Trina’s Job Hunt:Perseverance Pays Off

In honor of National Disability Employment Awareness Month, I invited a Seeing Possibilities reader to share her story here in hopes that it will inspire and encourage other job seekers. Trina Bassak has a doctorate in Physical Therapy with 25 years of clinical experience. She enjoys yoga, gardening, and roller skating. Trina and her husband are Master Gardeners and 4-H leaders. If you would like to contact Trina, her email is: tdbassak@frontiernet.net

About Myself

I was born with glaucoma which was diagnosed at age six and already had tunnel vision. I had a retinal detachment after yet another glaucoma surgery the summer after high school and went to college with low vision.  I always knew I wanted to be in a medical career. Once I was exposed to physical therapy, that was what I wanted to do without question.

Some accommodations were made after more glaucoma surgery in college (assist for reading and special bright-colored markers in cadaver lab). Then two years after graduation, employed in an outpatient clinic, my other retina detached after glaucoma surgery again. I continued to work totally blind and then returned to school in 2009 to get my doctorate of physical therapy (DPT) degree.

I worked and went to online school for three years and graduated in 2011. I used my computer with JAWS, Open Book OCR and had a reader to assist with the school work. The college let me take extra time for testing. I also went to massage school as well and graduated in 2000. I was afraid advancing technology in my field may not be accessible and this might force me to change professions. So I wanted to prepare.

The Job Hunt

I have had a difficult year searching for a job and it is finally over. The frustration level was much more than I ever imagined and I thought maybe sharing it with others may help someone on the verge of giving up on their own job hunt.

I have been a physical therapist for 27 years in Pennsylvania and for 25 of them, I have been totally blind. I left a long-term position to relocate to Florida, for family reasons, thinking I would find another position in a reasonable amount of time. I moved to a very rural area and the people were not accepting of outsiders, yet alone a person who is blind!  There were only a few clinics within 20 miles and no public transportation. I didn’t even make it to the interview stage and that was without disclosing my visual deficit!

My husband and I decided it was not the area for us and we began to investigate opportunities in Colorado. There were more job openings, great weather in the southern region, gorgeous mountains and friendly, accepting people. This led to a second move after only 7 months!  I applied online, made phone calls and contacted agencies that I thought could be useful. I even started looking in other related professions such as healthcare advocate.

I interviewed on the phone and even went to Colorado twice before moving for in-person interviews. One company flew me out and provided us with a car and hotel accommodations. I passed all their work lift tests and drug screens and thought I would get an offer. They declined me after 6 months, claiming they could not accommodate me. This was one of many rejections – at least 12-15…I stopped counting.  I started looking at other career options again. I applied online and contacted people with experience working from home. This included customer service, writing articles, and data entry. I really love my profession and working with patients, but was getting discouraged by the many barriers to employment.  I kept remembering the saying “insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”   At this point, I was frustrated, angry, getting depressed and cried a lot more than I ever had in my life.  I very much identified with being a physical therapist and my feelings of self-worth and self-esteem depended on my work, I came to realize.

Getting Discouraged…

My husband and I argued all the time and things were not going well.  At a very low point, I knew I had to do something. I then decided to take any position I could find and started looking at both therapy and non-therapy positions. On an impulse, I started calling chiropractors who seemed to work in conjunction with physical therapists. My focus was still on working in an outpatient clinic setting, which I believed would be the most accessible for a blind therapist. Or was it…?

Got the Job!

Finally, I received a call from an operations manager for an outpatient clinic and home health agency called AIM Home Health in Pueblo Colorado. We talked a bit and I learned they did not have an opening in outpatient. He wanted to meet me and discuss the opening in home health, even after I disclosed my visual limitations.  After a few meetings, I was offered a position as a home health therapist and I accepted the job.  The company offered to provide me with a driver who also would assist with computer work and home orientation, and a company car to do in- home treatments.

