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Podcast Transcript: APH Connect Center PT. I

Posted in Blindness Resources, Career, Podcast Episodes, and Podcast Transcripts

Katie: I’m certain that many of us on this podcast have had jobs that were not what we thought at first. But, you know, we … we learn from those experiences, and we … we keep going, and we build upon our networks, we expand upon our networks, and we get to where we want to go.

Chris: This is the Penny Forward podcast, a show about blind people building bright futures one penny at a time. I’m Chris Peterson.

Liz: And I’m Liz Bottner.

Chris: We are blind people learning, from each other, what it takes to be successful in our personal, professional, and financial lives.

Chris: This week, we begin a two-part interview with staff members from the APH Connect Center. The American Printing House for the Blind is a hundred and fifty-year-old organization that does a lot to promote the education of blind children and adults. The Connect Center is a branch of APH that maintains a series of websites providing valuable resources to people with visual impairments at all stages of their life. In particular, we’ll be learning about Vision Aware, a site for people who are newly blind, as well as Career Connect, a site for job seekers. Join us as we talk with Leslie Weilbacher, Richard Rueda, and Katie Fredrick from the APH Connect Center, right after this.

Liz: Before we start, we’d like to thank Ron and Lisa Brookes, at Accessible Avenue, for sponsoring the Penny Forward podcast. I’m sure many of us have experienced frustration and uncertainty when trying to use public transportation or paratransit services that are either inaccessible, or just poorly designed for meeting our needs. Accessible Avenue works with transit agencies and other mobility providers to make transportation services accessible for everyone, including those of us who are blind or visually impaired. Accessible Avenue also works with individuals and organizations who need training or assistance with public transportation problems. You can learn more at
www.accessibleavenue.net

Chris: We’d also like to thank Kane Brolin of Brolin Wealth Management for sponsoring the podcast. Investing doesn’t have to be complicated, and it’s never too late to take action. But depending on how far away your goals are, the decisions you need to make will be very different. Kane Brolin is a blind certified financial planner, and chartered special needs consultant, who may be able to help you, no matter how much you have, or what stage of life you are in. Learn more by visiting
brolinwealth.com
or by calling 574-254-7180.

Chris: Hey, Everybody, thanks for being here.

one of the Ladies: Thanks for having us.

The Other Lady: Thank you. Thanks for having us.

Richard: Yes. Absolutely.

Chris: All right. I would like to learn a little bit about each of you. We usually ask our guests to tell us about themselves and their blindness. So let’s do that for each one of you, starting with Leslie.

Leslie: Okay, great. I’m Leslie Weilbacher. I’m the outreach specialist for the Northwest region with APH. I have a German Shepherd guide dog named Neil. I had more sight when I was younger, but I’ve always been visually impaired, and I was a TVI O and M for the last six years before I got this awesome job.

Chris: Thanks. And Richard?

Richard: Yeah, thank you, Chris. I am the digital content manager with Career Connect with the APH Connect Center, and I’ve been with APH for a little over a year and a half, and I consider myself legally blind. I have been blind, or low vision all my life, and, later in life, lost a lot more vision. And I too work with a seeing eye dog, his name is Italy, and he’s laying here by my feet passed out, after having been swimming all day yesterday.

Chris: That sounds pretty fun. And Katie.

Katie: Good afternoon. My name is Katie Fredrick, and some of you may know my name and recognize my voice from other places. I wear too many hats in the community, but today, I’m on this podcast representing the American Printing House for the Blind, where I have worked since the end of October as a digital content manager in our Connect Center, focusing on Vision Aware. And I have been blind since birth, was born prematurely, so have retinopathy of prematurity, and have traveled with guide dogs in the past, have had three, and unfortunately, recently, had to suddenly and unexpectedly say good-bye to my … my furry companion, so, all of you out there in Podcast Land, you have a guide dog or a pet dog, please give that animal a pet for me.

Liz: Now tell us about APH. What is it, how did it start, and how has it evolved over its history?

