If you are looking for a classic example of how networking, in its simplest form, can result in almost magical win-win results for everyone involved, then let me introduce you to James Michaels and Adam Rodenbeck. You might say that their networking experience has led to a brand-new training program for blind and low vision job seekers, preparing people for employment in tens of thousands of companies nationwide, and at salaries currently boasting a mid-range of $85,000.

I wanted to follow this thread, find out if this program and its potential for stimulating employment offering attractive pay was something AccessWorld readers needed to learn more about. This article is the result of my exploration. First, however, let's get back to that chance encounter between two beep ball enthusiasts.

The Power of Networking

Years ago, when James Michaels was a social worker at the Indiana School for the Blind, Adam was one of his stellar students. Fast-forward to two blind guys socializing at a beep baseball tournament in Texas and you have the seeds of what would eventually become BosmaForce.

Adam Rodenbeck was working on a degree in computer science when James Michaels, now Vice President of rehabilitation programs at Bosma, encouraged his former student to consider coming back to Indianapolis to work in the agency's assistive technology department. Bosma is a full-service rehabilitation agency for people with visual impairments. In both residential and community-based programs, Bosma provides training in daily living skills, orientation and mobility, and, of course, computers. Adam did indeed go to work for Bosma, initially as an instructor in its assistive technology program. Before long, however, he moved to the information and technology department. That was when he learned to use Salesforce, cloud-based software used by some 150,000 for-profit and not-for-profit companies. The software was fairly accessible to Adam, an adept user of the JAWS screen-reading software. He loved the software and fell into the role of what he calls an "accidental developer." When he became a Certified Salesforce Developer, Adam eventually went to work for another company, a for-profit consulting firm also based in Indianapolis, and from there, for Salesforce itself. Recently, Adam Rodenbeck, 35, made the move from Indiana to San Francisco, to settle into his new role as accessibility specialist, a member of the accessibility team for Salesforce Inc., the company ranked number one in Fortune's best 100 companies to work for in 2018. Rodenbeck's work station consists of an audio mixer with three channels for audio output from his Windows-based PC with JAWS, a Mac, and an iPad, as well as an Alva braille display. As a certified Salesforce developer, he is working constantly on product usability and accessibility, communicating with designers and engineers. When you consider the high unemployment rate among blind Americans, you might say that Adam Rodenbeck is one blind guy who is defying the odds. And he is fervently hoping to see other blind and visually impaired job seekers follow the Salesforce path.

The Birth of BosmaForce

Bosma Enterprises has an impressive track record with regard to connecting blind and low vision people with jobs. The majority of employees in its industries program, making a variety of consumer products, are blind. More than 50 percent of the entire agency staff at all levels are blind or have low vision. Although some training for employment goes on at Bosma every day, James Michaels has held a long dream of launching a training program that could move blind people directly from training to working. Adam Rodenbeck was well aware of that passion, and due to his own success with Salesforce, had come to share it. When Rodenbeck met TJ McElroy at a Salesforce event, a mere fantasy began to shape itself into a plan.

TJ McElroy and Richard Holleman, both veterans and both visually impaired, had worked for a now defunct organization called Veterans Workshop, for over two years. Their role? Teaching others online to use Salesforce!

Adam Rodenbeck introduced TJ McElroy to James Michaels and before long, BosmaForce was born.

TJ McElroy uses JAWS. Richard Holleman uses ZoomText. Together, on behalf of Veterans Workshop, they had taught several individuals to use Salesforce. Now, they were going to use the same teaching methods to train people who are blind.

First Class

The first class for blind and low vision students learning to use Salesforce began in April 2018. By August, three of the four who had completed the course had passed the exam and become certified (the fourth was scheduled to take her exam at the time of this writing). Just passing that certification exam, say seasoned Salesforce administrators is no small feat. Some people working successfully in Salesforce administrator positions never became certified. "Some people," as Richard Holleman summarizes it, "simply don't test well."

And yet, the first Bosma-sponsored class and first-ever class of blind and low vision Salesforce students are now certified.

The class is entirely online. TJ McElroy happens to live in Indiana, not far from Bosma Enterprises; the other instructor, Richard Holleman, lives in Oklahoma. Although this first batch of students happened to reside mostly in Indiana, students can enroll from anywhere in the country.

