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AFBAmerican Foundation®
for the Blind

Expanding possibilities for people with vision loss

AFB CareerConnect Mentor Guide

Introduction

Welcome and thank you for volunteering as an American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) CareerConnect® mentor. We are pleased to provide this guide as a resource for both new and experienced mentors. Its impetus was a six-month period of research during which we surveyed registered web site mentors. We created and refined a manual based on their feedback, which led to this current version of the CareerConnect® Mentor Guide.

You'll notice that the Table of Contents follows an FAQ format; each question is a link to a specific section. As a result, this guide is a dual-purpose document, which may be read in its entirety or used as a quick-reference.

The CareerConnect program was created to help blind or visually impaired people explore career possibilities and the realities of the workplace through mentors, an interactive, content-rich web site, and other materials described in this guide. The program continues to evolve, and we welcome your input. If you have any suggestions or recommendations, please do not hesitate to contact the CareerConnect staff by e-mail at careerconnect@afb.net, by a toll-free call to (888) 824-2184, or by letter to CareerConnect, AFB TECH, Suite 200, 949 3rd Avenue, Huntington, WV 25701.

Thank you, once again, for your willingness to volunteer as a mentor with AFB CareerConnect. Your efforts are appreciated.

Table of Contents

Section One: CareerConnect and How It Compares to Other Mentoring Programs

What is CareerConnect?

What is a mentoring program?

What is the CareerConnect mentoring program?

How is CareerConnect different from other mentoring programs?

What kind of mentors does CareerConnect need?


Section Two: How to Be an Effective Mentor

What is expected of a CareerConnect mentor?

How often will I be contacted?

What kinds of questions can I anticipate receiving?

How quickly do I need to answer each query?

What if the mentee just wants "to talk"?

What if the mentee asks an inappropriate question?

Is there a format I should follow when giving advice?

Do you have any sample queries and responses?

What CareerConnect resources can I offer the mentee?

Is it possible to have our mentoring efforts peer reviewed?

How do I update my mentor profile?

How can I get technical support for mentoring?


Section Three: How the CareerConnect Program Works

What is the history of CareerConnect?

How is the CareerConnect site evaluated?

Is the CareerConnect data only available online?

How do I use the web site?

How can I give feedback on the web site?

Where can I read the feedback of others?

How can I contribute to CareerConnect or AFB?


Section Four: Additional Resources

American Foundation for the Blind (AFB)

AFB TECH

National Employment Center

Organizations and Suppliers

Traditional and E-Mentoring Projects with a Disability-Specific Interest

CareerConnect Documents



Section One: The CareerConnect Mentorship Program

What is CareerConnect?

CareerConnect is a free-of-charge, fully accessible, and manageable set of resources intended to help people who are blind or visually impaired learn about the range and diversity of careers in the United States and Canada. At the heart of CareerConnect is its mentor database of over 1,000 blind or visually impaired people working in more than 300 jobs, from restaurant owners to radio personalities to astronomers. Efforts are underway to include more jobs that do not require postsecondary training and to ensure that we have strong geographic representation.

What is a mentoring program?

Historically, mentoring programs have enlisted adults to provide guidance and support to young people through face-to-face contact, over time. One well-known example is Big Brothers/Big Sisters, where mentors work with young people from disadvantaged families to address their concerns, challenges, and personal goals. These programs tend to run for a predetermined length of time, such as a school semester or calendar year. The mentors (volunteers who are screened and trained) are usually required to give regular progress reports to supervisors.

Today, mentoring programs exist for people of all ages to grow within industries, companies, and communities. For example, an experienced teacher may help a recent graduate adapt to the realities of teaching; an émigré may advise a newly-relocated family about their new country; or a nurse may educate a group of new parents on their parental responsibilities. These interactions may not be one-on-one or occur in a specific office, but as mentorships, they are caring and supportive exchanges of information.

In recent years, many mentoring programs have evolved and gravitated towards e-mentoring, which accommodates a wide array of populations and schedules since there are no set locations or meeting times. As with traditional mentoring programs, e-mentoring programs provide specific services to particular populations (such as academic tutoring for students, or emotional support for disease survivors) and may be sponsored by varying institutions. Although the format rarely involves face-to-face contact, its unsupervised, unstructured nature still carries risks (Canter & Carrillo-Angino, 2003). Thus, the nature, purpose, format, and participants of an e-mentoring group should be determined in a long-range plan, including:

  • Orientation and training for mentors;
  • Screening of mentors and matching to mentees, when possible;
  • Ongoing support for the mentor pairs;
  • Safety measures to protect mentees and mentors;
  • A technology implementation strategy; and
  • Ongoing program evaluation.

What is the CareerConnect mentorship program?