I contacted the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation upon arriving in Colorado and they started my application process immediately. While I was waiting to be accepted, I found a job on my own, which changed my plan with them. Instead of helping me obtain a position, they were now assisting with work accommodations. They sent an access technology specialist to assess the computer system which is already partly accessible. I am working out the necessary accommodations, learning the job, and orienting myself to new environments. It all has definitely been an adjustment for me.

Trina doing physical therapy in a client's home

Trina with client Nicole Turner

The biggest adjustment has been working in new environments-not knowing where everything is all the time as I did in an outpatient clinic. I don’t have control of the situation as I did previously but I still have to present myself as a confident and competent therapist. It seems to be going okay so far but I am constantly striving to make it better. My assistant and I are getting used to each other and she is learning how to provide me with directions. She is not used to being around a blind person and I am doing silly things since she doesn’t know how to tell me where things are.

Soon we will fall into a routine.  I am grateful for her help and the opportunity this company has provided me. I am a good therapist and just needed to be given a chance and some accommodations. I keep wondering what I would be doing now if I had given up the search. Instead of doing the same thing over and over again, I’m glad I tweaked my search and opened myself up to new opportunities. It feels like the right place for me now.

Don’t Give Up!

Anyone in search of a job needs to be persistent and look at all opportunities and options, even if they don’t seem feasible.  I was on the verge of giving up but chose to continue forward. Now I completely understand why many people do give up.  During this difficult process, something in job preparedness needs to be done every day. Whether it is working on a resume, searching for openings online or in newspapers, making phone inquiries, networking, expanding your knowledge by taking online courses, or reading articles of interest…just do something! Perseverance will pay off; maybe not in the way you initially thought but open yourself up to new ideas and experiences.

Trina in the tomato patch

Trina in the tomato patch

 

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Reading to Enhance Mental Health: Bibliotherapy

Reading as a Healing Experience

Most of us become readers at an early age and discover the wonders of a good story. We learn to interact with books in order to learn and grow. Characters come alive to us as we relate to their experiences. Sometimes reading is for pleasure or escape and other times it is for the disciplined acquisition of information. No matter what, our engagement with literature and written word has the potential to change us, calm us, inform us, inspire us and heal us. In its most simplistic form, this is known as bibliotherapy. Exposure to books, poetry, writing, and even film and videos can be therapeutic and beneficial in helping us process our own life experiences. In other words, literature can be used to help us figure life out, heal emotional traumas, and change thoughts and behavior. Reading can be a healing experience.

As I was learning to adjust to vision loss, I was drawn to read books about blindness and books written by authors who were blind. I found it very helpful and motivating to enter the narratives of others who were sharing their own stories of vision loss. Some books were informational, some humorous, and others deeply moving. I realized that the cumulative affect was that I understood more about blindness and my feelings about it were changing. Reading books on blindness, memoirs and biographies of blind writers has had a very positive influence on my ability to adjust and cope with vision loss.

Reading Books on Blindness

It has long been understood that literature “heals the soul” and the use of bibliotherapy has evolved to become quite complex in its application to psychiatry and health care. Consider a bit of reading therapy for yourself as a way to deal with vision loss. With the help of the Peer Advisors at VisionAware, I  put together a reading list of books for this purpose. It is not exhaustive by any means but meant to get you started. Most of these titles are available through the National Library Service in audio or braille formats. Newer titles are not yet available through the NLS. Many are available in e-book formats through your favorite booksellers. (Kindle, Nook, etc.) Another way to find such books on blindness is to search the NLS collection using “blindness” as a key word. Whether you are using your eyes, ears or fingers to read, may it be a rewarding and therapeutic experience.

