GLEN GORDON: On FSCast 236, I'll be joined by Catherine Getchell, Director of Disability Resources at Carnegie Mellon University. We'll hear about her path to the job at CMU and what motivates her to do this kind of work. Then, to celebrate October as Disability Employment Awareness Month, Lori Scharff and Richard Rueda from the American Printing House for the Blind's CareerConnect program.
Hello everybody. Glen Gordon here. It feels like a very long time since I've been with you. In reality, I only missed a month, and I thank Brett Lewis for doing a great job filling in for me. This is our episode for September of 2023, right around the corner from our 2024 product releases. Those will officially release near the end of October.
If you're listening to this closer to the beginning of October, now may be a good time to try out the new features, kick the tires a little bit. And you can do that with a 2023 product license, even if you're not already licensed for the 2024 version. And you get to those public betas by going to freedomscientific.com/downloads. Pick the product that you use, and on the page where you normally get the various “What's New” and “Download” links, there'll be an extra link there for a limited amount of time to the public beta. We'll announce some of the features there, and you can download and install it.
If you want more details about “What's New,” we covered that on FSCast 234 when Brett Lewis was filling in, and also on the archive of FSOpenLine, which came out as FSCast 235, both of those in our regular FSCast feed. We'd appreciate your feedback, as always, on the public beta, or even on the new product release. Either way, we continue to have updates throughout the year, and we'll do our best to incorporate any of your thoughts or ideas as we hear from you. To get the public betas, go to freedomscientific.com/downloads.
GLEN: Time now for this month's Power Tip, thanks to David Goldfield. And I really like this one because it's one of those situations where being a JAWS user gives you a decided advantage over your sighted colleagues who aren't using a screen reader. And I speak now of being in Microsoft Teams, having a chat with one or more people, and wanting to save a copy of that chat simply because some good information is being exchanged. As best we can figure, there is no official way in Teams to copy a chat as a whole. You can copy message by message, but that gets old really fast if the chat is anything but a couple of messages long.
And David has realized that it's possible to harness the JAWS Speech History feature and a couple of lesser-known hotkeys associated with it to capture the chat pretty painlessly. So you start out by going to the beginning of the chat in Teams, the first message that you want to copy. Then, rather than bringing up JAWS Speech History with JAWS Key+SPACE followed by H, you don't need to bring anything up. You just need to clear History. And you do that with JAWS Key+SPACE followed by SHIFT+H. Then, arrow down through the chat, one message at a time. You don't even need to listen to each and every message. Once you hear it start reading, you know that it's being copied to our Speech History.
Get to the bottom of the chat, press JAWS Key+SPACE, followed by CTRL+H. That copies the entire Speech History onto the clipboard. And from there, open your favorite editor, paste in the conversation, save it, and you now have a copy of that chat. And for sending that in, we thank David, but we also will extend what I expect is his JAWS license. But if he uses ZoomText or Fusion, he can extend that license instead.
GLEN: We are running a little bit low on power tips. Now, I need to tell you that we don't use every power tip that's sent in. It has to be something that's a lesser-known feature of one of our products and something we haven't recently covered. So there is a little bit of judgment involved in determining whether we'll use your power tip. But we'd love to have the chance to evaluate it and use it if at all possible. Send it in to email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org. And if we use your tip, you'll get a year added on to your JAWS, ZoomText, or Fusion license.
GLEN: We learn about people to have on FSCast in a variety of ways, but I must admit that the way I found out about the person who's about to join me is rather unique. I, like many of you, spend part of my weekend listening to the Jonathan Mosen “Living Blindfully” podcast. And a couple of weeks back I was sitting quietly drinking some coffee, and suddenly this listener-contributor came on who was saying interesting things, but she was also saying them very eloquently. And I said, “Oh, I wonder who she is.”
Fortunately, she gave her name. And it did not take me long to find out that Catherine Getchell is Director of Accessibility Resources at Carnegie Mellon University. Prior to that, she was a vocational rehabilitation counselor, a district manager, and other things related to rehabilitation in the state of Pennsylvania. And fortunately, she thought it would be fun to be on a podcast. This is her first podcast appearance. So, Catherine, welcome. I'm sure we will have no shortage of things to discuss in the next few minutes.
CATHERINE GETCHELL: Well, thank you. Gosh, I don't know what to say from that introduction, but thank you so much. It's really an honor and a privilege to be here, and I'm sure we can find a lot of interesting things to talk about.
