4 E’s: Employment

I’ll start this post off with a couple of links. First, check out an interview that the author of Adventures In Low Vision conducted with me, a Quick Q&A, as she calls it. It was fun.

Second, if you haven’t, read last year’s post for National White Cane Safety Day, which was October 15th.
A Big Piece of Freedom
I suppose most of that content is still relevant.

And now on to today’s main topic: the second E, Employment. I’m probably not the only one who used to dream that I would have some kind of meaningful job that paid enough for me to get by and met all of my other needs as well. What that would look like, I wasn’t certain. Counselor? Teacher? (I did dabble in education for a really short time when starting my undergraduate career, but only had to think to come to my senses with regards to the feasibility of that for me.) Perhaps some kind of writing?

As so many seem to, I completed my Bachelor’s in Psychology with a minor in Communication studies, figuring that I could somehow go into that particular field. And then, life happened.

My main concern once I gained the age of adulthood, which in my case wasn’t really till I turned 23 or so, was wanting to be independent. To that end, I scoured the Internet, worked with Job Placement Specialists employed by the North Carolina Division of Services for the Blind, and took other actions to try and find something that would fit my many and varied interests. Sadly though, I encountered discrimination and an unwillingness by most to accept the idea that though my eyeballs may not function, I could still bring a lot to any organization.

Finally, as so many of us are driven to do, I took a position with one of the National Industries for the Blind (NIB) -affiliated agencies. These and the NISH, once known as the National Industries for the Severely Handicapped but no longer so known as that terminology is outdated, were some of the first organizations to allow persons with disabilities to do something other than perhaps just sitting at home all day.

Aside from a first attempt at graduate school that lasted from August of 2009 till December of 2011 (at UNC, MS in Rehabilitation Counseling and Psychology), I have been within the realm of the NIB for all of my working career. I was from 2003 till 09 at Lions Services of Charlotte, and since January of 2013 I have been at Durham’s LC Industries.

While I long to do something more fulfilling someday, I also acknowledge that I am fortunate to be working at all. According to a page via AFB Career Connect, which has what they admit is older information by now but which I’d be surprised if it has changed much, only about 30% of legally blind individuals of working age are employed. The percentage jumps to 45 if you have enough vision to be classified as not legally blind but are still of low vision. I do not know for certain, but would venture to say that a majority of us work in sheltered, noncompetitive positions such as what I do now. The really good stuff is so rare for us that I probably know many of the people who are out working within the regular workforce.

With that said though, I think we are in a more hopeful time than ever. The technology exists that can connect us in such a way that most people on the other side of the screen don’t notice a difference. With the proper training, we can reach a level that in some cases exceeds that of our sighted peers. For instance, some blind folks are able to read documents really quickly by setting their screen-reader of choice to 100%, and to actually understand the material as it flies by. I’ll admit that I’m not one of that club, but I can certainly take it in quickly either via synthetic speech or in Braille with my electronic display.

To that last part, the ability to read Braille, it does seem to be a major component for those who do get better positions. It is not the only indicator, and also is not strictly required for one to experience success, as some have demonstrated. But just as with a sighted person, being able to actually read the material oneself rather than simply perceiving it in audio helps with spelling and comprehension. It also would be of use if in, say, a call center. Should I become a writer, as I hope to someday, I plan to acquire an even better Braille display than I currently possess.

The era of the sheltered workshop has been since approximately 1935, about 80 years. For various reasons, these agencies are likely to be phased out over the coming years. It is my ardent hope then that all who are able and wish to seek competitive, rewarding work will find a more welcoming environment over the next 80 years. This is helped by constantly working to change perceptions of what we can do in the eyes of the public, which I would say is my main mission.

4 E’s: Education

Hello, and welcome to Blindness Awareness Month! What exactly this means I confess to not entirely knowing. But I suppose the main idea is to continue to make society aware of the fact that we’re here, we function, and despite little or no use of our eyes, we are still quite capable of accomplishing great things. So in my clunky way, I will try to highlight how I and some of my peers have done this over the years. Of course, some things will be very much related to other posts I’ve already created, but well that’s part of the point right?

First, I’ve had an idea that came to me because someone asked that I feature their page on my blog. I’ve created a Disability-related Resources and Favorite Blogs page that I will modify as time goes on. Please take a look and tell me what you think.

So my idea for this month is to write about the Four E’s: education, employment, enrichment, and entertainment. I hope something I say is useful.

In my previous post about this subject entitled ADA 25: Blind Learning , I wrote a lot about blind people’s changing ability to receive an equal education within the public school system, as opposed to specific schools for the blind. I think in this piece, I will take a more in-depth look at how my own education, both book-related and physical, unfolded against the backdrop of the 1980’s and 1990’s with its burgeoning technology.

It’s funny: in my earliest days, I hadn’t even known there was a significant difference between me and the majority of my classmates. This despite the fact that I would usually leave the classroom everyday for some one-on-one instruction with what we called a Resource teacher, but who is now more often called a Teacher of the Visually Impaired (TVI). (It surprises me that this terminology is still used actually, as many don’t prefer to be called visually impaired even if they are low-vision, but there you have it.)

In this classroom, as probably mentioned in my prior post about the subject, there were all of our special equipment for learning and using Braille, as well as printing out our work.

RELATED: Wanna take a gander at learning some Braille? Check out this post.

The first, we’ll just go with TVI for the sake of simplicity here, was one of those mean, old-time folks who would whack hands with paddle if need be. This usually came about if I continued to insist that “I can’t!” as I so often did in those days.

It’s gonna be a crazy world for you out there,” she said. “So it is very important that you believe yourself able to do whatever you set your mind to! So I’m gonna do whatever I have to in order to get that through your thick head.”

