Peggy Martinez is Accessibility Manager at Seattle Lighthouse for the Blind. Peggy talks about the importance of note taking and nurturing your network of people.
What happens when you gather forty-four jobseekers with twenty employment facilitators over a period of four days? You get depth, intensity, focus, support, and a big dose of the reality that a good jobseeker needs.
The LightHouse Employment Summit took place in early September, in the natural setting of our beautiful Enchanted Hills Retreat in Napa, California. Away from the noise of urban/suburban life, the Summit encouraged jobseekers, all of whom are blind or visually impaired, to listen and to re-evaluate how they approached finding a job. Throughout, a common theme resonated: “If you want a different outcome, YOU need to get engaged and YOU need to do something different!”
Though jobseeking classes happen everywhere, the LightHouse’s aim in this demanding week was to build a strong motivation among the jobseekers, adding fire and team spirit to their quest for employment. The group heard from more than a dozen employed blind people, from attorneys to tech trainers, and everything in between. The sustained and positive week was some of the most demanding work many had done in recent time, beginning at 7:45 in the morning and sometimes not ending until early evening.
One key part of the weekend was the individualized coaching that happened around and after the day’s speakers, giving personal attention and direction to each jobseeker. The coaching continued for weeks after the end of the summit.
Each participant found different aspects of the summit which spoke to them. Charles Jackson, for example, has been self-employed for the last five years, as an independent contingency sales and IT recruiter. He attended the Summit, “to expand my professional network,…get insight as to how others with vision disabilities are functioning in their work places and to learn what tools/search strategies they find to be most effective in the current constrained job market.” Brian McCallen, who is looking for work in broadcasting, journalism, public relations, or descriptive video, attended “to learn the next steps in my job search and continue to network with broadcasting industry professionals…”
Blind Role Models Covered A Range of Topics
Our presenters, many of them blind, talked about issues that blind and visually impaired job-seekers face as they look for employment. These included how blind people get jobs (even in this economy); what employers are looking for when hiring and best ways to boost self-confidence and manage their work-life balance.
The Summit also gave participants the opportunity to network both during the sessions and more informally after hours. Jobseekers “linked-in” in person: over a bus ride, a meal, a chance conversation at the breeze-way by the lake, or while roasting marshmallows around the campfire; some developed lasting bonds. One participant found “camaraderie amongst strangers, who are now my colleagues and friends. It was safe to share, support and laugh about the frustrating road to finding a job.”
For nearly half the group this was the first time they spent extended time around competent and self-confident blind people. The impact of this close and personal experience was, to some, at least as important as any scheduled speaker.
Each participant left the Summit having taken a very personal journey. Insurance broker Ramona Herriford said, “I am self-employed so found the Summit to be very empowering. I left encouraged and focused on ways I can grow my business. Every speaker was very knowledgeable [about] their chosen topic…It was a real blessing to connect with other talented blind individuals. Everyone willingly shared their experiences, philosophies, strategies, and how to’s. It was truly a Summit with people helping people.”
George Gaboury, a jobseeker who has a background in multimedia, said, “All the speakers and coaches were excellent. Joe Xavier & Mike Bullis’ message to get involved and do what others won’t do in the workplace and in volunteer work, struck me as a very powerful approach to blast through hiring & advancement prejudices. This approach inevitably generates valuable work experience and quality.”
If you are blind or visually impaired and are ready to start looking for work in a systematic way, the LightHouse would love to partner with you. Please contact Kate Williams at firstname.lastname@example.org or 415-694-7324 to learn more about our Employment Immersion program.
If you have never worked or are transitioning from school or college and want some work experience to learn what else you need to get that next great job, please contact Debbie Bacon about our Blind Leaders program at email@example.com or 415-694-7357.