The CareerConnect mentorship program provides information on career choices to blind and visually impaired people of all ages; their family members and friends or coworkers; service providers (teachers, counselors, and others) working with them; and to researchers. The online format enables individuals to contact mentors quickly, efficiently, and with a minimum of expense. Because blindness is such a rare disability, finding a local mentor can be difficult in many communities. Without appropriate role models, individuals who are blind or visually impaired may not believe they can succeed or reach their full potential. Interacting with people who have experienced the challenges of blindness and overcome them can inspire hope and bolster individual efforts.

CareerConnect mentors are adults who are visually impaired and typically employed (although on occasion, they may be retired), and strongly supportive of visually impaired people entering the workforce. Mentors share their insights on obtaining work, keeping a job (for example, how they handle commuting, navigating the office, accessing print documents, using assistive technology, and collaborating with co-workers), and advancing in their chosen career. They may also provide guidance on using the CareerConnect web site and related resources.

Typically, individuals apply to become mentors online, at the CareerConnect web site www.afb.org/CareerConnect. CareerConnect staff screen all mentor applications and insure that prospective mentors have signed the Terms of Service Agreement form and appear to be appropriate candidates for participation. Site visitors seeking access to the mentor database must sign this Agreement as well, as part of creating a User Profile. The Terms of Service Agreement sets the ground rules for the mentoring relationship and specifies that participants must behave in a responsible, conscientious manner. A copy of the agreement is included in the Reference Materials section of this guide.

CareerConnect staff match mentees to mentors whenever requested to do so—typically, in response to telephone or e-mail requests. Most Registered Users (site visitors who have created a User Profile) run their own database searches, then contact mentors independently. Through an added security feature of the American Foundation of the Blind, both Mentors and Registered Users can send and receive e-mail confidentially via the CareerConnect site. This bulletin board format can be reached through the link My CareerConnect, at the top of the CareerConnect home page.

While the mentoring process is not directly supervised, CareerConnect staff regularly request feedback from both sides, to ensure a constructive and appropriate relationship. Staff members are also available for help with any technical, logistical, and content-related issues which may emerge during the mentoring relationship.

How is CareerConnect different from other mentoring programs?

CareerConnect was designed to help individuals who are visually impaired learn more about the working world. Our program provides a great deal of independence for mentors, who arrange and expedite their own mentoring sessions. While we periodically provide on-site mentor training and have arranged teleconferences to discuss CareerConnect with mentors, our primary means of educating mentors is this guide. Since this guide is posted on the CareerConnect site, we anticipate that most current and future mentors will be trained online. However, we do offer this guide in other formats; please contact CareerConnect staff for details.

We also recognize the variations inherent in mentoring. For example, a job-hunting adult may seek weekly feedback, whereas parents helping their children determine viable career options may seek a single response. We welcome and encourage both kinds of relationships, to enlighten as many people as possible.

CareerConnect serves an unusually wide group of individuals, since no specific background is required for registration. As a result, mentors may be contacted by a range of individuals who are blind or have low vision, from youngsters to late-career workers. Or, the CareerConnect users may be sighted people—friends, families, caregivers, co-workers, or even employers—seeking to help blind or visually impaired individuals. Researchers investigating the employment status of blind and visually impaired people, developing products, or doing analyses on the field of blindness and low vision may also contact mentors. Although all scenarios cannot be predicted, here is a short list of site visitors whom you may hear from, for your reference:

  • Young People doing Career Exploration
  • Postsecondary Students
  • Individuals Adjusting to Vision Impairment
  • Employed Professionals Seeking Information
  • Adults Exploring New Careers
  • Individuals Changing Careers
  • Discouraged Job Seekers
  • Intermediaries or Helpers
  • Co-Workers or Family Members
  • Researchers

While fielding such diverse inquiries does require patience, it also ensures a lively and variable forum for educating the public. You can get a sense of this from the sample queries included later in the guide.

What kind of mentors does CareerConnect need?

CareerConnect mentors should be able to share information in an honest, open, constructive, and nonjudgmental way. In 2003, AFB posed this question to existing mentors, who recommended that future mentors be:

  • Patient,
  • Knowledgeable,
  • Good listeners,
  • Willing to share information,
  • Willing to demonstrate a sense of humor,
  • Able to teach,
  • Able to communicate effectively,
  • Able to demonstrate high self-esteem,
  • Encouraging, and
  • Empathetic.

Section Two: Being a Mentor

What is expected of a CareerConnect mentor?

The most important thing expected of a mentor is that he or she respond quickly and honestly to inquiries from potential mentees or others soliciting information. We expect you to have reviewed this guide and directed any questions you might have to the CareerConnect staff. Beyond that, we ask that you be open and honest with those who contact you about your working life and how you have achieved the success you are experiencing—and most of all, we ask you to encourage the blind or visually impaired people who contact you to pursue their career dreams.

How often will I be contacted?