I still love that woman for her dedication, and for what she managed to teach me. I saw her much later in life, once I’d gotten into university, and she was so proud of and happy for me..

A bit of a sidenote/amusing anecdote: once she recorded herself asking me how many legs a cat has. I was in the third grade, and we had a cat as a family pet, so why I responded with “16” will always be beyond me. Mutant cats?

In about the fourth grade, she gave way to another TVI who oversaw my progress pretty much for the remaining time I spent in the Charlotte Mecklenburg (NC) school system. She had a softer, but no less effective way of guiding me along my learning journey. Rather than whack my hand for expressions of doubt, she rewarded positive occurrences, sometimes with crackers or lunches, or my favorite cakes from the cafeteria. Hey, I’m easy to please! It was at about this time, in conjunction with my fantastic fourth and fifth-grade teachers, that I really began to take off.

That’s the mental aspect of my education. Important, of course, but not the only thing. There was also the mastery of body, through exercise and activity. As with everyone else, I achieved this through Physical Education (P.E) classes.

I have distinct memories of these classes, especially in elementary school. We were gifted an incredible individual named Mr. Beattie who insisted that we participate in classes to the fullest extent possible. I remember him attempting to teach me how to properly shoot a basketball.

“Ok, take the ball and position your hands like this.” He then placed my fingers as indicated. “Now, shoot it up and forward!”

I shot it up, all right. Then boing! Right off of my dome. “ouch!”

“No, I said forward!” he said, a touch of laughter in his voice.

Up, up, and down to meet dome again. *sigh* this seems to be a hopeless cause.

“Ok,” he said, taking the ball from my hand and sliding me back a bit. “I want you to try shooting it into the trash can.”

Oh yeah, I understood that concept easily enough. Still, when I attempted to aim at the basket, boing! On accident, I did manage to flick my wrists just so a couple of times and drop it through the hoop, but I didn’t fully grasp the idea until my uncle got my cousin and me a diminutive goal with small ball that we could feel.

“Ah, now I got it!” (My cousin and I wiled away many hours, and nearly decapitated each other, playing games on that goal. So much fun).

When it came to football and baseball, Mr. Beattie also helped us to be involved in these sports. In football, I would snap it to the quarterback, pushing it backward between my legs. I didn’t really understand the purpose of this activity, but did it faithfully anyway.

In baseball, I would hit the ball. I can’t remember exactly, but I guess it was mounted to a tee. Then I’d run the bases with a sighted guide. Well? It’s better than just sitting on the sidelines entirely, I’d say.

So thanks to the strong-minded adults in my life, I was and have always been both physically and mentally active. As with so many things, it worries me a bit that not only blind kids, but kids in general are experiencing less of the former. And I only hope that there are still some caring instructors out there who will take their place in a child’s memories as mine have, by giving freely of their time and energy to move them forward.

Falling Into Autumn

And so we have arrived at that time of year, when it can rain relentlessly over a significant amount of time. I saw a stat on Twitter that suggested that if we get rain tomorrow, which is in the forecast, it will set an all-time record for consecutive days of precipitation here in the Triangle. Oh oh. This means that, aside from a walk to pay rent yesterday and a brief period out today, I’ve been confined to these four walls.

And what have I been up to? Well, pondering how to begin seriously laying the course for my next moves in life. It is looking increasingly like I will make a real attempt to enter graduate school, this time in Communications as I probably should have last time. I did a search for Master’s programs, and found one administered entirely online by Queens University of Charlotte, in my hometown. Of course given that it is in fact online, it would hardly matter if the program were on the other side of the country.

I’ve begun having conversations with someone who states her position as Program Manager there, and am starting the process of gathering the documentation I need. She has given me a helpful outline that I will attempt to stick to that should help me finish applying well in advance of the next sessions which get underway in January.

This program puts a lot of emphasis on blogging/social media, networking, understanding audience, and using this knowledge to assist a given organization. This is exactly what I’m looking for.

I do wonder about how the dynamics work when these types of classes are all online. But well the truth these days is that even so-called “on-campus” classes are at least partially done via the Internet. It’s just the new and preeminent paradigm. And of course technology has advanced so much over the last few years that I doubt there’s a whole lot of difference anyway.

If I start now, I suppose I’d finish around the end of 2017. While so doing, I hope to find internship opportunities and make other sorts of connections that will lead me to possible career options once I have concluded.

I know that the biggest challenge will be paying for it. I’m certain that the Division of Services for the Blind will not cover it this time, so I’ll likely have to take out student loans and hope for the best. Still, it’s just time to jumpstart my life and make some stuff happen. I plan to augment the skills I have already gained by taking HTML and WordPress courses with the Cisco Academy for the Vision Impaired a couple of years ago.

And that’s a bit of what I’ve had going on of late. Other than that, I just sprawled on my couch or sat near the computer, reading two different books, as has been the case throughout my 50-book, 50-author challenge: A Walk in the Woods, by Bill Bryson; and Shadows over Paradise, by Isabel Wolff. I like them both for their deep descriptions of nature, but am especially liking the second with its talk of life on tropical Java as experienced by Dutch colonialists just prior to World War 2. An Englishwoman is charged with encapsulating the much older Dutch woman’s story in order to sort of ghost-write her memoir, and as far as I can tell, the story will become a lot bleaker as the Japanese take over and make everyone subservient. It will be an interesting read though, because I’ll get to see a lot of the technique involved in the craft of “Ghosting,” which I may well try to do someday.

So there you have it, a sort of stream-of-consciousness post in order to maintain my burgeoning streak of at least one per week. I suspect that things are really about to get crazy, so stay tuned for the fun.