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"My Disabilities Are Just One Part of Who I Am”

Joe Strechay in the AFB New York office in front of a portrait of Helen Keller

It is National Disability Employment Awareness Month and the national theme is "My Disability is One Part of Who I Am." AFB and AFB CareerConnect wants to support this theme, and here is my contribution to the cause. I am an individual with disabilities. I grew up with a learning disability that impacted how I learned and accessed information. I can remember what a struggle learning to read was for me. I can remember hiding assignments that overwhelmed me in my desk. I am also a person who is blind or visually impaired, as I have no vision in my left eye and a foggy degree or so in my right eye. I am way more than all of that, as I often tell youth that they need to know their "I am, I have, and I will." We are so much more than our disability. Here is a little of my own I am:

  • I am a professional who specializes in the employment of youth and adults who are blind or visually impaired.
  • I am an enthusiastic professional who advises professionals, organizations, and agencies on transition and employment services.
  • I am a professional who works with employers on the diversity and inclusion of individuals who are blind or visually impaired.
  • I am a husband to my intelligent and talented wife, Jennifer Strechay.
  • I am a volunteer with the Friends of West Virginia Public Broadcasting, USBLN Career Link Student Mentoring Program, the Downtown Huntington Lion's Club, Huntington Rotary Club, and the Huntington Museum of Art's accessibility committee.
  • I am a communication specialist, as I am talented at shaping content to deliver linkages to resources.
  • I am an individual who has advised entertainment programming on the portrayal of individuals who are blind or visually impaired.
  • I am a son of two amazing parents, Bob and Sue Strechay.
  • I am a brother to two fantastic men, Rob and Dan Strechay.
  • I am the pet-parent to an Australian Shepherd that is deaf, Audrey. Notice that I used dog first language.
  • I am a nemesis to our pet cat, Chance. She is kind of like Shredder from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
  • I am an amateur hay bailor on my wife's family farm.
  • I am a son-in-law to Lewis and Pamela Williams.
  • I am a fun and caring uncle to my nephews and niece (Sam, Nate, Will, and Lauren).
  • I am a passionate fan of East Carolina, Florida State, the Philadelphia Eagles, and the New York Yankees.
  • I am a problem solver.
  • I am an evangelist about disability employment, the adjustment process, and equality.

We could take this even further and explain all of the skills that I have, but that would be a little bit differenct from the theme. If you want to call me sometime, I can provide you with all of my skills. I promise that I don't have ninja skills like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Maybe I should call them the teenage turtles with ninja skills and chromosomal mutations. Just saying…

All of the individuals that you meet with disabilities are not just their disability, as they are talented employees, bosses, family members, partners, athletes, and so much more. Take the time to realize this and encourage your employer, company, business, or organization to look past the disability and to see the talented problem solver who would bring your organization to the next level. Get involved and start spreading the word, "My disabilities are just one part of who I am."

Spend a few minutes and visit AFB CareerConnect's Our Stories section to learn about hundreds of talented individuals who are blind or visually impaired. Read more National Disability Employment Awareness Month inspired blog posts throughout this month on the CareerConnect Blog.

Personal Reflections

I Found a Treasure: A Resource for Job Seekers and Employees who are Blind or Visually Impaired

young woman at a computer

Do you enjoy perusing the AFB CareerConnectwebsite looking for personally relevant tools, articles, and resources as a job seeker or employee who is blind or visually impaired?

If not, I’m afraid you may overlook one treasure of a resource that offers links to an assortment of job listings; career information for adults and young people; tools that prepare job-hunters and career-changers; forums for networking and brainstorming; employment advice; employment-related articles; and various resources for job seekers and employees with disabilities.

Here she is, in all her splendor and helpfulness: Useful Links for Job Seekers who are Blind or Visually Impaired.

My favorite 5 websites within the “useful links” are as follows:

  1. YouthRules!, a site dedicated to educating young people about relevant employment laws and regulations, such as where minors can work, how much they must be paid, and when they can work.
  2. Indeed, an easy to use job search tool listing recent job openings by job title, keyword, and company name. Search for job openings in your area or in an area you're willing to relocate.
  3. NIB CareersWithVision, an employment resource created in collaboration with AFB CareerConnect for people who are blind or visually impaired and who are interested in employment with the National Industries for the Blind.
  4. The US Department of Labor, a site that provides information on policies relevant to workers with disabilities.
  5. USA Jobs, where you can review and apply for US federal government jobs.