The class meets four hours a day, via Adobe Connect. Since Salesforce is cloud-based, students can be working from whatever platform they prefer: Windows, Mac, Linux, using speech, magnification, or braille. In this first class, all access approaches were represented.

Salesforce software helps companies track customers, products, sales contacts, and more. For Bosma Enterprises, it was useful in tracking client assessments. At recent graduate Robert Taylor's internship with a service dog organization, it is useful in tracking all of the skills acquired, medical incidents and records, and behavioral notes recorded for each dog. A rich and robust software, Salesforce is a way of keeping track of any information important and relevant to any given organization. Administrators can generate reports, charts, records, and more.

After School

Following the 18-week course, part of TJ McElroy's role is to find internships. Internships are mostly unpaid but provide experience in a real-world environment to use the skills gained in training.

Brian Clark, 49, who was a system administrator until losing his sight four years ago, says that the Trailhead platform used for learning is a brilliant concept. The training is "gamified", and thus has its own built-in incentives to keep learners moving forward. Trailhead offers 320 modules, with learners earning a badge at completion of each module. Three of the four students who had completed the first class with Bosma had earned more than 100 badges, Clark himself was at 120 as of this writing. When he first lost his sight, Clark says he couldn't imagine using computers any more. Now, as a proficient JAWS user and Certified Salesforce Administrator, he says he can do pretty much everything he could do as a sighted user. Some things take longer and, he says, despite the high usability of Salesforce, there are occasions when a JAWS user meets a roadblock. So far, calling on Adam Rodenbeck at those times has usually led to finding a solution.

Although he has only been blind for four years, Clark is not only a talented computer user and Certified Salesforce Administrator, but also a fine example of someone who has made the successful transition from a sighted to blind perspective. Not only does he need to work to support his family, but he is passionate about finding a job to serve as evidence to other blind people entering the program that a blind person can be competitively employed as a Salesforce administrator.

Robert Taylor, who has had limited vision all his life, took the training in his quest for a new career. For many years, he was co-owner of a company in California, selling and installing complicated phone systems to corporate customers. "The environment has changed," Taylor says, "and there is no longer a market for $70,000 PBX systems." He had been a programmer early in his career, so after relocating to Indiana, he took a course to update his programming skills. When his vocational rehabilitation counselor recommended the BosmaForce training, Taylor agreed.

As one who has sufficient vision to drive a car with a bioptic lens under certain conditions, Taylor says he was especially impressed with his classmates who mastered the skills using JAWS with speech and/or braille. At 66, he believes that both age and vision will add challenge to his job search, but says that taking the BosmaForce training has given him more confidence than he has had in years.

Is BosmaForce For You?

Predictions are that by the year 2022, there will be 3.3 million jobs available for those certified as Salesforce administrators, developers, or other Salesforce categories. Average salaries are reported to be $85,000, beginning in the $40,000 to $60,000 range. Everyone I spoke with for this article who was involved with the cloud-based software was clearly enjoying using it.

With 150,000 companies using Salesforce, jobs can be found just about anywhere in both the for-profit and not-for-profit sectors. While many jobs are onsite, some employers allow Salesforce administrators to work from home.

Since all training is conducted online, students can participate from anywhere, as long as they have a computer and access to the internet. When training is completed with Bosma, students receive BosmaForce certification for having completed 320 hours of training, SalesForce certification when they pass the exam, and assistance in locating an internship. Although vocational rehabilitation typically pays for the training, James Michaels says that there will also be some scholarships available.

Students need to be fairly proficient in using their access technology and navigating websites.

The second BosmaForce class begins in October, so another will assemble sometime in early 2019.

As Adam Rodenbeck sees it, his accidental introduction to Salesforce, becoming its first blind aficionado, ultimately going to work for Salesforce, Inc., and now helping to connect James Michaels with two blind Salesforce instructors, is like the completion of a circle. Everyone involved is fervently hoping that it will be a circle that results in satisfying and well-paying careers for lots of people with visual impairments.

For More Information

Anyone can test drive the Salesforce experience by visiting the Salesforce Trailhead site and working through a training module or two.

If you have questions about enrollment, visit the Bosma Salesforce training site or call 888-567-3422.

This article is made possible in part by generous funding from the James H. and Alice Teubert Charitable Trust, Huntington, West Virginia.

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Deborah Kendrick
Article Topic
Access to Employment