GLEN: So let's talk about your early years. You were born blind; correct?
GLEN: And how did your family take it?
CATHERINE: In a remarkably chill manner, compared to most families, I would say. My mom pretty much took the attitude of, “Well, we'll just treat her just like we treat her older brother.” I have a brother who's two and a half years older than I am. My dad was a little more freaked out at first, but kind of went along with that program of just raise her like a normal kid and, you know, kick her out into the backyard to play. And I got a lot of early intervention kinds of things, exposure to braille from very early on; was really encouraged – unlike, I would say, many, many blind children – to be as independent as possible. And maybe that came back to bite my mom in the you-know-where later because I definitely have a very strong independent streak. But I think it has served me well.
And I'm really so grateful to my family for making sure that I was integrated into the regular neighborhood public school, but that I also had fantastic braille instruction and exposure to technology and exposure to O&M instruction, and all of those things from an early age. And eventually, once I hit about college, kind of got it that, oh, these things are really important. Got it.
GLEN: I always hear about the traditional thing where students don't have that much time with special ed teachers growing up, in many cases.
CATHERINE: And in many cases, that is true. I was profoundly lucky to have the same teacher for the visually impaired, Louise Watson, from, I think, age four or five until I graduated from high school. And that continuity of support is just unheard of. I had, you know, very high academic expectations placed on me. And I think when they did handwriting class was when I got pulled out every day, you know, in early elementary school to do braille. The other thing that I should add is that my mom was one of those early adopters of technology and got for the family an Apple IIGS computer in, I think, 1988 or so. And so by the time I was in, you know, whenever you write your first dinky little paper, maybe fourth or fifth grade, whenever that was, I was typing it. And so I was able to turn in something that my fifth-grade teacher could read without having to have the translation from braille to, you know, and all that kind of stuff.
So there was just a lot of exposure to technology early. I had the old Arkenstone scanning system, OpenBook, again, from a really early age; and was told that, at least by high school, that some of the books that I had were not – we weren't going to order those, that I was going to be expected to scan them and, you know, make them into an accessible format for myself. Those were a lot of, “Hey, you can do this. Go do that.” And that really was so helpful when I got to college because I was doing most of my own alternative format conversion. And just, I'm not saying that everyone needs to do it that way. It just gave me a lot of flexibility to have things ready for myself when I needed them.
GLEN: How were things socially for you growing up?
CATHERINE: I would say up through high school they were pretty terrible. Girls are just mean. I don't know how to say it any other way. And I would not want to put anyone through the social experience that I had growing up in high school. But I had a couple of things that really helped. One was being a trumpet player, playing in the band. Band was a very accepting place, a place where, you know, if you could play your instrument halfway decently, nobody cared what color you were or what difference you might have had. So that was a place that I always fit in. And I was in the speech club in high school, which was just, you know, great, full of nerds. So that was another very kind of accepting social group.
And then I also got a ham radio license when I was in eighth grade, something like that. So I met a lot of adults through ham radio, and it turned out there was a local ham radio club that just happened to have a bunch of blind hams in it. Now, it had a bunch of sighted hams too, but it had a bunch of blind ham radio operators. So by sort of happenstance, I got to know all of these blind ham radio operators, blind adults, who were lawyers and psychologists and computer expert people and doing all kinds of just regular adult things. And so whatever messages I might've heard about blind people having a hard time finding jobs or the like were not really replicated in my real life. And so I had the full expectation that, oh, well, as soon as I graduate, I'll get a job, and I'll support myself.
And so I think that I got a lot of different messages than a lot of blind children do. And I ended up, believe it or not, there – I don't know if it still exists, but there was a ham radio camp for people with disabilities called Handihams in the remote regions of Minnesota, outside of a city called Bemidji. And I had the opportunity to go there a couple of times when I was in high school and again in college. And at first I went as a student, and then I went as a Morse code teacher. And that was just such a cool kind of volunteer experience. I do want to say something that I think is important to include on this podcast. I don't want to underestimate or under or pretend it doesn't exist, the element of privilege here. I was really lucky culturally and financially to have access to a lot of these things that, let's be honest, a lot of blind children simply don't have access to, no fault of their own.
And I think that element of privilege is not something that's discussed enough in the blind community. When a blind child comes from a privileged background, they just necessarily have access to more opportunities, maybe more technology, easier access to things. And that's extremely unfortunate. And I also think it's really important that blind folks who come from that background and have benefited from that, we need to recognize how lucky we are and do whatever we can to give back and grant access to others who don't have access to that.
