Feature Writer John Christie – New Programs Give Hope to Unemployed Blind Citizens

In a tough economy, national and state agencies have gotten creative in either reinvigorating programs for the blind and visually impaired or creating new programs. Below are some programs that are either in place or have recently just been developed.

Kathy Martinez, The Assistant Secretary of the United States Department of Labor is visually impaired and is a strong advocate for people with disabilities. She is also a great role model.

Over the past several years Assistant Secretary Martinez has contributed to a number of projects which have had appositive impact on people with disabilities. One of the programs is the American Heroes Project. This program focuses on employment for wounded veterans among small businesses. The program also has a soft skills component through the office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP). In addition, Assistant Secretary Martinez’s own department hired a human resource manager. This person will oversee the hiring of persons with disabilities and their needs.

Among successful awareness campaigns, the “What can you do” campaign, which promotes the awareness of people with disabilities, was featured in AMC Theatres. “Employers and the public are starting to get the message and realize how valuable persons with disabilities are in the workforce,” says Secretary Martinez.

The Hadley School for the Blind has many training opportunities for people who are blind or visually impaired. For instance, Hadley just introduced the Forsythe Center for Entrepreneurship. This center trains people who are blind or visually impaired in entrepreneurship. In addition, Hadley also offers a course in how to become self-employed with a start up cost of $5000 or less. Hadley continues to offer courses on employment and the job search and also has webinars on these topics.

The Contract Management Program available through the National Industries for the Blind continues to thrive. In addition, they started a new networking group in Washington D.C. for the blind and visually impaired. They hope to expand this group to other areas of the country.

States are also trying to be creative in developing employment programs for the blind and visually impaired. For instance, the Alabama Division of Vocational Rehabilitation Services (ADRS) works closely with the Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind (AIDB), which has five regional centers in the state. Alabama’s Division of Rehabilitation Services offers technology exhibitions that are open to the staff, consumers and the general public. These exhibitions and demonstrations show off the latest technology in order to give people an edge in the workplace or in life. The state also hosts a conference on the topic of transitioning from school to work.

Massachusetts has also done a lot in assisting its working blind to become employed. For instance, the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind, along with Perkins School for the Blind, The Carroll Centre for the Blind, and Mab Community Services sponsored a job fair at Perkins which was exclusibely for the blind and visually impaired. A variety of companies and agencies for the blind were there. They included Blue Cross Blue Shield, National Braille Press, and a Para-transit company who does the Ride for the Disabled in Framingham. The commission has also had workshops on Soft Skills Training.

It’s great that agencies for the blind are creating programs for the blind both nationally and statewide. Hopefully, this movement will make a dent in the dismal unemployment picture and more blind people of working age will find employment.

Source: http://www.afb.org/afbpress/pub.asp?DocID=aw121007

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