Posts Tagged ‘AFB’

The Making of Blind Leaders

Wednesday, October 23rd, 2019

Are leaders born or are they made?

The American Foundation for the Blind is seeking applicants who believe they have what it takes to learn how to become a leader.

Headshot of Megan Aragon
Megan Aragon is the Director of Knowledge Advancement Programs with AFB. Hear all about the Blind Leaders Development Program and how you can apply. Whether in the profit or nonprofit sector, leadership skills can help you reach your goals taking you to the next step in your career.

Megan’s own story of adjusting to vision loss exemplifies the ideas behind the Blind Leaders Development program. She provides some real insight on the adjustment process making this a must listen for anyone struggling to accept their own blindness.

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TR:

Welcome back to another episode of Reid My Mind Radio.
I’m Thomas Reid, host & producer of the podcast bringing you
compelling people impacted by all degrees of vision loss. That means from Low Vision to totally Blind.

As we’re in the midst of NDEAM or
National Disability Employment Awareness Month,
I’m happy to bring you an episode with this in mind.

Audio: Reid My Mind radio Intro Theme Music

My name is Megan Aragon. I am the Director of Knowledge Advancement Programs with American Foundation for the Blind.

TR:

Before Megan began directing and advancing all of that knowledge
she had to find her own way.

At 17, while studying hard in college, Megan began experiencing eye fatigue. She initially blamed it on all of the studying but soon began seeing what she describes as lights.

MA:

Eventually those lights started to fill in to a blind spot. I’d be driving and pedestrians and street signs would just sort of pop into my peripheral vision and I didn’t realize what was going on it was just like they were appearing out of nowhere.

TR:

A few months later Megan was diagnosed with Stargardt’s Macular Dystrophy.

Even though she had a diagnosis, Megan admits she didn’t deal with the changes.

MA:

At some point you can’t just say I’m not going to deal with it. You have to deal with it.

I think it was probably over the course of four or five months I went from perfect vision to Low Vision.

[TR in conversation with MA:]
So you weren’t using any aids, large print magnifiers…

MA:
No, and I had no clue of what was out there in terms of tools resources, options nothing because I was being so stubborn and really acting in denial. I didn’t even do any research. I was just like nope I’m going to do it the way I used to do it and how I’ve always done it and then eventually I couldn’t.

TR:

Megan was creative in hiding her blindness.

MA:

Before I started college had worked as a waitress. So I knew that job and I knew how it might be done without vision.

TR:

Waitressing with low vision meant maximizing her memory of;
first, the menu, including ingredients for each dish

Then there’s taking each person’s order at the table.

Plus she memorized each screen on the computer order input system.

That was all after getting passed the in store application process.

MA:

I end up sneaking a magnifier in and was like reading a question and hiding the magnifier and filling in the answer and pulling out the magnifier out and was hiding my vision loss but was able to pass a personality/math test.

[TR in conversation with MA:]

I’m sure you probably thought about it, but what do you think was the reason that you were trying to hide it or trying to pass?

MA:

I hadn’t come to terms with it so I had no idea how to tell anybody about it without seeming super awkward and feeling weird. I just wanted to have a normal life. I could potentially lose my job. It would risk what I had built.

I think it could have been a really great opportunity for me to learn and for everyone else to learn, but I still just didn’t have those tools in my toolbox.

[TR in conversation with MA:]

Well eventually you did.

MA:

It was a long time after the waiting tables thing.

TR:

It was after graduating college with a degree in Sociology.

She had a plan to get some work experience and then return to school for a Master’s degree.

But she had to have a conversation with herself in order to get to the root of what was holding her back.

MA:

You need to understand your vision loss. You need to communicate about it and you need to know what tools you need in order to be successful.

TR:

What she didn’t know at the time was she needed an example.
Fortunately, her Dad knew someone who suggested their local Lighthouse for the Blind.

MA:

I look them up, it’s like a manufacturing facility. And I said, I don’t want to work at a manufacturing plant, that’s not the type of work I want to do. I don’t know where to turn to . I ended up sending my resume over and interviewing with their Vice-President of Operations. He has a visual impairment. I think we spent two or three hours during that interview .

This guy has a vision impairment adjust like I do and he has his act together. He has a big job, he’s got it going on and he has vision loss just like I do, huh! Maybe I could have it going on. So finally the lights came on.

[TR in conversation with MA:]
So the lights came on at the Lighthouse!