Leslie: Good question. So APH, or the American Printing House for the Blind, is the oldest and largest nonprofit in the nation that produces accessible educational materials or services for students who are blind or visually impaired, and that includes adult students in rehabilitation programs. It started in 1858, actually, so it has been around for a long time. And after Congress decided, in 1879, through the act to promote the education of the blind, that there should be some materials that schools for the blind could use, APH was designated the producer of those materials. It has evolved since then from doing raised print, to doing various, different, braille codes, and then large print, and audio. After that, we started doing more educational materials that branched into other areas of blindness related circumstances, such as students with multiple disabilities, students who are deaf and blind, students who have varying degrees of low vision, other disabilities as well. At the moment, we are doing a lot around coding, and stem, but still with that goal of braille literacy and high quality educational support.

Chris: All right. That’s a lot.

(They laugh together.)

Chris: Wow. Uh, so I want to hear more about some of those, and we have people on that are able to talk about some specific programs, and I’d like to start by talking about Vision Aware. Because I talk to a lot of people who are newly blind, and are not very well connected to resources. It’s a shocking circumstance, actually. So, Katie, can you talk to us about what Vision Aware is, and how it works, and why it exists?

Katie: Absolutely. So really, Vision Aware is a resource of information for adults who might be new to blindness or low vision, or for those working in the professional space that serve people who are blind or low vision. So, we really try to focus our content toward that audience. So we have personal stories on the site, we have our blogs, which many of them are written by our volunteer piers, and many of the piers who have been writing for Vision Aware have been around for … for about ten years or more, so it’s, again, it’s a really rich content history of information for people who may be new to blindness or low vision.

Chris: So I wonder if I could put you on the spot a little bit. Do you have any examples of some of the things that people might find out there?

Katie: Sure. So on Vision Aware, we recently updated some of our website content, and we are always looking at ways to continue to refresh our website content as well. We recently updated our section on diabetes, so tips for managing your diabetes, and dealing with that as a person who is blind or low vision. We also have a section on our website that talks about various eye conditions, including things like age related macular degeneration, and other issues, you know, diabetic retinopathy, other eye conditions, retinitis pigmentosa, we recently have updated that section as well on our site. We have blogs and articles that talk about the importance of getting an eye exam, and keeping that good eye health, and just how important it is to stay on top of managing your eye condition. And then, you know, we have some blogs that are perhaps not so serious, or directly related to eye conditions, but rather, you know, we published a post recently on some tips on navigating a summer cookout when you are blind or have low vision. So what are some useful tips and resources that you can manage that situation? So, again, just a wide range of topics that we have out there on the site to address, again, not only the … some of the medical aspects of living with blindness or low vision, but also, you know, sharing again, those personal stories and resources in that space as well.

Liz: With the blogs and the articles, where do they come from, exactly?

Katie: Great question. So, the majority of our content comes from an amazing group of volunteers who are called our “Vision Aware Piers,” and many of them are professionals in the field. Many of them also have personal experience, in other words they are blind or low vision themselves, and they have really created the bulk of the content on the site for the past decade or more. And so we are very grateful to them for helping us with that content. And we have some consultants that we work with as well, but the majority of our wonderful work comes from a great cadre of volunteers who just really come together and help us put this amazing content out there for everyone to read.

Chris: I’m curious if you have any thoughts about this. I said before that I encounter a lot of people who say, “I just lost my sight, and I have no idea where to go next.” Why is that? And are we doing anything about it?

Katie: Wow. Gosh. That’s a great question. I think, you know, one of the services that we offer is an information and referral line, and we do get those kind of calls. Our I and R specialists. Our … Allen Lovel and Sharron Hewy, they are both blind as well, and so they have that personal experience and can really talk to that call. But on our sites, we have, you know, a section that’s called, “After The Diagnosis,” which talks about, “What do I do next? Where do I go?” Because I think, unfortunately, you know, often times people are told by their medical professional that, “We can’t do anything more for you.” And what that means is there’s nothing more medically that can be done. But I think certainly those of us on this podcast know that that does not mean your life is over, so it’s getting to that place on the acceptance and emotional place where I think more can be done, or more needs to be done, outside of the medical space. And so I think, you know, certainly there’s room for improvement for Vision Aware. We’re looking at ways that we can, you know, make it more accessible. Because it’s on a website, which is great, there’s a ton of information out there, which is also great, but frankly, if you’re new to blindness, it’s not going to be easy for someone perhaps to get on a computer and access that information. So we’re looking at some ways that we can make the information that we do have more accessible to our audience. So, to answer your question, I do think there’s more that we as people who are blind can do, the more that we can get out and about, and be active in our communities, and show our sighted piers and friends and family that, you know, “Yeah, just because I’m blind, my life isn’t over,” and I think there is, you know, certainly some room for improvement in that space.