GLEN: I agree 100%. But I also feel really paralyzed in not exactly knowing how to give back in that way. Do you have ideas on this topic?
CATHERINE: I think that's one of the reasons that I do what I do. My job is to create as much as possible an equal access to a CMU education for students with all types of disabilities. And we have many, many students who come from extremely limited resource backgrounds. And my office for them is sometimes the first time that they've encountered, not only acceptance of their differences and challenges, but a path forward, in many ways very simple accommodations that do give them access to an outstanding, amazing education. So I think that's a lot of why I got into this field and in particular enjoy working with students who maybe don't have everything from the start and are just ready to access the things that a few simple accommodations would allow them to access.
GLEN: Isn't it a little bit of a chicken and egg situation? Because if you don't have a lot of this from the start, the odds of being able to get to a university like CMU, you're really defying the odds.
CATHERINE: Yes. So what we see a lot is, at least at my university, is incredibly bright students who in high school, when academics are a little bit easier, are able to, and I'm going to put air quotes here, “talent around their disability.” They're able to come up with all sorts of compensatory strategies which work for them in high school. And then they get to CMU, which is an extremely rigorous education. I mean, it is no joke. In good ways, but absolutely no joke. And those compensatory strategies that they've developed on their own aren't so much working anymore.
So now, whereas before, despite a learning disability, despite maybe reading in a different way or processing information more slowly, their sheer brilliance could allow them to finish an exam in the time allotted for the class. Now at CMU, when the work is just much, much harder, those disabilities present barriers that they didn't present before. And so now for the first time they need accommodations, and they never imagined in their wildest dreams that accommodations were for them or available or that they could be so life-changing in many cases.
GLEN: Is your office's role in large part helping people to learn to advocate?
CATHERINE: It is helping people to learn to advocate, but it is also to equalize and standardize accommodations and how they are provided. So, for example, you could have two different professors and two different students. And let's say those students have the same disability. But let's say one of those students is white and privileged and a really great self-advocate, and the other student is black or brown, comes from a limited resource background. And again, I'm stereotyping. I'm not saying that all white students are privileged, or all black and brown students coming from limited resource backgrounds. But let's just say for the sake of these two students, and that the second student maybe has less experience with self-advocacy.
And then again, let's use our two professors. One of them happens to want to be really flexible and really accommodating, and the other less so. And let's say that the accommodation needs are the same or very similar, but because of differences in how the students interact and how the professors' orientations are around disability, those two students would have very, very different experiences. And one would have much more access, and one would have much less access to accommodation.
So our office's job is to help standardize the decision-making process as to what accommodations are granted, and help professors provide those accommodations. Most of the time they don't need to know what the disability is. They just need to know what are the accommodations for this student, and who do I go to if I need help administering those accommodations? So we are trying to give equal access in as equitable a way as possible, rather than putting the responsibility for deciding about reasonableness of accommodations in the hands of faculty who, let's be honest, are experts about a lot of things, but disability is probably not one of them.
GLEN: What led to your career trajectory?
CATHERINE: Initially, I thought that I wanted to become a speech pathologist. I don't know why I got that idea, but I had done an internship in a speech clinic after my freshman year of college and realized pretty quickly that, nope, that's not what I wanted to do after all. It turned out that I really wanted to work with adults, not children; and in order to be a speech pathologist, most of the jobs were working with children. My mom kind of said, you know, “Do some research about the job market.” And the research that I did plus the internship that I did made me realize that that wasn't what I wanted to do. That was the year that I was the Morse code teacher at the ham radio camp, and I worked with a couple of students with traumatic brain injuries. And I found that to be absolutely fascinating, that particular disability in that particular set of individuals. And so I sort of started thinking about that.
And then, after junior year, I was lucky enough to land an internship in a brain injury rehabilitation clinic. It was like a day skills program in the DC area where I grew up. And I met all of these incredible rehabilitation counselors who were just doing really innovative work, were so professional, were so knowledgeable, much more so than the rehabilitation counselor I myself had growing up, who I would say was not a good model for other blind people to emulate. We'll just say that. And so all of my thought about what rehabilitation counselors were like before doing this internship was based on this one rehab counselor that I had. And she was absolutely not what I wanted to be.