TR& MA laugh…

MA:

I remember I got the call that they were going to give me a job and I was in the kitchen and got off the phone and started dancing around like oh my gosh it’s possible , like I could totally do this!

In my mind I hadn’t proved it to myself yet that I could be a good employee. That I had value to bring to the table. You know that (exhales) that I could do something more than waiting tables.

TR:

No shots at all to those waitressing,
Megan just needed to know she could be successful at something else.

That seems pretty obvious to those who see the ingenuity and persistence that went into first landing the waitress job, but Megan had to realize her own value.

Once denying her vision loss, now the Director of Knowledge Advancement Programs at American Foundation for the Blind.

MA:

Knowledge Advancement programs are focused on employment and developing ways to change the system that individuals go through that effects employments. Hiring practices of employers. general inclusion practices of employers. Policies and practices that affect employment of the blind and visually impaired individual. Helping to develop blind and visually impaired individuals so they’re ready to step into roles of leadership and employment.

TR:

Part of that last initiative is the Blind Leaders Development Program

MA:

This will be our kick-off year. Essentially, the Blind Leaders development program will take a group of 12 to 16 Blind and Visually Impaired individuals through a leadership development program for 12 months. The curriculum we’re using for this program is called the Leadership Challenge.

TR:

Based on 30 years of research, the heart of this curriculum is
the idea that leaders aren’t born. leadership can be taught.

MA:

There are 30 specific behaviors that are observable if someone demonstrates those behaviors then they’re more likely to be willingly followed by others. The theory is there are things you can do to be a better leader.

It’s a kick start. It’s meant to amplify someone’s career trajectory. We’re hoping to develop leadership capacity within individuals and see them achieve upward mobility.

[TR in conversation with MA:]

Give me an example of someone who would be right for this program. Jane Doe works, you fill in the blank, she does bla bla bla!

MA:

Sure, so Jane Doe could be working at a nonprofit agency, in the for profit sector, government sector. Is interested in developing her ability to be a better leader, engaging with her organization.

[TR in conversation with MA:]

What type of work would Jane Doe be doing. Does it matter? Could she be an Admin? Does she have to be already on the management track?

MA:

Yeah, she could be doing anything. Doesn’t have to be on the management track, but interested in doing something like that. Interested in achieving hire level of career and leadership responsibility.

TR:

Sounds like you or someone you know?

Here’s a bit more of what AFB is seeking from a candidate.

MA:

Someone that is going to take the learning the knowledge and the concepts that we discuss during the program and take that home and apply them and really engage.

TR:

Apply them at work and in community organizations by serving on committees, boards.

MA:

Someone that is willing to consider a variety of opinions and perspectives and is able to integrate those into new ways of thinking. Creative open mind set.

We also want to see someone that has the potential to be a productive participant. They are willing to make the commitments that are required to really get a lot out of this program.

TR:

Here’s how it will work.

All interested candidates will have to complete an application available online at AFB.org.

The yearlong program will kick-off with a two day leadership workshop just prior to the AFB Leadership Conference in March 2020.

MA:

Where they’ll dive really deeply into the leadership challenge text, the results of their leadership practices inventory which is a survey that measures the frequency of those 30 behaviors I mentioned before.

How often does a participant for example, follow through on commitments they make.
TR:

Such behaviors are said to be an indication of leadership ability.

In addition to setting their own goals for the program,
participants will rate their own abilities and the results will be compared
to answers provided by their peers and managers.

MA:

It’s both eye opening and affirming.

The rest of the year will be done virtually. Every other month there will be a webinar where we talk about soft skill development, interpersonal skills and those key skills that are so important for leadership development.

Communication, networking, things that a lot of times require the ability to read nonverbal cues. So how do you do that as a Blind individual. Techniques you can use to make sure you’re as effective or better as your sighted peers.

We’re also incorporating a professional coaching element to the program and a mentoring element to the program.

There will be 12 to 16 Blind and Visually Impaired established leaders that will participate in the program as well and help to mentor those participants.

TR:

On the off months where there is no webinar scheduled,
participants will meet individually with their coach and mentor.

Mentors will also need to complete an application.

Those selected will be paired with a mentee prior to them meeting
for the first time during the leadership workshop preceding the AFB Leadership Conference in March of 2020.

MA:

Pair based on interest, and goals, experiences. So that what the participant is hoping to achieve down the line will match with what’s going on with the mentors so that there’s alignment.

