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Fall 2004 Table of Contents
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So, What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up?

By Karen Wolffe, Ph.D., Austin, TX

Abstract: AFB has a new feature on its website, CareerConnect, that helps individuals learn about career opporutnities for individuals with visual impairments.

Key Words: News & Views, blind, deafblind, careers, job exploration, mentor

Such a simple question, "So, what do you want to be when you grow up?" and such a difficult one for many children and young adults with visual impairments to answer. Unfortunately, the expectations of many in the larger society are that young people with disabilities are not likely to go to work when they grow up. Hence, they frequently don't even bother to ask children with disabilities the "What do you want to be when you grow up?" question. If they do, it is usually with a preconceived idea of what they think the child can do. So if the child should be so bold as to say doctor, policeman, fireman, or some other job that the average person cannot fathom a person with a visual impairment doing; the response from the adult may well be, "Oh, honey, I don't think that's possible, but have you thought about working with computers or answering the phone - I know that someone without sight can do those jobs." It's rare that someone will actually encourage the child to dream or consider related jobs - and that's what children with visual impairments need from adults - the prerogative to dream and the support to investigate broadly in the career fields that appeal to them.

The "So, what do you want to be when you grow up?" question begs an answer, and the reality is that blind and visually impaired children can look forward to doing almost anything when they grow up - just like their peers with good eyesight. Technology has opened many career doors that were once closed and adults with visual impairments can be found who are working in many, many different kinds of jobs, from physicist to florist. How though can students with visual impairments, their parents or caregivers, and teachers find successfully employed adults and learn about the jobs that they are doing as well as find information about related careers? The answer is to access the American Foundation for the Blind's latest career exploration and job seeking skills tool, AFB CareerConnect™. CareerConnect is a free, fully accessible and interactive web site (www.afb.org/careerconnect) that hosts a mentor database of blind and visually impaired adults who are successfully employed and willing to share their experiences about how they got their jobs and how they do their jobs.

AFB CareerConnect™

When you first visit the CareerConnect (http://www.afb.org/careerconnect/) site, you will see a logo, which looks like a window with four panes - one with a globe and the other three with the letter W in them. This is the logo for a new feature on the CareerConnect site, Window on the Working World. Window on the Working World presents first-hand accounts of jobs being performed by individuals who are blind or have low vision. The feature is changed every other month and articles that come down are archived under the mentor option on the web site. Also on the home page, you will find an option to register. Please do register - it's free and only by registering can you experience the full power of the web site. By registering, you are able to make contact with mentors and access the interactive components of the site. When you first visit CareerConnect, I suggest that you take advantage of the overview of the site - it will help you understand fully what's available on the site and how best to use the site's features to accomplish your goals. For visitors who are visually impaired, the home page also offers an opportunity to become a CareerConnect mentor. There's always room for more successfully employed blind and visually impaired adults - if you know someone or if you are visually impaired and working, please consider becoming a mentor or encouraging the person you know to do so.

On the CareerConnect web site, there is also general information about careers (under the Careers tab) that has been imported from the federal government's career databases and reformatted for ease of navigation with speech or braille output devices. The general career information includes the job category that an occupation resides in and a general description of the most common tasks a worker in that occupation performs. There is also information about other typical job titles in that particular job category and a list of related job categories. In addition, there is a link following the job tasks list to any mentors that are available within the CareerConnect database. There are also links to any of the related job categories listed that the site user would like to investigate further.

Following the general career information section, is an option to connect with mentors (under the Mentors tab). This is where you can contact a mentor directly or search for a mentor by city, state or province, key word (law, nursing, computer programming, and so forth), vision status (no useful vision, some useful vision), or member identification number (more about that later!), and you have a choice as to whether you want to include mentors whose former jobs match the job in which you are currently interested. Before you contact a mentor, however, I encourage you to read Tips on Contacting a Mentor. This tip sheet gives you examples of some of the questions that you may want to pose to a prospective mentor.