If you are interested in learning more about the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped and the Talking Book Program, go to: hhttp://www.loc.gov/nls/index.html

24 Books on Blindness

  1. Touch the Top of the World by Erik Weihenmayer- e-book, NLS
  2. Cockeyed: a memoir by Ryan Knighton- e-book, NLS
  3. Blindness: What it is, What it Does, and How to Live with it by Thomas Carroll-NLS
  4. Lessons I Learned in the Dark by Jennifer Rothschild- NLS
  5. Touching the Rock: An Experience of Blindness by John Hull- NLS
  6. Living on the Edge of Twighlight by Doug Green- e-book
  7. Now I See You: A Memoir by Nicole C. Kear- e-book
  8. Mobility Matters: Stepping Out in Faith by Amy Bovaird- e-book
  9. Out of the Whirlpool: A Memoir of Remorse and Reconciliation by Sue Martin- e-book,NLS
  10. The Adversity Advantage by Erik Weihenmayer and Paul G. Stoltz-  e-book,NLS
  11. Thoughts on Blindness: One Spouse’s Perspective on Losing Vision and Living Life by Becky LeBlanc-The Carroll Center Books on Blindness
  12. Ordinary Daylight: Portrait of an Artist Going Blind by Andrew Potok- e-book, NLS cassette
  13. A Matter of Dignity: Changing the Lives of the Disabled by Andrew Potok-NLS
  14. ROCKS:The Blind Guy at the Lake by Thomas P. Costello-Amazon print, The Carroll Center Books on Blindness
  15. Focus by Ingrid Ricks- e-book
  16. How Do You Kiss a Blind Girl by Sally Wagner-NLS
  17. The Way We See It: A Fresh Look at Vision Loss – anthology from Vision Loss Resource-print, e-book available at http://www.visionlossresources.org
  18. Do You Dream in Color? By Laurie Rubin-NLS
  19. And There Was Light: Autobiography of Jacques Lusseyran, Blind Hero of the French Resistance by Jacques Lusseyran-NLS
  20. Not Fade Away by Rebecca Alexander
  21. The Unseen Minority: a social history of blindness in America by Frances A. Koestler-NLS
  22. Self-Esteem and Adjusting with Blindness: the process of responding to life’s demands by Dean and Naomi Tuttle-NLS
  23. Shades of Darkness: a black soldier’s journey through Vietnam, blindness and back by George Brummell-NLS
  24. Undaunted by Blindness: concise biographies of 400 people who refused to let visual impairment define them by Clifford Olstrom, Perkins School for the Blind-NLS

Share Your Favorite Therapeutic Book

Is there a book you have read that helped you adjust to vision loss? How did the book help you? Or is there a book about a blind person that was encouraging or motivational? What about books written by a blind or visually impaired author? Share your favorite reads below.

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Using the Be My Eyes App

I downloaded the Be My Eyes app and tried it out recently. It was incredibly easy to use and very helpful. All you do is go to the app store and install the app. Then you select whether you are a sighted or blind user. When you need assistance, you open the app,  which can be done with Siri and touch the middle of the screen to “connect to first available helper.” The app will then say “creating request” and “connecting to servers.” Then you get a musical tone and a message stating “waiting for other part.” The tone continues until someone answers the call and greets you. This can take a minute or two. On my first call, someone in Stockholm Sweden answered. It was morning for me and evening for him. The volunteer helped me choose between a regular coffee and a decaf coffee pod for my Keurig. All I had to do was point my phone at what I wanted to see and it showed up on the camera. The call lasted a minute or so. I thanked him kindly and said good-bye.  Then I tapped at the bottom of the screen to disconnect the call.

I used Be My eyes again this morning. This time I chatted with the volunteer a moment. He was a firefighter in Ohio and commented on the extreme cold weather they were experiencing. I asked him what prompted him to sign up for Be My Eyes. He said he thought it was a way he could help out. The core philosophy of this app is the idea that we all need help at times and people are willing to help. It connects us to each other in a special way and I am certain there are benefits for both parties. Aren’t we living in amazing times?

 

Have You Heard About “Be My Eyes?”

 

Be My Eyes_Credits Emil Jupin & Thelle Kristensen“Be My Eyes” will help the blind “see” all kinds of things with the help of sighted volunteers and the video cameras on their  i-phones. Here is the press release from www.bemyeyes.org :

New app lets sighted help blind people see

A new app makes life easier for the blind, by connecting them with sighted helpers through a smartphone app. This allows the blind to handle big and small tasks, while ighted get the joy of helping someone else in a easy and informal way. The app is called Be My Eyes and could revolutionize everyday life for the blind.