But then when I met these rehab counselors that worked for the brain injury program, I could just see myself doing that. And so I decided after that internship that I was going to apply for rehabilitation counseling masters programs. And so that led to working for the PA Office of Vocational Rehab as a counselor, and then as an Assistant District Administrator and a District Administrator. And then Pennsylvania divides Voc Rehab into a bureau that serves individuals who are blind and a bureau who serves everyone else. I don't know how much sense that makes, but that's the way it's divided. But when I went over for two years to work for the Bureau of Blindness and Visual Services, my boss at the time, David DeNotaris, who you may know or have interviewed on this podcast before, not sure.
GLEN: I have not.
CATHERINE: David is a consultant now who does a lot of training and motivational speaking for individuals who are blind and visually impaired, blindness agencies. But at the time he was the Bureau Director of the Bureau of Blindness and Visual Services. And he encouraged me to try to do a STEM career event with Carnegie Mellon University. When your boss, especially your new boss, says, “Wouldn't it be great if,” the code is, “I'm really expecting that you do this, so why don't you make it a priority to do this?”
So I called up CMU and had this conversation with their, at the time, Director of the Office of Disability Resources about doing a combined career event for blind and visually impaired high school and college students that we could host at CMU. So we ended up doing that event, and it was really a fantastic experience, a great collaboration. And then a few months later, CMU called me to let me know that the Director of the Office of Disability Resources was retiring. And it was just sort of one of those, “Oh, by the way,” conversations, but it started me down a path of, “Hmm, am I ready for maybe a, not exactly a career switch, same field, but doing something very different and away from state government.” So that was almost seven years ago that I made that switch.
GLEN: Do you see an issue with blind students who come to the university and are really facile with an iPhone, but have not taken the time to learn a screen reader well?
CATHERINE: Yes, I know that this is a major issue across the board. We actually, in my time at CMU, have only had one totally blind student who was a total whiz with technology, so that was a non-issue. I would like to have more blind students, but it's really important that they do come with PC skills, or if you're using a Mac, you know, but computer use skills to be up to scratch. I know a lot of students come great with the iPhone or the iPad or the braille notetaker, and those are all good tools. And if you're using those tools, keep using them for whatever purpose they serve you.
But when it comes to accessing your university's learning management system, where all your course materials are, when it comes to getting things in accessible format, when it comes to producing work and assignments, you're going to need the PC. You're going to need – or a Mac. So those actual computer skills are really, really important.
GLEN: I don't know whether you feel like you can talk about the elephant in the room, which is why there has only been one totally blind student at CMU in your time.
CATHERINE: I do want to talk about that. STEM – science, technology, engineering, and math – is an area in which we as a society are still struggling to make it accessible. And CMU is primarily a science, technology, and engineering, and math school. And I think that blind students are still struggling, for good reason, in finding accessible STEM education. Now, there are lots of great things that are being done in that space, and I think Freedom Scientific and Vispero are leaders in those areas in terms of MathML and all of that. But in terms of making the innately visual presentation of so much STEM material accessible, it's just a philosophical and technical challenge that I think we're still wrestling with.
So I think if you were to ask most of the primarily STEM-based universities, they would probably tell you that we're not seeing a lot of blind students. We have a lot of visually impaired students who are using ZoomText or other tools. But in terms of braille users, in terms of screen reader users, we just don't see, you know, I might get even one prospective blind student every couple of years contact our office. So we would like to see more. And we would like to be up to the challenge of making this material accessible.
GLEN: We're recording this interview just a few days before you take a work trip to Qatar. And I've been trying to figure out, why is CMU sending you? Is this some kind of recruitment journey?
CATHERINE: No, it's not. We have a campus there. So Qatar has a really huge educational initiative as part of its Plan 2030. And there are several universities, American universities that have branch campuses there, and CMU is one of them. They do not have their own Office of Disability Resources. So we have historically served their students remotely, providing accommodations, and Zoom has absolutely transformed our ability to do that to where we can really meet with students and have almost the same experience with them there that we do here in Pittsburgh, but we have a ton of help from the Academic Resource Center there, from their health services, from their on-campus psychologist, from their academic coach who kind of provide those on-the-ground supports that connect our students with the in-person types of support that they need.