Chris: Yeah, it seems that way. And this is a very … I wouldn’t say controversial question, but there’s a broad range of opinions. Leslie, do you have any thoughts about this? Like, why is it so hard for newly blind people to get connected up?

Leslie: I think Katie had a good point there with doctor’s offices. And usually people are going through a grieving process themselves. If they get a new diagnosis, or, especially if something happens quickly, it’s hard to take in new information because it’s hard to envision yourself in a different roll in life, basically. I know in the education system, there’s a lot around parent grief and guilt that we deal with. Even when my student was born blind, always had this diagnosis, I get them in preschool or kindergarten, and there’s still this, this level of, “This isn’t what I saw for my child, so I don’t know how to accept some of what you’re telling me.” Now that isn’t always the case. Obviously, there are some fabulous parents out there that get it, and they try to learn, and they try to grow, and they try to accept what has happened, but it’s difficult. It’s emotional, they see the rest of the world that might look down on people who are blind or visually impaired. Or they see the access issues. Or all they’re understanding is their grandma who lost her sight when she was 90, and struggling to … to play bridge. (Chuckle.) I’m using real examples here. (Laugh.) And that’s their only concept of it. So people have to learn to open themselves up to new ideas, and that’s challenging for some people.

Chris: Richard, do you have anything to add?

Richard: I do, and thank you, Chris. And Leslie and Katie bring up some really good examples and points. I also think that if you’re newly blind, or you’re losing your vision, you are surrounded by the media, and what you hear and see on TV about, and radio, and just in society about blind people. The blind begger. Blind people are poor. Blind people don’t drive. And then you just internalize it. “Oh my god, I can’t see myself being that.” So you have some level of denial. And until you are truly connected up with resources like APH, the Connect Center, Vision Aware, Career Connect, positive blind roll models, you don’t … you don’t see how you can be successful, and gainfully employed, and, and … being productive, and living independently. So I think that’s why these … everything we’re talking about today is so critical, so important, and we do everything we can to, to get out there and be positive, influential, motivating, and empowering.

Male Announcer: We’ll get back to our interview in just a moment, but first, …

Female Announcer: Looking for resources and services related to blindness and low vision? The trained staff of the American Printing House for the Blind Connect Center Information and Referral line are here to help. Call 1800-232-5463, or visit our website,
aphconnectcenter.org
to access our community connect calendar, our directory of services, as well as our websites. The APH Connect Center, providing resources to guide children, parents, adults, and job seekers who are blind or low vision to greater independence and success in their lives. Call 1800-232-5463, or visit
aphconnectcenter.org
for more information.

(several moments of a female announcer speaking a language other than English which the Penny Forward transcriptionist cannot interpret.)

Male Announcer: Is there something you’d like to talk about? Visit
pennyforward.com/podcast
to learn how you can contact us, and send us a voice mail that we may share on the air.

Liz: Richard, you mentioned just now about Career Connect, and we’ve talked a little bit about Vision Aware, can you now talk about what Career Connect is, what it does, and how it helps people?