It is impossible to say how often you will be contacted—it varies. Some mentors report receiving three queries per year, while others are still waiting to hear from a prospective mentee or a site visitor. You can, however, anticipate hearing from AFB staff on a routine basis. You should hear from us at least twice a year, perhaps more often if we have a special request. For example, in 2003 we created Window on the Working World, a series of first-person accounts written by mentors, on a volunteer basis. The articles, which are accessible from the CareerConnect home page, offer an inspiring yet realistic look at the workplace. When we initiated the series, we contacted mentors to solicit their stories and continue to do so in order to keep the series fresh.

We may also contact you with burning research questions, such as "What is the most popular word processing software package being used by workers with visual impairments?" The benefit of your insight will help us enlighten blind and visually impaired workers and job seekers throughout the country.

What kinds of questions can I anticipate receiving?

You can expect a range of questions, usually focused on your career. Questions may concern education or training you received in preparation for work, job hunting techniques you recommend, how you went about being promoted, details on your workplace duties, what assistive technology (AT) you use and what your employer does to support your AT needs, and how you cope with transportation challenges. Writers may also ask when you lost your vision or received training in orientation and mobility, braille reading and writing, or other alternative techniques that blind people use to function in a sighted world. You may even be asked about the tools you use for homemaking, financial management, and recreation! Read on to learn more about how to respond to inquiries, as well as to read sample queries.

How quickly do I need to answer each query?

We ask that CareerConnect mentors respond to queries within 72 hours, if at all possible. We recognize that you may not always be able to respond quickly or have a complete answer immediately; please at least confirm receipt of the message and indicate when you will be able to provide a more detailed response. If a query falls beyond your area of expertise, please refer the individual to CareerConnect staff. If you anticipate an extended absence (such as a vacation), we recommend using automatic e-mail replies which state your estimated date of return.

What if the mentee just wants "to talk"?

Many blind and visually impaired people who are unemployed have limited financial resources and transportation options. As a result, they may have equally limited opportunities to participate in local or community activities. Hence, they may lack a social support system or friends with whom to discuss their situations.

Some of these individuals may contact CareerConnect mentors for social purposes. Or, a person may initially seek career advice but become more interested in the social aspect of the mentorship. You are under no obligation to maintain contact with this person. Instead, you may explain that you are only available to discuss work or career-related topics. If you decide to "chat" occasionally, it is at your own discretion. If you have any concerns regarding this issue, please contact CareerConnect staff.

What if a mentee asks an inappropriate question?

On rare occasions, mentors may receive an e-mail which is unusually personal or seems inappropriate in content. Please do not feel obligated to reply. Simply contact CareerConnect staff via e-mail (careerconnect@afb.net) or telephone using the toll-free number (888-824-2184). Once you have notified us, a staff member will respond to the query and explain the mentoring process to the individual. Again, if you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact CareerConnect staff. 

Is there a format I should follow when giving advice?

The easiest way to approach all queries is through the following Tips, which are also available for download here.

Tips on Answering Queries

  • First, let the person know that you appreciate hearing from him or her.
  • Let the individual know that you value his or her effort to seek out information.
  • Acknowledge the individual's feelings (frustration, anxiety, etc.).
  • If the query is from an intermediary (a parent, service provider, coworker, friend, or other concerned party), mention that the person who is blind or visually impaired may also contact you directly.
  • Share your experiences in deciding on a career and securing the "right" job, including the length of your job search and what other jobs you held during this time.
  • Provide any suggestions you may have for researching, identifying, and approaching suitable companies. Stress the importance of getting to know other employees, whether through volunteer or temporary positions.
  • Ask for details about where mentees are in their academic or training programs and consider how that training compares with yours.
  • Discuss how to keep skills current, whether through continuing education courses or internship programs.
  • Recognize a prospective mentee's positive efforts (such as membership in a consumer organization or civic club) and remind her or him how personal and professional networks may provide helpful job leads.
  • Address concerns about transportation, assistive technology, and on-the-job accommodations.
  • Provide questions to ask local rehabilitation practitioners, assistive technology (AT) trainers or AT vendors, to learn about related products and services.
  • Specify how much, if any, vision you have so individuals can evaluate whether the tools you use would be suitable for their use.
  • Share any other resources with which you might be familiar.
  • Encourage mentees to maintain contact and let them know that you are available for further questions.
  • Refer visitors to the CareerConnect staff, as needed.

Please note that these comments are suggestions, not firm rules. In the past, mentors have asked whether we have a video dramatization of a web exchange. Our closest reference is a video of an informational workshop at a high school, which features three mentor interviews and questions from young people. You may request a copy through CareerConnect staff.

Do you have any sample queries and responses?

Queries can vary considerably in terms of writing style and content. They may range from a series of questions to a biographical statement. Here are excerpts from several queries, which demonstrate the diverse backgrounds and writing styles you may encounter. Although you will be writing from your own personal experience, we have provided sample responses, for your reference.