But I do try to go there once a year to see their students in person, meet with faculty in person, provide training, provide support, and it's just been an absolutely life-changing opportunity for me to be able to visit them. And being the nerd that I am, decided that it would be fun to learn Arabic, and so started that as kind of a COVID project. And when I went back to Qatar for the first time last year after having learned Arabic, wow, was that a game changer, just having that language to use, especially with those off-campus providers. It was just kind of transformative in that relationship building. So also just a really fun language to learn.
GLEN: What have been the mechanics of learning Arabic for you?
CATHERINE: The first year that I went to Qatar, which was in 2019, I did sort of a courtesy visit to an organization there called the Qatar Social and Cultural Center for the Blind. Really, I was just curious to learn what kinds of offerings they had and how they support individuals who are blind. It turns out that it's more of a sort of social recreational agency than a rehab facility, but I didn't know that. I wanted to learn what it was all about.
When I was there, they gave me a copy of the braille alphabet in Arabic, and I just thought, “How cool is this?” And I went home and just for fun found some YouTube videos of people teaching the Arabic alphabet, the sound of the letters, and I just followed along in my little braille thing. And I was like, “Okay, well, all right. I think I got the alphabet now. Let me see if I can learn some words.” And I downloaded the Vocalizer Expressive Voices for Arabic, experimented with different ones, but eventually decided on Laila was my favorite. And with a lot of help from a friend who happened to work at the time for the Qatar Social and Cultural Center for the Blind, he helped me figure out what I’d need to do to set up the braille display to display Arabic.
And then working for CMU, you can take classes for free. I took a couple of introductory Arabic classes, and it progressed from, okay, now I know how to say “Where's the bathroom?” and “I like chicken,” to, well, now I want to have a conversation. And did a lot of – took some classes, did a lot of independent study, and just have been having a great time with it.
Now, I'm also, I’m so blaming excited about this, I'm tacking on a three-day trip to Saudi Arabia at the end of my Qatar trip because I met my friend Ghada on Language Exchange Program about two and a half years ago. And she's a super awesome lawyer in Saudi Arabia, and I've never met her in person. And I figure as long as I'm there, just take the trip. You just go over and meet her. So we're going to spend three days together in Riyadh, which is one of the larger cities there, obviously. So I'll be really curious to experience that environment, as well. And I hope my Arabic serves me well because in Qatar, they speak a lot of English; and in Saudi, much less so.
GLEN: Well, thank you, Catherine. This was lots of fun. I'm glad I went out on this limb and said, “I'm going to reach out to her.”
CATHERINE: I was so surprised and shocked. Like I've listened to your podcast in the past. I haven’t, I'll admit, not recently. But I knew about FSCast. But I was like, “Wow, okay.”
GLEN: Well, thank you very much. Enjoy your trip to Qatar, and may we stay in touch.
CATHERINE: Yeah, thank you so much.
GLEN: This episode releases near the very end of September, right before the start of Disability Employment Awareness Month here in the U.S. And it seems like a good time to help raise awareness of some great free employment resources provided as part of the CareerConnect program of the American Printing House for the Blind. CareerConnect is part of a larger effort by APH to gather as many resources as possible about blindness. That's called the ConnectCenter. The Assistant Director of the Center, Richard Rueda, is on the line with me, as is Lori Scharff, who's a content specialist focusing on employment and careers. Both of them have long been in the workforce. Both are blind, and so bring a whole lot of relevant firsthand experience to their work. Welcome to both of you.
RICHARD RUEDA: Thank you.
LORI SCHARFF: Thank you.
GLEN: So before we start talking about the ConnectCenter, let's get sort of the capsule bio of each of you. Lori, you want to start?
LORI: Sure. I have spent almost 20 years as a social worker, and I moved and decided I didn't want to recredential in my new state. And went back and got a master's in vision rehabilitation therapy. And found my way to work with the ConnectCenter about a year ago, working on employment and careers. I also am a work incentive practitioner certified through Cornell, which means I do benefits counseling and employment network work with all different types of people with disabilities, entering or re-entering the workforce.
GLEN: How about you, Richard?
RICHARD: I started my career 23 years ago as a rehabilitation counselor, working with blind and low vision young adults, and adults looking for work and resources to work in California with the Department of Rehabilitation. Since leaving my position as a rehab counselor, I've spent the past 13 years working in various nonprofits, running pre-employment and transition programs for blind youth and young adults all over California, managing and directing, implementing programs to get people ready for work, which I'm super excited about. Those things didn't exist 30, 35 years ago when I was a child, so I'm very passionate about it.