Richard: Absolutely. And I playfully say this to Katie, ’cause I think Career Connect is just as old, if not older, than Vision Aware. We started in the late 90’s with AFB, and it had a different name, and Career Connect essentially started as an exchange, or a switchboard for blind job seekers and those who are career curious to connect with others who are in the employment space. Who are working. Who are doing things. And since then, Career Connect has evolved to become, I want to say and believe and know it to be true, the premier place where the job seekers, and the career curious can go to, to find out how blind people can go to work. People who are blind, people who are low vision, by providing tools and resources on our website, and through all our outreach efforts. Everything we do at the Connect Center is intertwined, so, although Katie has Vision Aware and I have Career Connect and Melissa has Family Connect, we all leverage our expertise and cross over. Career Connect provides tools and resources, we have the job seeker’s tool kit. So for those who are newly blind, those who are young, those who’ve lost vision later in life, can learn from the job seeker’s tool kit how blind people get a job. From writing their resume, from disclosing your vision loss, when and where and how to do it, to, “How do I interview for a job?” And that’s up there, it’s a free resource, we have blogs. Just like Vision Aware. Where we’re getting job seekers, young and old, and people who have been successful in getting jobs, highlighting those experiences, and explaining to the reader how they’re getting their job. To, again, to be a resource, to be empowered, to be motivated, that “Hey, I can do this.” We have tons of webinars that we do regularly on the benefits of going to work, getting off of SSDI, or maximizing those opportunities to be successful and gainfully employed. The two things I want to mention that really underscore the power and success of Career Connect are something that we started in January of 2022 is Career Conversations. And that’s, each month, we bring on an adult who is blind or low vision who is successful in the workplace. Doctors, lawyers, musicians, artists, people from all walks of life. People who are psychologists, people who are attorneys, and we interview them for one hour. But, it’s only 15 minutes of the interview is me and Katie, Katie and I, and the remainder of the hour, and then we underscore this in everything we do, we ask the job seeker, the career curious as I call us, to ask questions. It’s your opportunity to be on and ask questions. To do the informational interview. To network. So you can get the most out of that interview, so that if the person you’re interviewing is of interest to you, and you want to pursue that career, it’s your opportunity. And Career Conversations leverages everything. We’ve learned since the pandemic, we’re on zoom, all these are archived, and all this is great curriculum for students in the classroom, for the VR teachers, rehab counselors, TVI’S, and so that’s one of many, many resources that you can get up at Career Connect. The last thing I will say is we are partnering, and will be partnering with Nsite, N S I T E. they are kind of a new arm of NIB, National Industries for the Blind, and they have put together a job board for not just NIB jobs, but for jobs in the corporate and private sector, nonprofits, and jobs where they are looking to hire and diversify their work pool and hire blind people. So we’re gonna connect with Nsite and put together that job board on Career Connect and kind of cross promote it so that job seekers can get the tools they need, and get the job leads they want to be successful.

Liz: Earlier you mentioned the acronym AFB. Would you mind explaining what that is for those who may not be aware?

Richard: Yes. The American Foundation for the Blind I believe is about a hundred years old this year, and they have been around since 1921? 1920? Katie, you can tell us. Katie’s on their board, all the hat she wears. But, AFB did start the Connect Center resources, Vision Aware, Family Connect, Career Connect, the directory of services, which is I think the oldest publication of all … The telephone book, basically, for all blindness services in the United States, if not in the world. And that used to be a publication that was the size of a telephone book that’s now all digitized, and we have that at the Connect Center. And all those services came over from the American Foundation of the Blind to APH in 2018.

Chris: I think one of the most frequently asked questions, and I don’t think this comes from newly blind people necessarily, it comes from lots of different walks of life, is, “I’m blind, what can I do as a career?” Richard, what are blind people doing as careers?

Richard: Thank you, Chris. I guess it’s not what we’re doing, it’s, what are we not doing? We’re doing pretty much any job that can be made accessible through all the opportunities that are out there technology wise, with more employers in the world becoming more aware of, and embracing to diversity, equity, inclusion, you are seeing blind people getting into jobs that previously weren’t thought of. Or told blind people couldn’t do. And it’s pretty much sky’s the limit. So, I don’t like to say what blind people are doing, I think if you put your heart into it, and you can’t be talked out of that career goal, then by all means, do it. And if you have the means and willingness to learn and train and get the accommodations you need, let’s study for it. Let’s pursue that career. I tell that to job seekers, young and old, all the time. People who’ve lost their vision, “Let’s look at your transferrable skills. What were you doing prior to your sight loss? And how can we leverage those experiences and bring you on to something similar in the workplace? Maybe you’re not the fork lift operator, but maybe you’re in dispatch. ’cause you know the industry. And, so things along those lines are what blind people can do.

Chris: Well that’s a great answer. I’m curious to know if Katie and Leslie have other opinions about this. Katie, what are your thoughts about this question of, “I’m blind. What can I do?”

