The American Foundation for the Blind CareerConnect program staff has been extremely busy over the last year updating and adding new CareerConnect site features. In March 2012, AFB redesigned its website, and CareerConnect took this opportunity to reorganize and refresh its many layers of content to provide job seekers with vision loss even more information and resources. This article provides a tour of the website, and provides information on where CareerConnect is headed in the future.
Years ago, CareerConnect began simply as a database of successfully employed people with vision loss who could give advice on employment and technology. The program has since grown exponentially, and is now staffed by Joe Strechay and Detra Bannister, two professionals dedicated to creating robust and informative employment-related content, curricula, and resources for teens and adults.
When thinking about your future work, one of the first steps is exploring career possibilities. The Explore Careers section of the CareerConnect site is a great place to begin this process.
There are many benefits to doing a thorough career exploration before you start your job search. Job seeking can be a long and challenging process, so it's important that you've done the research to ensure that the positions you do pursue are right for you, your background, and your interests. Career exploration will help you avoid:
- Applying for jobs for which you don't meet minimum training or education requirements
- Pursuing positions in a profession, field, or work environment not suited to your personality, values, or lifestyle
- Going for jobs where the average salary and/or opportunities for promotion do not match your career plan
- Ending up in a position where the reality of the work is not what you thought it would be
The Explore Careers section has two robust tools to offer to people preparing for employment: The Jobseeker's Tool Kit and Career Clusters.
Job Seeker's Toolkit
The Job Seeker's Toolkit is a self-paced, online course about navigating the employment process as a person who is blind or visually impaired. The course guides participants through thirty-three lessons and assignments. The tool allows users to save their assignments and associate a mentor to their profile. The Jobseeker's Toolkit has been very successful and is accessed by over 1,000 visually impaired jobseekers each year.
Career Clusters is made up of groupings of types of jobs or career fields. Visitors to the site can navigate through a cluster to see a list of jobs in the field, with related descriptions and career profiles. Career Clusters currently encompasses the fields of Law, Education, Counseling, and Healthcare, with more fields to be added soon. Each Career Cluster also has an associated message board where questions can be asked to professionals working in that field.
When site visitors Explore by Career Clusters, they can do an advanced keyword search through careers to find detailed information. Based on the O-Net Online database, the information provided has been customized for CareerConnect users. This database provides information about educational requirements and job duties.
From networking to guidance seeking, having a successful job search often depends on forming relationships with other people. The Make Connections section of CareerConnect offers ways to interact with others who can assist you in the job search process. CareerConnect offers a few ways to help you meet people who might prove to be important to your employment process.
The CareerConnect Mentor Program
With mentors from the US, Canada, and the United Kingdom, the CareerConnect Mentor Program puts you directly in touch with a mentor in your field of interest. Mentors are professionals with vision loss who have volunteered their time and expertise to the AFB community and are available to answer questions and provide advice to job seekers about employer expectations; job requirements, education, and training; salaries; and the future prospects of their field.
Since our mentors all have some level of vision impairment, they are fantastic sources of firsthand information about workplace accommodations, access technologies, the disclosure process, the pitfalls and triumphs associated with the social aspects of working, and any other questions you might have about entering the workforce or changing careers as a person with vision loss.
CareerConnect Message Boards
Ask and answer employment-related questions on the CareerConnect message boards. Share information and experiences on a variety of topics with people with vision loss who are working or are in the midst of the employment process. You'll need to register to post to the boards, so if you haven't already, set up an account today.
Find a Job
The Find a Job section of CareerConnect offers some great resources for a high-quality job search. There is a link to Job Search Preparation which contains articles about conducting an effective job search. In this section you will find Ten Steps to Starting a Job Search, which provides advice as you begin the search and contemplate the future. You will find other articles about organizing your time and work space, finding job leads, and doing research on employers.
In the Getting Hired part of the Find a Job section, you also will find valuable information on negotiating assistance, disclosing your disability, answering interview questions, and preparing a résumé. All people with disabilities wrestle with disclosure, and this resource provides positives and negatives of disclosure at specific times during the employment process.
Succeed at Work
The Succeed at Work section of CareerConnect offers articles and videos specific to maintaining employment. Here you can also find the ever-popular Aaron's Adventures in Employment videos and other teen related multimedia on this topic. Virtual Worksites give you examples of how employees with vision loss can perform their duties in a variety of work environments. Due to differences in visual functioning and job responsibilities, not all workers who are blind or visually impaired will need or use the same accommodations. The virtual worksites graphically demonstrate the range of tools and equipment that might be helpful to an employee who is blind or has low vision. Each page contains a graphic with embedded links that connect you to detailed information about the accommodations, including product reviews, product evaluations, and, in some instances, videos of the products in use.
During the past year, Detra Bannister has been working busily to reorganize the ever popular Our Stories section, formerly called Success Stories, to follow the Career Clusters structure more closely. The feedback about this reorganization has been quite positive. The section includes written and audio pieces that highlight our mentors and other successful people who are blind or visually impaired.
Lesson Plans for Professionals and Teachers
For quite some time, professionals in the field have been asking for ideas and assistance with lesson plans, and CareerConnect has been listening. The newest section of CareerConnect, Lesson Plans for Teachers and Professionals, offers lesson plans structured around transition activities created by AFB's good friend, Shannon Carollo. The first set of lessons is built around preparation for work. Over the next year, we hope to develop100 additional lesson plans.
CareerConnect also offers featured areas that provide informative information and linkages to other resources.
National Industries for the Blind (NIB) partnered with CareerConnect to offer the opportunity to search job openings from the associated industries for the blind programs around the United States through the NIB CareersWithVision website. This resource also allows a job-seeker to submit a generated résumé from the user's My CareerConnect profile for a specific position in the NIB database.
In July of this year, CareerConnect launched its own blog, where you'll find posts each week from Joe Strechay, Detra Bannister, mentors, and professionals from the field. The blog creates the opportunity to provide users with relevant and timely information, advice, and updates on employment issues. Specifically, you will find information about traveling independently, dressing for success, and even a little about Christine Ha (winner of "Master Chef," Season 3) and her cookbook.
The Job Listings section on CareerConnect offers a variety of jobs posted by friends of AFB.
Resources for Employers
The Resources for Employers section is designed to be a practical guide for employers, providing useful information about hiring, and working with, blind or visually impaired workers. The myths surrounding blindness that may raise concerns for employers are discussed, as well as the benefits that can result when employers hire or train an employee with vision loss.
The topics in this section will provide answers to questions and give you the information and resources you need given your work situation.
AFB partnered with the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB) to create a section called CareerConnect Canada) which allows Canadian users an experience more specific to their geographical location.
Looking to the Future
In the coming year, CareerConnect will be adding many new features. Thanks to grant-funded projects, we will be adding more new content and features, including the development of a social networking, Facebook-like profile platform located within the My CareerConnect area for registered users. This new platform will allow for a more unique and lasting mentoring experience through the Web. With this new platform, users will be able to post questions to mentors' profiles and even more easily connect with them.
Another exciting feature will be the new CareerConnect iOS app, which will provide some of the program's popular content. CareerConnect is following in AccessWorld's footsteps to bring you an easier mobile access point to the Our Stories and the Lesson Plans for Teachers and Professionals sections. In addition, be on the lookout for other CareerConnect apps specific to other popular content, such as the Job Seeker's Toolkit.
We invite you, your friends, family, students, and colleagues with vision loss to visit CareerConnect and see firsthand how its resources can be of benefit on the job hunt.