Peggy Chong The New Job Opportunities for the Blind by Peggy Chong ********** From the Editor: Peggy Chong is the Targeted Jobs Program Manager for Job Opportunities for the Blind. This is what she says about our new JOB Program: ********** By now readers of the Braille Monitor have heard that the Job Opportunities for the Blind program has gone through some major changes. At our National Convention last summer in Dallas, Texas, we heard Dr. Maurer tell us at the JOB seminar that as of July 1, 1998, Job Opportunities for the Blind will no longer exist as it has for the past twenty years. The Department of Labor changed its funding requirements, allowing us to take JOB one step further, so we now focus on training and placement for qualified legally blind individuals who have been out of work from four months to five years. In addition, they must be job- ready, in other words, able to function independently as blind people on the job and eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and/or Supplemental Security Income (SSI).
This program is designed by blind people for blind people. Eligible blind individuals are referred by the state rehabilitation agency or other sponsoring party to the Targeted Jobs Initiative. Once one is accepted for services, there is no cost to the sponsor or trainee for the initial strategies-and skills-training, lodging, or daily breakfast here at the National Center. Sponsors underwrite transportation to and from Baltimore, meals other than breakfast, and incidentals. To the extent the grant allows financially, we also provide job referrals, follow- up, and technical support at no cost.
As we all know, there is no substitute for good blindness training. Those who are interested in the JOB Targeted Jobs Initiative Program but have not learned the strategies and skills of blindness should seek adjustment-to-blindness training before obtaining training at our National Center. Some skills can certainly be learned or brushed up in the program orientation training phase, but all participants must at a minimum have the means to communicate effectively with themselves and their co- workers and the ability to travel independently inside and outside their work sites. They must also know the layout of the computer keyboard as well as independent living skills that demonstrate capability and confidence to prospective employers.
Every day, all over this country, decisions are made around the office coffeepot. Therefore, knowing how to contribute socially at work often makes or breaks a promotion, and that means adjustment-to-blindness training must address more than physical skills. If trainees reveal a need for further work in any of these skills of blindness or realistic and positive attitudes about blindness, our training centers will offer it on a fee-for-service basis paid for by the sponsor. These centers are the Colorado Center for the Blind (CCB) in Denver; the Louisiana Center for the Blind (LCB) in Ruston; or Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions (BLIND, Inc.) in Minneapolis.
The first orientation class, held at the National Center for the Blind from September 21 through October 2, 1998, was made up of six eager students from five states. Curtis Chong, Director of Technology at the National Center for the Blind; Richard Ring, Supervisor of the International Braille and Technology Center (IBTC); and others worked with the participants on a wide variety of equipment in the National Center's IBTC. Nowhere else in the world can one find such a complete collection of access equipment. These students took full advantage of this opportunity, working late into the evening to master the techniques they had learned.
Much of the class agenda centers on JAWS for Windows. In most offices around our country, Windows 95 and similar products are used to conduct daily business. Currently JAWS seems to be the speech program most compatible with the applications run at the work sites of our targeted employers. Having a good working knowledge of the nonvisual access tools before the first day on the job puts the new blind employee on equal footing with other new workers so that he or she can concentrate on learning the requirements of the job.
Trainees also receive a thorough grounding in work incentives provided by the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) programs. Even after blind people get jobs, they often feel that the Social Security rules tie them in knots. Many times blind recipients even report that, when they have called the Social Security Administration for work-incentive information, they have received conflicting information from different SSA employees. By the time the students leave training, they know how to determine when their benefits will cease, what their rights and responsibilities are under the programs, and how to get the assistance to which they are entitled from SSA.
When the graduates left for home on October 2, they took with them many tools for a successful job search. Some found that they had not allotted enough room in their luggage for the many handouts they had acquired during the previous two weeks. They had to scramble to get them mailed home before they left.
Those successfully completing the orientation and Information Access Technology Training will be referred to job openings for which they are qualified with our targeted employers. All trainees are strongly encouraged to continue doing research and to follow-up on any job lead they discover. Job announcements still come to the National Federation of the Blind from all over the country, and staff members check these for possible employment matches. When potential matches appear, the employers receive copies of resumes that successful graduates have left with us. This program therefore becomes one more valuable tool in each trainee's job-seeking kit.
If at the end of the two-week initial training participants conclude that they need additional adjustment-to-blindness training, they will be referred to one of our three training centers. National Center staff may also recommend specific training as a prerequisite to placement with our targeted employers.
The Gallup Organization, which conducts the famous opinion polls, and ManTech, a high-tech engineering company, are in the process of joining United Parcel Service as targeted employers, raising the possibility of jobs for graduates of this program in several more states. These are, however, only the first companies seizing the opportunity to employ qualified blind people. Arrangements are being made with several other large multi-state businesses to come on board as Targeted Employers.
Although the focus of JOB has changed, the goal is still the same: meaningful employment for blind people. Our new JOB program will now provide training and direct employment opportunities for those who accept the challenge.
If you would like more information about the JOB Targeted Jobs Initiative Program or would like an application, call the National Center for the Blind at (410) 659-9314. We will be glad to help you get started on the road to success. **********