Sample Query #1:
I have had difficulty finding a job in the civil engineering field. I am legally blind and therefore cannot drive. However, my vision is sufficient to not require any special accommodations (other than the driving, of course)...One firm that I interviewed with was looking for an entry-level bridge engineer. They said that they were impressed with my skills but that they wanted someone with more marketing experience. Three months later, I saw the same position posted, however this time the posting included a "driver's license required" prerequisite...As time goes by my education becomes dated and my period of inactivity increases (which doesn't look good on a resume). If you have any suggestions as to how to approach these firms or any similar recommendations I would be grateful.

Sample Response #1: First, thank the mentee for initiating the contact. Feel free to share any appropriate experiences regarding your own job search and transportation issues. If you dealt with a similar "driving" requirement, please explain how you responded: did you hire a driver or negotiate with a coworker so that you could go to job sites in tandem? If not, how might you suggest that he approach this issue? Then, encourage the mentee to deepen his research in the field, getting to know employees through volunteer or temporary positions. Discuss ways of maintaining a current skill set, such as continuing education courses or internship programs. These options will also help him maintain an up-to-date resume. Encourage the mentee to stay in touch as he continues his job search.

Sample Query #2:
I am currently helping my colleague look at tools to help him to do his function as database administrator. He is visually impaired and needs to support Oracle and Microsoft SQL Server under a Windows 95 environment. Could you recommend a few tools that would help him perform basic DBA functions like add/remove row and read the data changes on a table? Right now, he can't read some of the database content displays (rows and columns). Any help would really be appreciated.

Sample Response #2: First thank your correspondent for writing and for being so supportive of his coworker. You may also want to inquire why his coworker did not contact you directly: are there other issues at work besides low vision? Once you and the coworker have established a rapport, feel free to share any information you may have regarding his software questions. You may want to suggest that his coworker connect with you or other visually impaired people and consider seeking technology support through local and national consumer organizations, such as the American Council of the Blind, the National Federation of the Blind, and private or public rehabilitation entities. The Job Accommodation Network also may have some information that would be helpful to this correspondent. Above all, encourage both the co-worker and his colleague to stay in contact, as they address their technology concerns.

Sample Query #3:
Hi, I am a student at _______ University and will be taking a Chemistry class this upcoming semester and wondered if you could give me any suggestions? I do have some useful vision, but mostly do not rely on it...I just want to be as independent as possible and want to get as much out of the class as possible.

Sample Response #3: First, thank the student for writing to you, particularly before the class begins. Next, share any information you may have on accommodations, modifications, or other resources (for chemistry or the classroom). Encourage her to keep a log of what she researches, discovers, and uses, as well as to keep an objective (even scientific) eye on her progress. Let the student know that you would be happy to answer other questions that emerge, later in the semester.

Sample Query #4:
I am a certified rehabilitation teacher (sighted) and have been asked to evaluate a nurse who has a significant visual impairment. I have observed her on the job and she has numerous problems which could affect the safety and lives of her patients. Most of these situations cannot be adapted. I notice that you are in more of a counseling capacity rather than direct patient care. It has been very hard to find any resources on any nurses who have been able to continue with direct patient care. Any suggestions for this nurse? or for me in my evaluation? Thank you.

Sample Response #4: Thank the rehabilitation specialist for contacting you and for evaluating the nurse so conscientiously. Recommend a dialog whereby the nurse describes whether she feels she is having difficulty, either on the job or in other aspects of her life; there may be skills she could use in both situations. Ask the rehabilitation specialist about the work environment, noting where modifications could be made; for example, by increasing the wattage in strategic lamps or by adding light fixtures, the nurse may be better able to perform. Find out if the nurse would be helped by additional adapted equipment or medical tools. If you don't know where to obtain these supplies, feel free to contact CareerConnect staff (or refer the mentee to CareerConnect, directly). In the meantime, share any related information you may have, even if it is not specifically related to nursing. Encourage her to stay in touch with you and to continue to problem solve with her client and with you.

Sample Query #5:
HI I just wanted to talk about your drumming and what you have had to go through with your vission not being there. I have rp and I am slowly losing my vision. I play drums too they are rad! How long have you played? do you have a particular type of music you like drumming the most? is yourlack of vission a problem? I know that there is still a long way to learn but we are always learning talk later.

Sample Response #5: Thank the mentee for his query and acknowledge his efforts to learn more about the music industry. Share as much information as you are comfortable with concerning playing the drums professionally. You could discuss how you began training; how you pursued your career goals; and what sacrifices you had to make along the way. You may also indicate that you had difficulty reading his note, due to the typographical errors; this could also cause concern for a prospective employer (such as a music school, club manager, or festival promoter). Encourage him to continue his musical studies and to stay in touch.

Read More Sample Queries and Responses.

What CareerConnect resources can I offer the mentee?

You may request marketing information such as braille and print flyers or the CareerConnect user guides by contacting AFB staff at careerconnect@afb.net or calling the toll-free number (888.824.2184). Let us know what you want and for what purpose, as well as how many items you need and we will make every effort to get materials to you in a timely fashion.

