Braille Monitor                                                 December 2010

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Training Our Way to Business Opportunities

by Mary Ellen Gabias

Mary Ellen GabiasFrom the Editor: At the convention last summer delegates were delighted to learn some of the details of the collaboration between the NFB and eBay that enables blind people to use the online marketplace efficiently. Longtime Federationist Mary Ellen Gabias has recently become the coordinator of the NFB eBay Entrepreneurs’ Project. In the following article she describes the program and the opportunities it will make available to blind people. This is what she says:

The NFB has always placed major emphasis on assisting blind people to become self-supporting. The pioneering work of Dr. tenBroek and others helped remove some of the worst work disincentives in the welfare system of his day. It was the NFB that first opened the federal Civil Service to blind applicants. Our Job Opportunities for the Blind (JOB) program in the 1980s successfully connected blind people with employers and with employed blind people who acted as mentors and role models. So, when the National Federation of the Blind, the world’s most dynamic organization of blind people, partners with eBay, the company that operates the world’s largest Internet marketplace, good things are bound to happen.

On September 15, in a joint press release, the NFB and eBay announced the NFB/eBay Entrepreneurs’ Project. The press release read:

EBay and National Federation of the Blind Partner to Increase
Ecommerce Job Opportunities

Innovative Partnership Aims to Empower Blind Americans to Gain Employment, Start Businesses While Buying and Selling on EBay

EBay, the world’s largest online marketplace, and the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) today announced a partnership to create more opportunities for blind Americans to access eBay as buyers and sellers. now includes enhanced features for users to buy, bid, and sell using the keyboard alone, as well as improved ways to navigate content using assistive technologies such as screen-access software. The blind can now more easily connect with eBay’s 92 million users and shop from 200 million live listings.

“We have great respect for the advocacy role the NFB plays in creating employment opportunities for the blind,” said John Donahoe, president and CEO of eBay, Inc. “EBay has built a reputation as a driver of job creation by helping entrepreneurs start up and grow their businesses. We are excited about connecting with an even wider audience through this partnership and providing blind Americans with easier access to our marketplace for both buying and selling.”

“EBay is demonstrating true leadership and commitment to accessibility, along with creating exciting opportunities for blind Americans,” said Dr. Marc Maurer, president of the National Federation of the Blind. “The National Federation of the Blind is thrilled with the accessibility of eBay’s buying and selling experience, and we look forward to working together with eBay on employment opportunities for blind Americans. This partnership demonstrates that, when the blind and business leaders work together, everyone wins.”

With 70 percent of blind Americans either unemployed or underemployed, job creation is critical to tackle the employment challenges facing the blind. The NFB and eBay aim to provide additional tools and support to the blind community to enable their success on eBay such as:

That was the substance of the press release. We are now seeking blind people who want to participate in this innovative pilot program in three areas.

Business Start-Up Pilot

The ninety-two million people participating on eBay range from casual sellers–people who use the system as a cyber garage sale--to serious entrepreneurs who make eBay the platform for profitable businesses. The NFB/eBay Entrepreneurs’ Project is looking for serious entrepreneurs who want to create new eBay businesses or expand existing businesses to include eBay selling. We will offer successful applicants intensive eBay training and connect them with successful blind business people and other experts who will provide assistance in specific areas such as business planning, development, and working with accessible accounting software.

Individuals chosen for the Business Start-Up Pilot will take part in an intensive three-day training program at the NFB Jernigan Institute in Baltimore. They will receive transportation, lodging, training classes, accessible training materials, and ongoing mentorship support.
The class will include:

If running your own eBay business appeals to you, please write us at <[email protected]> and request an Entrepreneurs’ Program package. Your letter of interest should include:

Because this is a pilot program intended to demonstrate the viability of eBay businesses run by blind individuals, we must select from applicants with the strongest plans and the greatest willingness to mentor the blind people who will follow. However, even if you do not yet have a perfectly developed business plan, we still want to hear from you. As eBay trainers receive certification, we will help connect you with them so that you can get started on the path to running your own eBay business.

Training the Trainers

In order to provide opportunity to as many people as possible, we will train interested blind people to be eBay-certified education specialists, people who buy and sell on eBay themselves and want to create a business teaching others how to do it. The trainers we train will be equipped to teach other blind people who use screen readers; they will also be certified to teach the sighted. With ninety-two million people already using eBay and more joining the community every day, the business opportunity for anyone who can teach them how to be more effective is enormous!

The certified education specialist training will consist of a three-day training program that will take place at the NFB Jernigan Institute in Baltimore, plus follow-up individualized support and group teleconference training. Those selected for the Train the Trainers program will receive, as a scholarship, transportation, lodging, training classes, accessible training materials, and ongoing mentorship support.

Is being an eBay-certified education specialist for you? If you have a deep desire to be of service to others, an entrepreneurial spirit, the aptitude to teach, and basic computer literacy using screen readers, we want to hear from you. Because selling on eBay has not been readily accessible to blind people in the past, you will not need to have experience as an eBay seller to take part in the first Train the Trainers class. However, you will need to demonstrate success in buying and selling on eBay in order to graduate and receive certification.

Because your pioneering spirit will help create opportunities for others, both entrepreneurs and future trainers, you need to commit to teach other blind people eBay success skills after completing the program. By “aptitude for teaching” we simply mean that you enjoy showing others how to do new things and that you can give clear and concise explanations. You will need some ability to use a screen reader to access Websites, though it is not necessary to be a screen reader power user.

To apply to enter the Train the Trainers inaugural class, send a letter to <[email protected]> explaining your background and qualifications (particularly your entrepreneurial and teaching experience) and telling us why you want to become an eBay-certified education specialist.

National Federation of the Blind eBay Marketplace

Federationists know the power of collective action. Working together, we can accomplish more than any one of us could do alone. EBay has demonstrated the power of networking millions of individual entrepreneurs together. By creating the NFB/eBay Entrepreneurs’ Marketplace, we will focus the combined capabilities of both the eBay and NFB networks to highlight the capacity of blind entrepreneurs and to drive traffic to their ecommerce businesses. As plans for the Marketplace develop, we will invite blind eBay entrepreneurs to become part of this network.

The economy of the second decade of the twenty-first century has changed dramatically from the Post World War II economy of the early Federation. Once again we have adapted to the changes and are leading the way by partnering with a second millennium company to create opportunities unimaginable a quarter century ago.

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