AFB CareerConnect is jam-packed with helpful trainings, articles, and even external resources that you can access from the comfort of your living room. Stop on by, virtually speaking, to find more resources...anytime!


8 Guidelines for Working with a Difficult Boss as an Employee who is Blind or Visually Impaired

Older man and younger man looking at graph on whiteboard.

If you have a boss or supervisor, even a coworker, who is particularly challenging, I am sorry. I’m sure this makes your time at work discouraging, uncomfortable, or even agonizing. Before you resort to searching for a new job (though conducting a job search is always an option), it’s a good idea to consider how the individual is feeling and how you can improve the situation.

Before we begin with my suggestions, be aware that as a person who is blind or visually impaired, you may be missing visual cues and communication from this “frustrating individual”. You may not see his stressed, frazzled appearance that would communicate it’s not a good idea to bring up a challenging topic; you may not see that he is carrying his briefcase and about to leave, indicating it’s not a good time to chat; and you may not see he rolled his eyes or otherwise physically communicated his irritation or dissatisfaction. For these reasons, I suggest keeping the lines of verbal communication open and honest. Make a habit of asking “Is this a good time to bring up...”; “Can we schedule a time to talk about....”; “Where do you stand on....”; or “How do you feel about...”.

In addition to open, honest, and direct communication, I suggest 8 guidelines for working with a difficult boss:

  • Consider reasons why your boss is coming across as demanding, frustrated, abrupt, or offensive. Could your boss be going through intense personal stress? Could he feel disrespected or disregarded at the office? Could she feel frustrated at the less-than-ideal work ethics of her employees? Does he prefer to be more or less involved with the planning or workload? Does she appear angry over seemingly minor provocations?
  • Utilize the above insight to diffuse possible infractions and disputes. If you know your boss prefers to be in on the details of a project early-on, plan to meet with him more frequently in order to keep him informed. If you know your boss becomes angry at the mention of politics, avoid talking about politics at the office.
  • Refer back to the goals of your boss. Is your work in line with her goals? If you aren’t sure, ask your boss for her goals and align your work accordingly.
  • Consider asking your boss how you can best support him. Here’s what I mean: Instead of asking “Hey, what is your problem with me?!”, ask “How can I better support you?” You’ll likely get the same information without offending him.
  • Treat your boss with respect and kindness regardless of his behavior. We all need the reminder (I need it daily), that we are only responsible for our own actions and words. We can’t control other’s behavior or words.
  • Continue working with the utmost integrity, accuracy, and efficiency. You are still responsible for your workload, and you don’t want to tarnish your reputation or job reference.
  • Remain assertive. I talk frequently about assertive communication because it is imperative for healthy relationships. If your boss is overstepping your boundaries (displaying verbal or physical aggression, expecting you to act illegally or against your convictions, completely disregarding your needs, etc.), you should state you are not comfortable and respectfully address the specific issue.
  • Refrain from gossiping about your boss. While it would be tempting to bond with your coworkers over your mutual disdain for your boss, it would not be kind and would likely come back to your boss.

If you have suggestions for working with a difficult boss or if you have a specific question regarding your situation, please share on the CareerConnect work-life message board. I’ll be happy to join the conversation.


Better Sleep means Better Job Performance and Job Satisfaction: Improving Sleep Disorders in People who are Blind

Photo of woman sleeping in bed

Having recently moved from Japan to America, I can attest to the misery of weeklong jetlag. Functioning in social settings was unwelcome; completing job tasks was painstaking; and applying critical thinking skills was laborious, if at all possible. Knowing that many people who are blind have circadian rhythm sleep disorders that feel like bouts of jetlag, I knew I needed to address the struggle.

I recognize the recurring or constant battle you may face in falling asleep, staying asleep through the night, and sleeping until morning. Consequently, I recognize the struggle of exhaustion at work, the fight to stay awake and alert in the afternoon, and the emotional grind of fatigue. I wanted to scour research in order to find hope and answers.