We also recommend the AFB Directory of Services for Blind and Visually Impaired Persons in the United States and Canada. This comprehensive guide covers services ranging from dog guide training schools to independent living centers to literacy programs. A complete, searchable version of the directory is available on-line through the AFB web site (http://www.afb.org/services.asp). To learn more about specific resources, feel free to contact AFB's Information Center (800.232.5463).

In the Additional Resources section of this guide, you will find:

As a mentor, you may learn of reference materials which you feel would be helpful to others (such as books or journals). Please share these with us so that we can add them to the Resources section of the CareerConnect web site.

Is it possible to have my mentoring efforts peer reviewed?

At this point, CareerConnect is not set up in a way that enables peer review. We are considering a mentors-only electronic bulletin board to give mentors access to peer feedback. Would such a feature be useful to you? If not, what format would you prefer? Please let us know so we can continue to optimize the site. As always, we appreciate any thoughts you have for enhancing the program.

How do I update my mentor profile?

After you have logged in as a mentor on the CareerConnect web site home page, you can update your mentor profile by selecting "update your profile." You can prepare by filling out the AFB CareerConnect Mentor Registration Form, which is included in the Additional Resources section at the end of this guide.

How can I get technical support for mentoring?

AFB staff members are ready to help provide any support you may need while using CareerConnect. Please ask! It is likely that others—mentees and mentors —share your concerns. The best way of contacting CareerConnect staff is via e-mail at careerconnect@afb.net. You may also call the toll-free number (888.824.2184) or send a letter to AFB CareerConnect, AFB TECH, Suite 200, 949 3rd Avenue, Huntington, WV 25701. If you have to leave a message, please let the staff know the best way and time for them to contact you.

While CareerConnect staff are available Monday through Friday from 8:30am to 4:30pm EST, you may call or write at any time. If you don't hear from someone within 72 hours, please resend your message. Although we make every effort to respond, messages can get lost or misplaced. Please don't hesitate to resend your message and let the staff know that you have not yet received a response. 

As you know, CareerConnect is a branch of AFB. If you have an AFB query but are not sure which office to contact, you may contact AFB's national office toll-free (800.232.5463) or by e-mail (afbinfo@afb.net). You may also contact the AFB offices directly in Atlanta, GA (404.525.2303), Dallas, TX (214.352.7222), Huntington, WV (304.523.8651), New York, NY (212.502.7600), San Francisco, CA (415.392.4845), or Washington, DC (202.408.0200).

Section Three: CareerConnect

What is the history of CareerConnect?

CareerConnect was established in 1986 by American Foundation for the Blind employee Jay Leventhal, who created and maintained the project while working in AFB's Technology Program. At the time, the database was called the Careers and Technology Information Bank (CTIB) and consisted of volunteers who were willing to discuss themselves, their jobs, and their use of assistive technologies. Leventhal received help with day-to-day operations from staff and interns in AFB's New York offices. CTIB's primary means of recruiting new mentors was AFB staff attendance at annual national consumer conventions.

Essentially, Leventhal and his colleagues served as a search engine. Queries came from across the United States and Canada, typically by telephone. In return, individuals received telephone numbers, postal addresses, or e-mail addresses (when available) of potential mentors, whom they contacted on their own. The actual mentoring was reported back to CTIB primarily if it went awry or resulted in exemplary assistance. CTIB had limited contact with mentors beyond updating the database and occasional visits by phone or at conventions.

In 2000, CTIB became part of the AFB Employment Program and grew into a clearinghouse of career and job-hunting information. The mentor database was transferred onto CD-ROM, and multiple user guides were created in accessible print and electronic formats, targeted for different audiences (such as students, employees, and job rehabilitation specialists). These guides describe how to navigate the software, print documents, search for a mentor, contact a mentor, become a mentor, update the mentor profile, and contact AFB CareerConnect staff. They also provide career exploration activities and employment resources.

CTIB migrated to AFB's web site in 2002 as CareerConnect®. In addition to a searchable mentor database, the site offers data from the U.S. Department of Labor and the Bureau of Labor Statistics on careers; job-seeking tools, including an interactive resume builder and an electronic calendar; information on assistive technology and a link to AccessWorld® (AFB's electronic magazine that focuses on technology); tips on finding jobs, getting hired, and keeping a job; and features such as Window on the Working World and CC Headline News.

How is the CareerConnect site evaluated?

The CareerConnect program is evaluated quarterly by staff members. They review web statistics generated by the server software such as the number of site visitors, number of page views per day, and which web pages receive the most traffic. This quantitative data helps us analyze site usage and recognize the most popular site features. We also regularly review qualitative data, such as e-mail sent from the CareerConnect web site; understanding the populations we serve and their areas of interest helps us evaluate and develop new site content and functions. In addition to these ongoing internal evaluations, the American Foundation for the Blind's Policy and Research team also conducts a periodic review of the CareerConnect program.