It only takes a minute to choose the right tin can from the shelf, look at the expiration date on the milk or find the right thing to eat in the fridge if have full vision that is. For visual impaired individuals smaller tasks in their home can often become bigger challenges. The new app is called “Be My Eyes” and hopes to change that!

Through a direct video call the app gives blind people the opportunity to ask a sighted volunteer for help, for tasks that requires normal vision. The blind person “borrows” the helper’s eyes all through his or her smartphone. The sighted helper is able to see and describe what the blind person is showing the sighted helper by filming with the video camera in the smartphone. That way, by working together they are able to solve the problem that the blind person is facing.

A test version of the app has been well received by the blind community. John Heilbrunn, himself blind and vice chairman of The Danish Association of the Blind, sees  it as great opportunity to get help from a network of volunteers: »The app makes it possible to get help at times where it might be inconvenient to get help from neighbors or friends, and you don’t have to go apologetically and ask for help.«

The idea behind Be My Eyes originates from the Danish 50 year old furniture craftsman Hans Jørgen Wiberg, who started losing his vision when he was 25. His wish is that the app will make both the everyday life of blind people easier and new flexible opportunity to volunteer:»It is flexible, takes only a few minutes to help and the app is therefore a good opportunity for the busy, modernindividual with the energy to help othersSays inventor Hans Jørgen Wiberg

The Be My Eyes app is free and available in the AppStore.

This app is similar to Tap Tap See only it is free. It will soon be available on androids too. Could this be helpful to you or someone you know? If you are sighted, would you be interested in “lending your eyes” and becoming a sighted helper?

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Ski for Light Focuses on Abilities Not Disabilities

I just returned from the 2015 International Ski for Light event in Granby Colorado. It was an amazing week of cross-country skiing under big, blue skies in the Rocky Mountains. We enjoyed well-groomed trails, sunny days, beautiful snow, and crisp mountain air.  The  best part though was connecting with a group of inspiring people.

My first day on skis-note the tracks in the snow

My first day on skis-note the tracks in the snow

A First Time Skier

Ski for Light is a non-profit organization run by all volunteers, which enables visually impaired and mobility impaired individuals to enjoy a week of skiing with a personal guide. There were 100 dis-Abled skiers, 100 sighted guides and a host of other volunteers who make the week go smoothly.  I am so thrilled to have had this opportunity to learn to ski for the first time in my life. I had no idea whether I would be able to do it but as it turns out, I can…even at my age and with the little bit of vision I have left! It was a memorable week which taught me I can do more than I think I can.

A Full-Inclusion Program

I learned about the program from a friend who is also keen on new adventures. She has been attending Ski for Light for many years. In my retirement, I am determined to try new things, learn new skills and get fit. So this opportunity was exciting and I did not hesitate to sign up. It spurred me on to join the gym and exercise regularly so I would not embarrass myself. I arrived in fairly good shape, though there is always room for improvement. I worked hard at learning the basics of cross-country skiing with my experienced guide/instructor Lynn Cox. She has been coming to SFL for many years, volunteering her time and at her own expense, to guide and teach visually impaired skiers. The guides are trained to work with the visually impaired and most are accomplished skiers who can share their expertise. We are treated with respect, dignity, and full inclusion and it is easy to forget you are visually impaired while at SFL. And that is a wonderful thing!

Pushing Past Personal Limits

Well, as it turns out, I have a special talent for falling safely and popping up quickly which I demonstrated over and over. This is an important skill, but it was not the one at which I wanted to excel. All week, I tried to fall less and ski more smoothly. I set goals for myself and worked to do my personal best each day. In the end, I improved every day; skiing farther, faster, and with fewer falls with the support and encouragement from Lynn at my side. That is what it is all about; learning your limits and then pushing past them! I have a lot more to learn and hope to master that darn “snow plow” next year.

Lynn and I after completing the 5k Rally-note the beautiful medals!

