by Kelsey Nicolay
From the Editor: In the April 2013 issue we ran an article by Shawn Mayo entitled “An Ordinary Sort of Courage.” It is difficult to acknowledge that doing some things as a blind person does require courage without blowing out of all proportion the small things we do and making them look fantastic or heroic. It takes a bit of courage to venture into a setting where people tell you they have never been around a blind person or that you are the first blind person to ever attempt to participate in their organization. Kelsey Nicolay demonstrates such courage, and here is her story:
As a college graduate with a degree in communication, I thought I was prepared for the workplace. Over a year out and still unemployed, I decided to listen to my cousin who is a training consultant for Dale Carnegie when he suggested I go through their program. He told me that, even though I had solid communication skills, I would still benefit from the course. It was a difficult decision, partly because I would have to depend on my family to transport me.
After much thought and discussion my dad and I decided that I should go through the program since I would acquire skills to prepare me to handle the stress and challenges of the workplace. In addition, the course served as an opportunity to network with the other participants in order to help me gain employment.
Prior to the talk with my cousin, I did not know much about the program, only that it had something to do with public speaking. From the very beginning the staff felt they would be comfortable having me in class. “I can handle it,” said Elaine Dwyer, Dale Carnegie instructor, when informed by my cousin that I would be enrolling in her course. Due to company policy, I was not given the name of my instructor, so I was not able to communicate with her ahead of time. The training consultant had to facilitate the entire enrollment process, including the initial discussion with the trainer. Still, I felt confident that my instructor would be able to explain my learning needs and the accommodations I might need.
The first class was an orientation. The participants were introduced to the Dale Carnegie program, the areas of instruction, etc. Our activities involved demonstrating some basic communication skills such as self-introduction techniques. Each student was then asked to practice these skills in front of the class. My classmates were willing to help me move around when needed.
During the first few classes students were introduced to fundamental communication skills such as name recognition, conversation starting, etc. The majority of this instruction was oral, therefore all the participants were expected to memorize the sequences or sayings without having them written down. However, at times a participant manual was used. I was able to obtain an electronic copy, which I could pull up in class as needed. I was able to locate the other books on Bookshare, so I could read them independently between classes. At times, when materials were not available electronically, I asked a family member to serve as a reader. As the course progressed, there were some aspects which presented challenges. For example, during one class the instructor made up actions to go with a story in the book with which the students were asked to become familiar. The purpose of adding the actions was to help students add enthusiasm to their communication. Neither I nor the instructor considered how I would participate. Therefore, she asked one of the graduate assistants to try to describe what the instructor was doing, but the graduate assistant could not describe the actions fast enough. Once the class learned the actions to go with the story, the students were asked to perform it in small groups. I did not do the physical gestures. Instead I was able to participate by helping recite the words. “I realized I should have followed up with you,” Ms. Dwyer said after class that night. From this experience we learned that it is important to anticipate challenges and plan accordingly.
During a later class the students were asked to learn several silly skits to demonstrate being flexible in response to change. This time the instructor and I talked about the best way to handle the situation. We both agreed that having me work with another person would be the way for me to participate fully. The person I worked with verbally described what the instructor was doing while she was demonstrating the skit to the class. When the class was learning the skit, my partner would physically guide me through the routine. Once again the class performed in small groups. My partner helped me perform my skit with my group. Since I had more than words to go on and had actually rehearsed the motions and knew how they felt to perform, I was more comfortable with learning the actions.
As part of the course each participant was required to give a weekly talk. The talks focused on gaining the cooperation of others, demonstrating leadership, and enhancing relationships. During my speeches I focused on dealing with the vocational rehabilitation agency and how I had applied the principles learned in class to help me get the service I needed. My classmates were not familiar with the system, but, after listening to my talks, they had a better understanding of some of the difficulties I face. Although I had difficulties in some areas, I was much more comfortable in others, particularly learning things by rote. For example, during one class period the instructor wrote a saying on the board. I asked my neighbor what the instructor was writing, and she quietly whispered it to me. The instructor went through the saying out loud, but having my neighbor whisper it to me ahead of time helped to solidify it in my memory. Therefore, it was easier for me to recite the saying when students were asked to do so later in the class period.
Before I knew it, it was graduation night, a night in which all our accomplishments would be recognized. Each student was required to give a final talk in order to receive his or her certificate. Prior to each student’s speech, the instructor talked briefly about him or her, mentioning a highlight from his or her talk. I was a little nervous at first, but, when it was my turn to speak, I stood up and confidently gave my speech. When I finished speaking, my family came up to present me my certificate, just as the other participants’ families had done. In the end my family and I decided that the process was worth it, even though they had to drive me there and back every week. My advice to readers is that, if a Dale Carnegie class is offered in your area, do not hesitate to participate. The skills you learn will help you in every aspect of your life.