Is the CareerConnect data only available online?

No. If you are unable to access the Internet, you can use CareerConnect on CD-Rom, which contains most of the content. The database lists mentors by ID number (not name), geographic location, vision status, educational background (highest level completed), job tasks, gender, company name (if reported), current job, former jobs, and how the mentor prefers to be contacted (work or home phone, letter, e-mail). CD users can research prospective mentors then contact CareerConnect (888.824.2184) to obtain their contact information.

The CD also contains the aforementioned user guides and the Tips section from the web site (with hints for exploring careers, getting hired, and keeping a job). Since the interactive aspect of the web site cannot be duplicated, examples of personal data sheets and resumes are shown in completed form. Please note: the CD contains the Technology and Resources in their entirety, but does not include the database from the U.S. Department of Labor and Bureau of Labor Statistics or the series Window on the Working World.

Occasionally, individuals may ask mentors questions related to the content, organization, or use of the CD. We recommend reading the guides posted in the Resources section of the web site, such as this one written for adult job seekers. These guides explain how to use the menu-driven options, such as File, Navigation, How to..., User guides, Tips, Mentors, Technology, Resources, and Help.

How do I use the web site?

The CareerConnect web site can be accessed from the main AFB web site (http://www.afb.org/) or reached directly at www.afb.org/careerconnect. From the CareerConnect home page, you can set the appearance of the whole web site; simply go to the link, My AFB, located in the upper left-hand corner. (Visitors to http://www.afb.org/ may have already set these preferences.) There, you can set the font size, color, type, background color, and the position of the navigation bar. You can also save the settings, so they reappear on future visits. For individuals without functional vision, the site is easily navigable with speech or braille output devices.

The home page also contains a brief description of CareerConnect, a synopsis of the current Window on the Working World, and the option to register (which is free). Registration acts as a modified screening tool, since only registered users can e-mail mentors confidentially, through the web site. Moreover, registration is required to use the interactive features of My CareerConnect, described below. Registered users can log in on the main page of the web site. The Site Overview link offers a brief description of the site content areas. We will review the navigational bar items, below.

Tips for Exploring Careers
This section includes Tips for Career Exploration, which can help job-hunters build a personal profile to inform their career direction and job-hunting. Careers also contains general information on available jobs (not specific to the visually impaired) from the U.S. Department of Labor. Visitors can browse the jobs by occupational categories, specific areas of interest, or job titles or keywords.

Mentors
This section includes the resource Tips on Contacting a Mentor, which can help visitors clarify their goals for research. When using the database to find a mentor, visitors can search by job title, field of employment, city, state, ID number, or job tasks. After identifying prospective mentors, visitors can e-mail them directly (and confidentially) through the web site.

Tips
The Tips section is divided into three categories. In Finding a Job, visitors can learn about exploring careers, organizing their workspace, managing their time, and finding job leads. Getting Hired advises visitors on when to disclose their disability, how to create and use personal data sheets and resumes, how to negotiate assistance during a job search, and how to interview successfully. In the last section, Keeping the Job, visitors can read about employer expectations (which can evolve over time), basic rules of communication, and ways of problem solving. Content in the Tips section is added or modified on a regular basis.

My CareerConnect
My CareerConnect offers a number of tools that visitors can use in their career exploration and job searches. The option Create/Edit My Profile enables the visitor to input and store personal data; the Personal Data Sheet turns this data into a printout for a sighted person to use when helping to fill out a print application. The Resume Builder helps job-seekers formally present themselves. My Calendar lets job-seekers keep up on appointments and deadlines. My Messages leads to a section of the site where users can obtain and read e-mail from mentors.

Technology
The Technology section describes the importance of technology in the lives of workers with visual impairments. Visitors can read about the functions and costs of tools like screen magnification systems, braille technology, synthetic speech systems, optical character recognition, and video magnifiers. They can also find contact information for vendors of assistive technology products.

Resources
In the Resources section, visitors can learn about the materials and tools available to them commercially, from private vendors, and without expense, through the federal and state or provincial government entities. This section has three branches. Useful Links contains helpful web sites; Job Training offers a list of organizations that provide career counseling and job placement for people with visual impairments; the Recommended Reading section offers additional resources for job seekers.

Home
This link refers visitors back to the CareerConnect home page, where they can read (or re-read) the Window on the Working World series, CareerConnect Headline News, and Front & Center. We encourage mentors, as they become more familiar with these sections, to consider submitting articles for publication.

How can I give feedback on the web site?

We welcome your feedback on any aspect of the functionality or content of the website. You may e-mail your suggestions to careerconnect@afb.net or call CareerConnect's toll-free number (888.824.2184).

Where can I read the feedback of others?

In writing this manual, we contacted individuals who had registered on the CareerConnect site during a six-month period. We asked for feedback on their use of the site content. Here are some excerpted comments, which illuminate the array of people using CareerConnect.