TR:

Megan’s own story of coming to terms with her vision loss exemplifies
the importance of mentors.

MA:

mentoring is such a powerful thing. It gives you a different perspective, a different way to look at your situation and say okay, I can approach this in another way. It also gives you hope, like I’m struggling with whatever my issue is right now but look at this other person whose either gone through something similar or has been there and done that.

TR:

Megan clearly understands the benefits and continues to have mentors in her life.

MA:

Two of which are not visually impaired individuals but all three are women. That’s been the main connecting piece there for me. Women that are successful and really wonderful role models.

[TR in conversation with MA:]
In a way you brought up diversity so I’m going to ask you in terms of the BLDP is there a plan in place? Is there consideration to make sure that the choices made are a diverse group?

MA:

Yeah absolutely! We’re collecting information from our applicants about their diversity and will take that into account as we select participants to make sure we have as diverse a group as possible. As representative a group as possible. And in the application all of this is explained. How we’ll keep all of the applicant’s information private and make sure that the selection process is as unbiased as possible. That is absolutely a commitment that AFB has made. The more perspectives we can bring to the table the better everyone will be. Especially if we’re very intentional about how we leverage that diversity and how we leverage the different perspectives. And this is one reason why that’s a criteria that we’re looking for – open mindness, the willingness to learn, the willingness to consider other perspectives because of how powerful that can be in the learning process.

TR:

Now, I know what you’re thinking.
As I mentioned in the beginning of this episode,
it’s National Disability Employment Awareness Month.

What about those struggling to gain employment?

Well, AFB is in the early phase of creating
pathways to competitive integrated employment.

MA:

The first phase is research and studies. The second phase will be testing our theories about how we can create those pathways and the kinds of jobs that we’re talking about. What we’re committing to is developing knowledge based work for Blind and Visually Impaired individuals. So this is probably using a computer. Probably requires a Bachelor’s Degree or some sort of specialized training and knowledge and would be work that requires creative thinking and problem solving. That’s where we’re hoping we can really move the needle as far as folks that don’t have a job who are interested in working in the knowledge based field.

TR:

I know there are real candidates right here in the Reid My Mind Radio Family both for Mentors and Mentees.

The application process closes on November 1, 2019.

Applicants will be notified of the results in mid-November.

Please let me encourage you to head on over to AFB.org and
look for that button that says Join the program or become a Mentor.

If you have additional questions about the program you can email Megan

MA:

M as in Megan.
Aragon (Spelled out)at AFB.org
MAragon@AFB.org

TR:

A big shout out to Megan Aragon.

There are a lot of people right now going through their own version of her story.

Trying to run away from the loss and convince themselves nothing has changed.

Hopefully those going through this can see Megan’s courage not only in
adjusting her perspective of vision loss but also in the way she shared it today.

She’s come a long way from hiding her magnifier.

And now that she’s no longer memorizing menus and order entry screens
but rather using access technology, she’s free to
keep on directing all of that knowledge over at AFB.

And hopefully come back on the podcast to discuss the inaugural year of the program.

I know this is the end of October and
National Disability Employment Awareness Month, but
we’re going to keep the conversation going into November.

There are many specific factors for those with disabilities to consider when seeking employment.

We have past episodes that deal with this subject specifically.

But so much of the employment process is universal.

Next time, I’m speaking with a Career Coach to hear more about how
that process has changed.

it’s no longer a passive process –
there’s methods that can really put the job seeker in control.

There’s only one way to make sure you don’t miss that…

Subscribe or follow the podcast where ever you listen;

Apple, Spotify, Google or your favorite podcast app.

I appreciate you listening and if you liked what you heard please rate and even review the show via Apple Podcast. And please, tell a friend to listen. Spread the love, man!

You can always visit www.ReidMyMind.com, that’s R to the E I D like my last name!

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio Outro

Peace!

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Reid My Mind Radio: The Super Hero Behind Marvel’s Daredevil

Wednesday, April 29th, 2015

Netflix launched their new series Marvel’s Daredevil earlier this month. While they received some negative feedback from the blind community and others for not including audio description, this piece doesn’t address that. However, be sure to check out the piece I did for the Pennsylvania Council of the Blind’s Talking Advocacy & government titled Behind the Scenes of Netflix Advocacy.

 

I was fortunate to have a chance to talk to Joe Strechay from the American Foundation for the Blind. He is the man behind Daredevil…well hit play and find out what I mean!