I came to APH at the ConnectCenter at the heart of the pandemic when a good friend of mine, Joe Strechay, said, “Hey, can you write a blog?” And, “Hey, I'm leaving for the film industry. Can you help us fill some gaps?” And I said, “I'd love to. I've been a CareerConnect fanboy for my entire career, and I couldn't be happier.” So I've joined the team. I've been on with the ConnectCenter for three years, the first year as a contractor and the last two as an employee of APH.
GLEN: So it sounds like the two of you are eminently qualified to be part of ConnectCenter, and we should probably define what it is. Richard, do you want to take that on?
RICHARD: It is a variety of resources, including our FamilyConnect, CareerConnect, and VisionAware websites, which are the anchor of the ConnectCenter, which also includes an I&R line that you can call or email, and it's staffed by Sharon and Alan, who themselves are blind, to address information on blindness and low vision from housing to healthcare to employment and so forth. We've got the Directory of Services, which is a listing of over 2,000 agencies and services by and for blind people nationwide and, in some cases, globally.
And then we have the Connect Calendar, which is a free area where you can list activities and events happening for blind community and the support system. Prior to July of this year, we had FamilyConnect.org, CareerConnect.org, VisionAware.org, and APHConnectCenter.org, and that was just driving us mad. So we've consolidated. Everything's under APHConnectCenter.org, so we've kind of managed consolidating that and improving our content and our search on the new website.
GLEN: And how does CareerConnect fit in?
RICHARD: CareerConnect, again, is one of the main assets of the ConnectCenter that provides resources for both employers as well as job seekers, and I know we'll dive into that in a little bit. And we have webinars, we have blogs, we have resources, a Job Seeker’s Toolkit, Career Conversations, and a lot of things that you can access free of charge. And professionals can access our webinars live through getting credit through CRC and ACVREP.
GLEN: So what is the Job Seeker’s Toolkit?
LORI: The Job Seeker’s Toolkit is a partnership that we, APHConnectCenter, has with NSITE. It's a five-lesson course, and it focuses on different areas such as self-awareness and advocacy, developing an understanding of your career interests and things in that area, resume writing, networking, and also developing your skills for continuing to be able to maintain your employment once you're hired.
RICHARD: Generally, it takes an hour to do each course if you're following every single activity that's asked of you. There's not a test. It's more of just information that you're gathering and looking into and people you are talking with.
GLEN: What are the parts of CareerConnect that people tend to gravitate towards?
LORI: I would say, you know, we have people that frequently read our blogs. We also have regular attendees at our webinars. We do Career Conversations, and that's usually but not always the first Thursday of the month. And that is where we interview a person who's blind or low vision. We discuss their career with them for an hour. So the first 20 minutes is me speaking with them, and the rest of the time is spent with questions and answers from our wonderful audience. And we get great participation. We've never been short yet.
RICHARD: Career Conversations came out of the pandemic when everyone was on Zoom. And we said, you know, we're building content. Let's create a program and an opportunity for folks to have a library of interviews where not only these interviews will be archived, but they will give you, the student and/or the job seeker, the opportunity to practice informational interviewing and/or networking over Zoom in that setting where you can ask questions, and we will get them answered for you from our guests. And we ask each of those people who are interviewed if they have a LinkedIn profile. So if you want to reach out to them, you can go to their public profile and connect with them if you so wish.
LORI: We also know that hearing from somebody once they're employed is also not addressing the need for getting to the point of employment. So that's how we have developed Employment Connections, which is quarterly; and we focus on, you know, things about how did you get to that point. We started off in April discussing disclosing your disability at various points during the employment process. And last week we did a piece on résumé writing. It's been really, really well received, and all of our webinars that we do are archived onto our YouTube channel, so you can watch them on YouTube. Or professionals that might be listening to this, you also, if you listen live, you can get ACVREP credits, as well as CRC credits.
GLEN: What about transition resources for kids growing up who are blind and have not been in the workforce before?
RICHARD: Well, we've got the Transition Hub, which has been around for about two and a half, going on three years. And what the Transition Hub is, it's a grant funded by the Gibney Family Foundation, which we're grateful for. And it allowed us the opportunity to build from the ground up a hub, a website if you will, that has gone out and gathered all known rehabilitation programs that provide services to teens and young adults to prepare them for the workforce, which might include learning how to be independent and self-sufficient, learning how to manage your money, how to care for your clothing, how to get your first work experience.