Sample Feedback #1: "I am totally blind and work with youth with visual impairments assisting them to learn job readiness skills and find employment...from CareerConnect, I reached two willing individuals who were glad to e-mail one of my consumers who is interested in becoming a pediatrician...Keep up the great work!"

Sample Feedback #2: "I am a person with no visual impairment but I am currently working with a student who is deaf/blind. He is a senior and together we are working on career explorations...If it was not for your site, I do not know if I would have been able to make contact with visually impaired individuals who have knowledge in the various fields my student is interested in pursuing. Thank you."

Sample Feedback #3: "I am twelve years old. I used CareerConnect to find an occupation that I thought would be interesting to learn about. I also wanted to know what kind of work blind or visually impaired adults held. I am interested in the medical field. I had a chance to email a mentor and ask a few questions. I think this service is a great thing because it gives adults the opportunity to see what other blind people's jobs are and give them an opportunity to ask questions. I thank the mentors for all their time and effort to help blind or visually impaired people find jobs. Thank you for your time and support."

Sample Feedback #4: "My main purpose for registering for your service was to actually find contact with truly successful blind employees and businessmen and women...I will continue querying your database, and seeking further information. I think the articles are beneficial, and I appreciate all the work you are doing on this."

Sample Feedback #5: "Hello, I would like to comment on how much this site has helped me. I have gotten a lot of questions I have had answered and I have also formed a wonderful friendship with my mentor. Your site is amazing. Thank you so much."

Sample Feedback #6: "I have conducted several, at least ten or fifteen, satisfying informational interviews by using the mentors program at AFB...I do fully enjoy the opportunity to contact the mentors at AFB CareerConnect...They seem interested in my welfare and success...Thanks for your interest in my use of this program. Thanks also for personal help you have provided!"

How can I contribute to CareerConnect or AFB?

The contribution you make as a CareerConnect mentor supports AFB's mission, which is to eliminate the inequities faced by the ten million Americans who are blind or visually impaired. If you would like to contribute more (in person or fiscally), please feel free to contact CareerConnect at careerconnect@afb.net or call toll-free (888.824.2184). To make a donation to AFB, please contact AFB's corporate office in New York, toll-free 800.232.5463, or visit our online donation page.

Section Four: Additional Resources

In this section of the guide, we describe our parent organization, the American Foundation for the Blind. In addition, we introduce you to two related programs at AFB: the American Foundation for the Blind Technology and Employment Center in Huntington (AFB TECH), and the National Employment Center. We also provide a list of traditional and e-mentoring projects, for your reference.

American Foundation for the Blind (AFB)

The American Foundation for the Blind (AFB), with headquarters in New York City, has been a pioneer in developing services for people who are blind or visually impaired for over 80 years. AFB has multiple divisions across the country, including a Governmental Relations office in Washington, DC, a National Literacy Center in Atlanta and a National Aging Center in Dallas. AFB is a leading resource for people who are blind or visually impaired, the organizations that serve them, and the general public. Thanks to the efforts of Helen Keller and generations of other AFB staff, the organization has achieved such milestones as:

  • Standardizing the braille code;
  • Publishing textbooks for university programs;
  • Developing books on tape;
  • Testing and supporting the development of voting machines that allow blind or visually impaired people the opportunity to vote privately; and
  • Playing a significant role in the creation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The American Foundation for the Blind continues to serve as the premier institution in the nation by:

  • Promoting new programs for those working with blind or visually impaired individuals;
  • Serving as an information clearinghouse using a multimedia approach;
  • Educating the public, including employers, about the abilities of people with visual impairments;
  • Educating the public about the help that is available for visually impaired individuals and their caregivers;
  • Encouraging innovation in technology and service delivery options;
  • Promoting universal design of products; and
  • Shaping public policy as it impacts people who are blind or visually impaired.

AFB TECH

AFB's newest office in Huntington, West Virginia is the AFB Technology and Employment Center at Huntington (AFB TECH). The home of CareerConnect, AFB TECH is devoted to the career and technology concerns of individuals with visual impairments. The center is designed to help individuals with visual impairments explore their career options, find employed mentors with visual impairments, and learn about the technology that enables mentors to be successful both on the job and in their daily lives.

AFB TECH also maintains a Product Evaluation Laboratory where technicians work with software and equipment designers to develop mainstream products (such as Internet browsers, cellular telephones, voting machines, and ATMs) which are accessible to blind and visually impaired people. The technicians also evaluate assistive technology products and provide objective product reviews, so consumers who are blind or have low vision can make informed choices about which products best meet their needs.

