related Links:

Even Nursing Careers Can Be Adjusted to Vision Loss

Adjusting My Career to Vision Loss

About Careers in Healthcare and Professionals Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired

Low Vision
Personal Reflections

We Discuss the Importance of Excellent Social Skills As a Person Who Is Blind or Visually Impaired, But What if We’re Quiet? (Hint: Quiet Is Highly Valuable)

Older woman reading at desk with light and magnifier

Who else loves Ted Talks? I suppose listening to them is a hobby for me. Now, having recently read Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain, I was eager to watch her Ted Talk: The Power of Introverts.

In her book and Ted Talk she explains that Americans (unfortunately) tend to praise and value extroverts over introverts. I agree; we esteem animated, charming, and boisterous people. In my opinion, we do this so much so that we think we need to train ourselves to become like this, to become entertaining and more vocal. We often think there’s something wrong with us if we are quiet, or if we prefer to work independently or if we want to spend Friday night inside (and curled up with a good book, or is that just me?).

With all my recent talk of group success and the importance of attending work-related social functions, I wanted to clarify: Group success is, in my opinion, ideal for the social health of organizations. However, I don’t mean that all work should be done in a shared space through talking and crowd-brainstorming (Yep, made up that word). Likewise, having excellent social skills doesn’t imply we are always conversing and accepting every social invite.

Furthermore, leadership, creativity and job success are congruent with both extroverts and introverts; In fact, Cain suggests the natural quiet space introverts enjoy gives them an edge. Whether you are an introvert who prefers a good chunk of quiet time, an extrovert who prefers a good chunk of communal time, or an ambivert like me who prefers an even amount of quiet and communal, you’re great. While everyone needs to learn how to be respectful, kind and empathic, you don’t need to change your make-up. In fact, please don’t. The world and world of work needs you.

Susan Cain suggests:

  1. “Stop the madness for constant group work.” In other words, independent work is good.
  2. “Go to the wilderness.” Everyone needs alone time to think and brainstorm and work by themselves.
  3. “Occasionally open up your suitcases for other people to see. The world needs you and it needs the things you carry.” This is directed to introverts. It’s great to be quiet and it’s also great to open up to people and show your story, interests and contributions.

I’ll wrap up with my thoughts, as Susan wrapped up with her aforementioned suggestions in her Ted Talk:

  1. There is nothing wrong with you if you are quiet. I like quiet (my husband is quiet) and good work happens when we’re quiet.
  2. Both quiet and talkative people benefit from learning how to connect with others effectively. This is especially true for people who have been blind or visually impaired from birth or a young age because it helps to know how to effectively use body language.
  3. Both quiet and talkative people can learn to be assertive, sharing their preferences, interests, needs, skills, and aptitudes.

Extroverts, introverts and ambiverts: you’re great.

Social Skills

The Link Between Effective Orientation and Mobility Skills and Gainful Employment for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired (And What To Do with the Knowledge)

male orientation and mobility instructor shows a woman how to use her white cane

I’m certain I won’t be alone in my excitement of Jennifer L. Cmar’s research findings. Listen to this: “Results [of her research]: Youths with high community travel scores were significantly more likely to be employed…up to six years post–high school.” This is good information (and that’s the understatement of the year).

What can we do with this knowledge?

Here’s what:

Youth who are blind or visually impaired: Be motivated! Not only do you gain independence (and general “he’s/she’s awesome points”) from traveling in your community all by your lonesome (and when accompanying a friend…or equally as exciting, a date), but you are also setting yourself up for employment success. Take those Orientation and Mobility lessons seriously; gain confidence and competence as you practice…and yes, you have to practice to succeed; and know you’re investing in your future.

Parents of Youth who are blind or visually impaired: I recognize it is difficult to allow your child to practice his or her community travel skills. It is inconvenient; it is time consuming; it may feel unsafe; and when it comes time to let your child go somewhere on his or her own, it can feel terrifying. Your feelings are valid, but please don’t forget to think long-term. Now is the time for your child to learn the skills in a safer, more controlled environment. Each time you insist your child practice their Orientation and Mobility skills (by asking them to use their cane instead of sighted guide, by having your child decide when it’s safe for the family to cross the street, by taking public transportation, and by allowing them to travel independently as they demonstrate readiness and responsibility), you are setting the trajectory of their independence and employment success.

Adults who are Blind or Visually Impaired: I can’t help but think Cmar’s research is equally pertinent for you. If you aren’t a proficient traveler, seek Orientation and Mobility training from a local service provider or attend a residential program. Not only will you gain the ability to get to and from work, but you will also gain confidence and independence.

Regardless of the correlation or causation of mobility training and employment, we must take seriously the implications: Orientation and Mobility skills (culminating in independent community travel) are too valuable to neglect, defer, or omit out of fear or inconvenience.

You can access Cmar’s research findings in the JVIB article: Orientation and Mobility Skills and Outcome Expectations as Predictors of Employment for Young Adults with Visual Impairments.

Getting Around