Lynn and I after completing the 5k Rally-note the beautiful medals!

A Well-Rounded Program

Ski for Light does a fantastic job of not only accommodating all levels of disabilities, but also all levels of skiing ability from the first timer to the serious race competitor. The guides are carefully matched with a skier in order to achieve the skier’s goals for the week. The program offers special interest workshops, evening entertainment and lots of opportunities to make new friends. The cost is subsidized by generous donor funds and scholarships are available for first-timers.

An Inspiring Week

I heard many inspiring stories and witnessed something special at SFL this week.  Harald Vik is 72 years old, deaf-blind and from Norway. He has been coming to SFL for years. Last year he was hit by a car while riding in a tandem bike event and sustained many broken bones. He was determined to be at this year’s event even if he had to use a sit-ski (for the mobility impaired skier). I met him out on the trails making his way on his own two legs after months of rehab and therapy. I call him “Amazing Harald.” And one bright day on the trails, I was passed up by a 93 year old gentleman who is totally blind and has been coming to SFL for more than 20 years. Way to stay young and active, Charlie! Yes, the dis-Abled skiers were inspiring to me…but so were the dedicated guides and volunteers who come back year after year with such a heart of service and passion for this excellent program.

Harald Vik and his interpreters from Norway.

Harald Vik and his interpreters from Norway.

Is Ski for Light For YOU?

Are you looking for a new adventure? Do you like to be active and learn new skills? Ski for Light may just be the thing for you!  Learn more at www.sfl.org  I will be there next year, will you?

[SFL logo]

Have You Heard About NVDA and Computers For the Blind?

I have been surviving on the computer with Zoomtext for the last 12 years. It has been wonderful to have such access. I actually started with “Bigshot”, a precursor to Zoomtext, and it allowed me to continue my job for years. But alas, my vision continues to change and technology changes even faster! I now have cataracts that affect the last bit of vision I have to read. I am making plans to have them removed and hoping to clear up my central vision. But at the same time, I have been thinking about making the transition to using a screen reader rather than a screen magnifier program so I can continue to use a computer.

I understand that the JAWS screen reader is difficult to learn and quite expensive. I am intimidated by it and dread learning it! Then there is Windows Eyes which I hear has some issues and seems to have less tech support available. In some cases, the state Vocational Rehab agencies will purchase access software and provide training for users. But in my state, there is a 2-3 year wait for these services. Many blind and visually impaired people cannot afford these expensive products on their own and it is sad how companies seem to exploit the disabled. So many blind and visually impaired people do not have access to a computer, social media, on-line shopping and the wealth of internet information.

That is why I am so excited about NVDA-nonvisual desktop access! This is a free screen reader that is compatible with Windows and available for download. Here is an exerpt of the story of how it was developed and made available for all from the website http://www.nvaccess.org/ :

Michael Curran and James Teh met as children on a music camp for the blind, where they realised they shared a strong interest in computers. Several years later they decided to join forces to help improve the accessibility of computers for blind and vision impaired people.

For blind people to use a computer, they need a screen reader which reads the text on the screen in a synthetic voice or with a braille display. But in many cases screen reading software costs more than the computer itself. In the past this has left computers inaccessible to millions of blind people around the world. This is a critical problem, because without computers, access to education and employment is severely limited, not to mention everyday functions such as online banking, shopping and news.

In April 2006 Michael began to develop a free screen reader called NVDA (NonVisual Desktop Access) for use with computers running on Windows. He invited James, who had recently completed his IT degree, to develop the software with him.

Together these two fully blind men founded the not-for-profit organisation NV Access to support the development of the NVDA screen reader. Before too long they were able to work full-time on the project thanks to a series of corporate grants and individual donations.

NVDA has been translated by volunteers into more than 43 languages, and been used by people in more than 120 countries. It has also won multiple awards.

NVDA is open source software, which means the code is accessible to anyone. This enables translators and developers around the world to continually contribute to its expansion and improvement.