Tips I found to improve sleep disorders and/ or alleviate related symptoms:

According to JVIB's article: Circadian-Rhythm Sleep Disorders in Persons Who Are Totally Blind,

  • Studies show taking 5mg of Melatonin before falling asleep helps communicate “sleepy time” to your brain. I can personally attest to the positive effects of Melatonin during jet-lagged induced insomnia.
  • Of course, moderate caffeine use is suggested to alleviate daytime sleepiness.
  • Certain individuals who are blind or significantly visually impaired find it easier to sleep regularly when exercising regularly.
  • Certain individuals who are blind or significantly visually impaired find it easier to sleep regularly when they follow a strict sleep/wake schedule, forcing themselves awake at the same time even if they slept poorly during the night.
  • On the other hand, certain individuals who have the flexibility report better quality sleep when they sleep when tired, regardless of the time of day. These individuals do report social difficulty because of their irregular sleeping patterns, which is why I would recommend this sleep pattern as temporary relief.

According to JVIB's article: Sleep Disturbances among Persons Who Are Visually Impaired: Survey of Dog Guide Users,

  • Alcohol consumption can improve your quality of sleep. If you are of legal age with no history of alcoholism, you may consider a glass of wine before bedtime when you are in a bout of insomnia.
  • With sleeplessness comes an increased risk of depression. I recommend professional counseling and exercise for depression symptoms.

According to the Mayo Health Clinic's Sleep tips: 7 steps to better sleep,

  • Don’t drink caffeine too late in the afternoon.
  • Create a bedtime ritual.
  • Limit daytime naps.
  • Manage your stress. (Teachers and rehabilitation counselors, utilize the related Stress Management lesson series.)

In my personal battles with sleeplessness, I have found moving around key to staying awake throughout the day. Walk whenever possible, incorporate mini exercise sessions into your daily routine, and squeeze a stress ball during a monotonous meeting. Additionally, I vote you should keep phones, tablets, televisions, books, and game consoles out of the bedroom. If you have found methods for alleviating insomnia, please share your suggestions.

Rooting for you,


Personal Reflections

Overcoming Failure: It’s What You Do With It That Matters

Young blind man sitting and smiling at the camera

I tend to look at everything in my life as black or white, a success or a failure. If I accomplish my goals, I am on top of the world. I feel empowered, self-confident, and ready to take on anything. But when I don’t succeed, I feel overwhelmingly disappointed in myself. I convince myself that I will never succeed. I tell myself that I am not good enough or smart enough to accomplish my goals.

Some might say I don’t cut myself enough slack, and my blood pressure would agree with them, but it is hard to pull yourself out of that cycle. It is difficult to tell yourself that this one failure does not determine who you are or your self-worth. It is a constant struggle that I am trying to overcome.

But someone very special to me has really started to alter my perception of failure. He once told me something along the lines of, “It is not about whether you fail, but what you do with that failure to make yourself better. You only ever fail if you don’t learn anything or do anything to improve from it.”

I can read self-improvement blogs right and left, but if I never change my mindset, nothing will help me improve my failures. I have to tell myself that although I didn’t get the position this time, it does not mean I failed. It does not mean that I will always fail. I have to own my mistakes, make adjustments to succeed in the future, and not let this one experience bring me down or taint my self-image.

I have to remember that I am a work-in-progress. I have to focus on my strengths and sharpen my weaknesses. I have to be self-aware to own who I am as a person and try, try, and try again until I succeed.

Out of all the inspirational stories you might read, you rarely think about how many times that outstanding individual failed to reach his or her end goal. You don’t focus on the trials that individual when through to overcome his or her disadvantage to be the world’s best this or the greatest that. You can’t compare someone else’s experiences or successes to your own.

So I guess what I am trying to say is that I will not always succeed. I am not at the peak of my career telling you how things will get better. I am right there with you trying to make a life for myself. We have to encourage one another, seek the assistance and guidance we need, and strive for success until we get it.

If you are struggling with self-confidence, I encourage you read “Self-Confidence: How it Increases Your Employability” or “Self-Confidence Part 2: How to Foster it as a Person who is Blind or Visually Impaired.” While I might not have the best advice to boost your self-esteem, Shannon has the know how to get you rallied up!

And if you are struggling with a new self-image, Joe Strechay’s “I Am, I Have, and I Will: A Message to Youth who are Blind or Visually Impaired” might just be what you need to succeed!