Braille Monitor                                                 June 2012

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Blind Students Get Down to Business with the Chamber

by Terry McElhaney

From the Editor: the following story appeared in the April 13, 2012, edition of the Littleton, Colorado, Villager. It demonstrates the benefits that blind students receive from working relationships between NFB adult rehabilitation centers and their local business communities. Here it is:

Littleton Mayor Pro Tem Bruce Stahlman with Colorado Center for the Blind student Jabari Bonner during the Chamberís annual networking event at the center. Photo by Stacey Johnson, CCBNetworking is a basic skill that most business people have to deal with, if not master, on their way to success in today’s business world. Facing a room of strangers with a pocket full of business cards and a handshake is always a little daunting for people entering the job market. Now consider the networking scenario without the ability to see who you are networking with. That’s the challenge presented to students at the Colorado Center for the Blind during their annual networking event in partnership with the South Metro Denver Chamber.

Last week sixty-five chamber investors and guests gathered at the CCB’s campus near Historic Downtown Littleton to give students a real-life situation in preparation for graduation and subsequent job search. Prior to the event Executive Director Julie Deden and the center’s Vocational Specialist Brenda Mosby prepared the business guests with an introduction to the school and its philosophies, strategies, and processes.

The group was enlightened as to the proper way to approach a blind person, not to be afraid of the cane, and basically to treat a blind person the same as any sighted person. The use of “dark shades” [sleepshades] was also presented as a tool to help persons with some sight to learn when closing your eyes and trusting your instincts is preferable to trusting bad vision.

Student Liliya Asadullina speaks to a local businessperson about her goals after graduation. Photo by Stacey Johnson, CCBThe philosophy at CCB is that skills are not enough. The center takes students through a rigorous nine-month program in preparation for a life of independence and productivity. Daily classroom discussion of myths and fears surrounding blindness, along with exploration of real-life encounters, help students to see blindness as a mere nuisance rather than a tragedy. There’s an eclectic mix at the center, including international students. The program provides training in orientation and mobility, Braille, technology and software, and home management, which includes cooking. Their final days include planning and executing a dinner for 50 and a drop which takes students anywhere in the greater metro Denver area and requires them to find their way back without assistance.

The students were also prepared for the event with information on many of the business persons whom they would soon get the opportunity to meet. Thanks to the chamber’s use of the Meetup social media site, the center had an advance list of who would be there and some biographical information regarding many in the group. Students with specific career goals in mind knew whom they wanted to meet in advance and were ready with questions. The center also had business cards printed for sharing during the event.

There was obvious apprehension as the business leaders were led into the room with the waiting students. This quickly passed, however, as Mosby took control and introductions were given with the help of Chamber President and CEO John Brackney. Nods of approval could be seen as the students introduced themselves as well as their aspirations in turn. The business people also introduced themselves and their companies.

From there organized pandemonium broke out as the groups merged and conversations struck up between them. The students often took the lead and with a handshake at the ready used their keen sense of hearing and their ever-present canes to approach people and strike up a conversation.

CCB student Shanaia [Bethea] was encouraged by the encounters. “I was very nervous going into the event, but once John [Brackney] started asking me questions, I felt much more confident. And I even talked to a couple of people who mentioned they knew someone in journalism and were eager to put me in touch,” Shanaia said.

International student Anna [Avramenko] from the Ukraine said, “It is such a small world. I met a woman, Linda Scott, who invited me to a luncheon where she plans to introduce me to two women business owners--one from Russia and one from the Ukraine.”

Business leaders who attended the event were equally moved by the experience. Tricia Englebert, owner of 5280 Drug Testing, said, “This was one of those events that I was super proud to be a part of. What an incredible group of individuals. These students are doing amazing things in spite of their disability. A truly humbling and perspective-changing experience.”

More information on the Colorado Center for the Blind can be found at <www.cocenter.org>.

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