In addition to the information about careers and mentors, the CareerConnect web site offers tips for job seekers (under the Tips tab). The tips are divided into three broad categories: finding a job, getting hired, and keeping a job once you've been hired. Under each category, there are short articles or tip sheets on subjects ranging from organizing your workspace to deciding when to disclose that you have a disability in the job search process. These tip sheets can be downloaded and printed or brailled out for students' or adults' future reference.

The site also includes an interactive component, My CareerConnect, which enables a registered user to develop a personal data sheet (to assist with completing applications) or a resume. These documents can be saved on the site or printed for immediate use. Under the My CareerConnect tab, there is an electronic calendar option for keeping track of appointments or interviews and a electronic message board. The message board provides young people with an option for sending and receiving messages with mentors that allows for confidentiality. They can send their messages from the CareerConnect web site, using the CareerConnect Internet address and receive messages in response at the same address. Although mentors all are required to sign a "Terms of Service" agreement that specifies that they "can do no harm" this added measure of security is a built-in protection for young people who may not be mature enough to screen e-mail messages from strangers.

Another wonderfully informative option on the CareerConnect web site is the technology section. Technology has truly made many jobs viable that were once off-limits to people with severe visual impairments and this site shares important information about the many assistive technology devices that are available to use in the work place. Under the Technology tab, there is information about screen magnification systems, braille technology, synthetic speech systems, optical character recognition equipment, video magnifiers, and more. There is both descriptive information and details about where such equipment is available, at what cost, and a listing of vendors from whom equipment can be purchased. Finally, my favorite place to visit in the technology section: a link to AccessWorld. AccessWorld is AFB's premier publication about technology and people with visual impairments, now available on-line without a paid subscription. AccessWorld describes technology (mainstream and assistive technology) and presents articles about how people are using technology to do their jobs.

The final section on CareerConnect is the Resource section. In the resource section, a visitor will find links to job listings, disability-related employment resources, a listing of local resources for job seeking assistance (by state or province), recommended readings, and a bibliography of biographies and autobiographies of blind and visually impaired people. Also included under the resources section are a series of guides that have been developed for teachers, parents, students, rehabilitation practitioners, and adult job seekers that describe how to use the CareerConnect materials and offer additional career exploration and job seeking tools and techniques. In addition, there is a link to a web cast of a demonstration of the CareerConnect site.

If you don't have easy access to the Internet, you can still access many of the features described in this article by requesting a CareerConnect CD-ROM. To request the CD, call 888.824.2184 (toll-free) or send a request via e-mail careerconnect@afb.net. The CareerConnect CD contains a listing of the jobs represented in the CareerConnect mentor database and general information about the mentors. Although private, identifying information about the people in the database has been omitted for purposes of confidentiality; each prospective mentor has been assigned an identification number, which you can use to refer to a particular individual. You may contact CareerConnect members via e-mail, telephone, or through written correspondence. To find out how to reach the mentors, call the toll-free telephone number for CareerConnect (888.824.2184) and speak with a CareerConnect staff member.

The CD also contains the guides described earlier, the tips, the information about technology, and the resources. What it doesn't contain is the interactive component, My CareerConnect, the general career information database, and the Window on the Working World feature. Obviously, the Internet option, AFB CareerConnect™, is richer and lends itself to a more dynamic environment; therefore, when possible that is the preferred avenue for accessing information about careers and doing job searches. However, when Internet access is not available, the CD is an excellent second choice for gathering relevant career information. Finally, it is important to note that parents, teachers, and students are encouraged to seek out information from the people behind these resources: the staff at CareerConnect, including the author of this article. To reach the staff, you can call the toll-free number (888.824.2184), write via e-mail careerconnect@afb.net, or correspond by post (AFB TECH, Suite 200, 949 3rd Avenue, Huntington, WV 25701).

Happy career exploring…may the children and students you know and orient to these resources delight in answering, "So, what do you want to be when you grow up?"


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