Many, but not all of these programs exist in the summer, anywhere from one to eight weeks, whether it's residential or non-residential. The Transition Hub has gathered almost 70, 75 programs, if I'm correct, Lori, that are actively providing services, and whether they're supported by Voc Rehab or not, where students can go and get these. And you've got listings from Hawaii to Alaska to Florida to New York. And I'll say really quick, the reason why that the Transition Hub exists and why would a student in Florida want to look at a program in, let's say, Illinois or Connecticut, because they might be going to college there, and they might want to go experience a week or two, and network with people, and then have Voc Rehab send them to that state. So that's why the Transition Hub exists. And since then it's been built out to include video clips and a lot of other content.
LORI: I could just add, on the main page of our website, we have a lot of material for, of interest to parents and families, because we all know how important experiential learning is for youth who are blind or low vision. And that doesn't only happen in school. It happens at home. It happens in the community. So there's a lot of great resources in that area as well.
GLEN: How do you reach people who have not yet identified themselves as low vision or blind because they are slowly transitioning into that? And yet they're some of the people who would most benefit from understanding the possibilities that are out there.
LORI: I will tell you, a lot of them find our YouTube channel.
LORI: And they secretly listen at 3 a.m., and really have adjusted quite well as a result of what they come across.
GLEN: That's great.
RICHARD: When I was a rehabilitation counselor, I learned early on that there were pockets of folks that we would have to go to who didn't know anything about Voc Rehab. And in some instances, a lot of those were the Foundation Fighting Blindness Organization, which I think is great because you get people who go who, in general, are still trying to figure out how I can fight my blindness when, in fact, they're there to learn about resources. And I had more people come to me going, “I didn't know about Rehabilitation Services. Thank you for your presentation. How can I get involved?” And I think we're trying to do the same with those pockets of people out there, organized or not, to let them know how we can impact them in a positive way.
GLEN: How do you go about constantly finding and developing new content?
RICHARD: I think, like you had mentioned when you were looking to do this show in October, it's National Disability Employment Awareness Month. We're always looking at our content calendar to go, what's coming up? A Louis Braille Day. And what are some prominent days? I mean, yesterday was International Guide Dog Day and National Fried Rice Day. Now we're not going to write so much about fried rice, but we might write things about guide dogs and important dates on the calendar that surround that topic. And there's always perspective.
We've got students in our advisory committee who are writing about what it's like being a college student in 2023 versus maybe what we had up there 10 or 15 years ago. And we've got adults who are maybe writing about their college experience, maybe going back to school after many years of being in the workforce. I think there's not a day that goes by that I or Lori or someone isn't reading other publications or listening to other podcasts or shows going, “Hey, I want to interview that person from this angle,” or, “I sent Lori something about a blind guy who was a firefighter, and firefighter safety.” And we're always looking for angles and things that are going to be interesting, of interest and of value to our readers.
GLEN: What should I have asked you guys?
LORI: I think sometimes that we get marketed as working either with seniors through VisionAware; or youth in the career area; or, you know, babies in FamilyConnect. But we really do span the broad spectrum. And there's just so much on our website, on our YouTube channel that is out there for people to learn from and grow from. And if people listening are interested in being interviewed as part of Career Conversations, or have a topic that they really would like to hear about under Employment Connections because, you know, things like, “I struggle with access to my coffee machine,” like, “What's your solution to the office products in your office?” Things like that. Let's talk about it. Let's make it into a webinar. You know, reach out to us. They can email email@example.com.
GLEN: If people want to explore on their own, what is the web address?
GLEN: Well, thank you both for being here. It's good that we're able to talk about these resources on FSCast and really hear about the passion that you bring to keeping them up to date.
RICHARD: We love it. And it's been a pleasure. Thank you.
LORI: And we look forward to hearing from individuals and working on enhancing our website and our programs even further.
GLEN: That brings us to the end of FSCast 236. I'm Glen Gordon. Thanks very much for joining me. And if you have something you'd like to say, it's great to communicate with more and more of you as the months go by. I got a couple of nice notes in response to my comment in June that not many people write. And that is true. It's great to hear from those of you who do. And if you have a specific request or question, I do my best to get back to you within a week, usually much less. And if you have ideas for guests for the podcast, that's great, too. All things like this, or problems that seem to be insurmountable for you, perhaps I can make things a little bit smoother: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com. We'll be back in October with FSCast 237.