Katie: So, I think, as Richard said with the points about what’s not being done, but at the same time, along those lines, it’s also about, you know, “What do you think you want to do, and what do you need to advocate for yourself in that space? Because before coming to the American Printing House for the Blind, I … one of my jobs was working for our state vocational rehabilitation agency. And, you know, we saw it there, where people would go in, and might not know what to ask, or what to say about, if they wanted to go down a certain career path, you know, “Well, I want to do this, but I don’t know how,” or not knowing what to ask. So I think, you know, when thinking about a career path, coming to things like their career conversations that we have, and doing those informational interviews, regardless of, you know, blindness or not, but especially if you’re blind, you know, finding people who are blind in that space. That networking, that connecting, is so crucial, and again, learning to advocate for yourself. Learning, you know, doing those mock interviews. Being able to sit down with an employer and say, “Well, here’s how I think I can do this job, with this technology, or using this skill, or …” You know, because the reality is, is that it’s tough out there. And in order for you to, you know, to get that job, you’re going to have to prove yourself a little bit extra than somebody else might. It’s unfortunate, but it is the reality. And so, you know, going in and being prepared. There was a time in my career when I was unemployed for nine months. And it was very humbling, you know, to go into interviews, and there were times when I just … I could tell that I wasn’t going to get the job. But, you know, you go in, and you give it your best, and you learn from that and keep on trying. Because you will land and get something eventually, and it may not be what you want at first. My first job was not, and I’m certain that many of us on this podcast have had jobs that were not what we thought at first. But, you know, we … we learn from those experiences, and we … we keep going, and we build upon our networks, we expand upon our networks, and we get to where we want to go.

Leslie: I’m gonna jump in off of two things Katie just said, because they resonate very strongly with me is, persevering, trying, trying, trying, and also building networks. I think one major thing that we’re trying to do in outreach with APH is build those networks through professionals in the vision field, the TVI’S, teachers of students with visual impairments, voc rehab counselors, orientation and mobility specialists, anybody in the field who works with anybody who is blind, who may be blind themselves, who can help people answer these questions. I just was connected, through an O and M specialist, to a person that literally lost her sight in two months. He said “You know what, you both ride horses. You should talk. ‘Cause she’s not sure she can still ride her horses.” I’m like, “Of course she can still ride her horses. There’s … “ (Chuckle.) “There’s Paralympic athletes who are competing.” So we started talking, and she started asking me exactly about career. And she’s like, “What can I do now?” I said, “What did you do before?” Well, she did a lot of management, she did a lot of customer service, all very, very transferrable skills. And I commended her on her, “I need to learn technology, I need to get a career. So I can feed my horses.” Which is a great goal. But it takes that perseverance. It takes that inner drive, and from that K 12 educational aspect, that’s one thing that we’re always teaching our students is self advocacy. You have to be able to talk about what you need. Now sometimes you don’t know what you need, because you’re in a new situation, but you have to be able to talk around what you need. Have to be able to say, “These are things that have worked for me in the past, and this might be a place to start, and we might have to do some trial and error to find the right thing that will work in this particular situation,” but you have to have that self confidence to do that. And that takes work, and that takes a lot of … (Sigh.) A lot of scary moments, (Chuckle.) But finding the network of people to talk those things through as well can help with that. Through things like ACB, American Council of the Blind, NFB, National Federation For the Blind, these are good groups to start with. Surely, there is someone else out there who’s had at least a similar situation, and maybe they can tell you what worked for them, which might give you the idea to take you in the direction that works for you. But you’ve got to try things. And it’s scary. But what’s the goal? Aim for that goal. Maybe the goal’s a little high, maybe you can make steps to that goal, and not just shoot for the goal itself right away, but what are the steps you need to reach that?

Chris: That’s all the time we have for this week’s episode, but tune in again in two weeks for the conclusion of our interview with Leslie Weilbacher, Richard Rueda, and Katie Fredrick from the APH Connect Center. And if you’d like to learn more about the APH Connect Center, visit their website at
aphconnectcenter.org

Liz: Is there something you’d like to talk about? We’d love to hear from you. Visit pennyforward.com/podcast
to learn how to contact us or to leave us a voicemail that we may share on air. And while you’re there, please make a small donation to support our work to develop accessible and affordable financial education programs for people who are blind.

Chris: The Penny Forward podcast is produced by Liz Bottner and Chris Peterson, Audio editing and post production is provided by Byron Lee, and transcription is provided by Ann Verduin. Web hosting is provided by Taylor’s Accessible Branding Solutions.

Liz: Penny Forward is a community of blind people building bright futures one penny at a time. Visit
pennyforward.com
to learn more about who we are and what we do.

Chris: For all of us in the Penny Forward community, I’m Chris Peterson, …

Liz: And I’m Liz Bottner.

Chris: Have a great week.