Through this work, Michael and James have gained extensive expertise in software accessibility. They have also fostered relationships with companies such as Mozilla, Microsoft, IBM, Adobe and Yahoo! and have contributed to the accessibility of their respective products.

NV Access is based in South East Queensland, Australia.

Yay for these lads who have made computers more accessible with the NVDA screen reader! They have created tutorials to make NVDA user friendly. Check out these links:

http://nvda.wikispaces.com/

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qOQ7zELFmLE

And did you know about Computers for the Blind? It is a program that refurbishes desktop and laptop computers and then makes them available to people who are visually challenged for a nominal fee. The computers come preloaded with either magnification software or NVDA screen readers, monitors, keyboards and more. The mission of Computers for the Blind (CFTB) is to open the world of information technology to persons who are blind or visually impaired by providing computer equipment, software and training. Check out their site at: http://www.computersfortheblind.net/index-2.html or call 214.340.6328 to learn more.

I hope these resources are helpful to you or someone you know. Pass the information on…

 

Have You Ordered Your iBill Currency Reader Yet?

The other day, I ordered my iBill reader from the BEP. It was a simple process. As a patron of the National Library Service (NLS) I am already ”authorized” to receive one. Some people pre-ordered through their library service but that option is no longer available. If you are not an NLS  user, you will need to have your application signed by someone who is “authorized” to certify that you are visually impaired.  Now you must go to the Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP) website to order. The form is short and can be filled in electronically but has to be printed and mailed the old-fashioned way. You can expect your iBill reader to arrive in about 8 weeks.

There is a fascinating summary of all that transpired to bring about this program posted on VisionAware at: http://www.visionaware.org/blog/visionaware-blog/progress-update-united-states-accessible-currency-project-for-blind-and-visually-impaired-persons/12#comments

It has been a lengthy and complex series of events, demonstrating our government being mandated by the courts to make U.S. paper currency accessible to the blind and visually impaired. I found it very interesting and think you will too.

Below is the government press release with a link to the on-line application. Well, it’s about time, wouldn’t you say?

BEP Rolls Out U.S. Currency Reader Program Nationwide

Media Contact: Darlene Anderson

(202) 874-2229 Darlene.Anderson@BEP.GOV Customer Inquiry: Toll Free (844) 815-9388

Washington, DC (January 5, 2015) – The Department of Treasury’s Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP) is now accepting and processing applications nationwide from blind or visually impaired individuals who wish to receive a free currency reader.  This initiative is one of a number of steps the BEP is taking to introduce technologies and features to make our nation’s paper currency accessible to all individuals.

The reader, called iBill® Currency Identifier, provides a convenient means for blind or visually impaired individuals to identify all Federal Reserve notes (U.S. currency) in circulation.  It uses a single AAA battery, which is included, and denominates the note in one of three modes: a clear natural voice, a pattern of tones, or a pattern of vibrations for privacy.  The vibration mode also assists people who are deaf and blind.

The U.S. Currency Reader Program is a component of the BEP’s initiative to provide meaningful access to Federal Reserve notes.  Interested individuals can download the application from the BEP’s website at http://www.bep.gov/uscurrencyreaderform.html.  It must be filled out completely, signed by a competent authority that can certify eligibility, and returned to the mailing address provided on the form.

Please direct questions or comments about the U.S. Currency Reader Program to the BEP toll-free number (844-815-9388) or email at meaningful.access@bep.gov.  More information about the U.S. Currency Reader Program and the BEP’s meaningful access initiative is available at www.bep.gov.

In September, the BEP launched a four-month pilot program where existing patrons of the National Library Services for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) were eligible to pre-order currency readers.  The pilot program provided an opportunity for the government to test its ordering and distribution process, and gauge demand for currency readers in advance of the January 2015 national rollout.  Approximately 15,000 readers were pre-ordered and delivered under the pilot program.

In 2011, the BEP introduced EyeNote®, an app that scans and identifies note images on mobile devices operating on the Apple iOS platform.  BEP also assisted the Department of Education in developing the IDEAL Currency Reader app for Android phones.  To date, these apps have been downloaded more than 20,000 times.