National Employment Center (NEC)

The NEC is a division of AFB located in San Francisco, California. NEC staff are involved in an array of projects, from developing a national standardized curriculum for assistive technology to collaborating with mainstream corporations to assist workers who are losing their vision. To encourage managers and corporate leaders to hire blind and visually impaired workers, the NEC developed a short video, "A Hire Vision: What Employers Want to Know About Hiring Visually Impaired Workers." [Copies are available upon request.] The NEC staff also developed a set of recruitment materials for employers entitled Are You Looking for a Few Good Workers?, which discusses job performance, tax assistance for employers, and the interviewing process. This packet is available in electronic format on the AFB web site. Hard copies are available in bulk via the AFB online bookstore.

Organizations and Suppliers

Some of the more popular resources in the field of visual impairment are listed below with their website addresses. This is intended as a quick reference guide. For a comprehensive listing of organizations and services, please refer to the AFB Directory of Services for Blind and Visually Impaired Persons in the United States and Canada, mentioned above.

Consumer and Parent Groups

American Council of the Blind (ACB) (http://www.acb.org/),
National Federation of the Blind (NFB) (http://www.nfb.org/),
National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (www.nfb.org/nopbc),
National Association for Parents of Children with Visual Impairments (NAPVI) (http://www.napvi.org/).

Organizations

American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) (http://www.afb.org/)
American Printing House for the Blind (APH) (http://www.aph.org/)
Hadley School for the Blind (http://www.hadley-school.org/)
Helen Keller National Center for Deaf-Blind Youths and Adults (http://www.helenkeller.org/)
Lighthouse International (http://www.lighthouse.org/)
National Industries for the Blind (http://www.nib.org/)
Smith-Kettlewell Eye Research Institute (www.ski.org/rehab)

Books and Reading Materials

American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults (http://www.actionfund.org/)
Blindskills (http://www.blindskills.com/)
National Braille Press (http://www.nbp.org/)
National Library Services for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (www.loc.gov/nls)
Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic (http://www.rfbd.org/)

Traditional & E-Mentoring Projects with Disability-Specific Interest

As you learn more about CareerConnect, you may become curious about other traditional and e-mentoring programs. The following list includes both general programs and those designed specifically for individuals with disabilities. This is not a comprehensive list, but an overview of the types of programs which are currently available in the United States. We have included a few program synopses to serve as a quick reference before you begin your web search. Please note that we are neither endorsing nor evaluating any of these programs, we are simply presenting them for your information.

Mentoring Programs

Adaptive Environments (www.adaptenv.org/access design/ementoring.php)
Read more about Adaptive Environments.

American Physical Therapy Association (www.apta.org/advocacy/)

Be A Mentor (http://www.beamentor.org/)

Best Buddies International Program/e-buddies (http://www.ebuddies.org/)
Read more about Best Buddies International.

Big Brothers Big Sisters Association of Bucks County (http://www.bbbsbc.org/)

Cargill (www.cargill.com/commun/email.htm)

Catholic Big Brothers Big Sisters of Los Angeles (http://www.catholicbigbrothers.org/ )
Read more about Catholic Big Brothers Big Sisters of Los Angeles.

Connecting To Success (http://ici.umn.edu/ementoring/r esearch.html)
Read more about Connecting To Success.

Cyber-Sisters (http://www.cyber-sisters.org/)

Digital Heroes Campaign (www.digitalheroes.org/dhc)

DO-IT (Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking, and Technology) (www.washin gton.edu/doit/brochures/programs/mentoring.html)
Read more about DO-IT.

Four Directions: Electronic Mentoring Project (www.tapr.org/4d/info.html)

The Fulfillment Fund (www.fulfillment.org/programs/teenaccess/)
Read more about The Fulfillment Fund.

Girls E-Mentoring Program: GEM-SET (www.uic.edu/orgs/gem-set)

Electronic Emissary Project (http://emissary.ots.utex as.edu/emissary/about.html)
IBM MentorPlace (http://www.mentorplace.org/)

icouldbe (http://www.icouldbe.org/

iMentor (http://www.imentor.org/)

International Telementor Program (http://www.telementor.org/)

Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of Los Angeles (www.jbbla.org/)

Los Angeles Team Mentoring Inc. (http://www.latm.org/)

MentorNet (http://www.mentornet.net/)

Netmentors.Org (http://www.netmentors.org/)

Take Stock in Children (http://www.takestockinchildren.com/ )

Telementoring Young Women in Science, Engineering & Computing (www.edc.org/CCT/projects_summary)

Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired/TVI mentoring program (www.tsbvi.edu/pds/vimentors-de sc.html)

Youthfriends (http://www.youthfriends.org/)

(Note: This mentor program list was compiled by Canter & Carrillo-Angino, 2003)

CareerConnect Documents

Terms of Service Agreement

Mentor Registration Form

Tips on Answering Queries

Are You Looking For a Few Good Workers?

A Hire Vision

Acknowledgements

We wish to acknowledge and thank the Jessie Ball duPont Fund of Florida, the Huntington Foundation of West Virginia, and the Five Bridges Foundation of California for the financial assistance that made it possible for AFB staff to research, compile, write, and bring these materials to the CareerConnect web site.

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