Like many of you, we are closely watching developments related to novel Coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, while cases emerge around the world and concerns about the virus intensify.
We recognize that many of our customer organizations have a critical role to play when incidents like these arise. Because of their earned reputations as trustworthy sources of information and support, local helplines and contact centers are often relied upon to engage with their communities and provide reassurance, emotional support, reliable information, and referrals to resources.
Based on our experiences working with our customers during past natural and manmade disasters, you may consider some of the following actions for your organization:
- Keep relevant, accurate information readily available to give out to your clients as needed. The best sources of information at this time are:
- Review your own internal disaster/emergency incident policies and procedures to maintain continuity of operations.
- Familiarize yourself with your local and state agencies that may provide direct services and assistance, such as local Departments of Health and Human Services, and ensure that referral database information is up-to-date for these agencies.
- Network with your contacts at the aforementioned agencies to remind them of the services you provide and request that your organization be kept abreast of any developments or actions they plan to take, so you can assist in their efforts to inform the public.
- Consider what data collection elements should be added to your iCarol Contact Form so that any contacts about Coronavirus can be tracked and documented in case you are asked to report on this information.
- Enable client self-service by including information about your agency’s role, as well as links to official sources of information, on your organization’s website and social media presence.
- Direct callers to the right extension or audio message containing Coronavirus information by setting up an option in your IVR/Phone tree within your phone system.
iCarol is here to help you with any initiatives you might become engaged in related to Coronavirus, so that you can respond to your community’s needs quickly and efficiently. Options like:
and many other partnership options and integrations are readily available.
- Sharing your database of resource information with partner
- Sharing Contact Forms within your network
- Providing after-hours or collaborative Call/Chat/SMS response or reporting
As community service, iCarol can turn on Contact Record and Resource Database sharing for up to 30 days during a qualified event for no additional cost.
Potential use cases for these kinds of partnerships are:
- Several contact centers within a state or region need to share a single Resource Database, or view one another’s databases, so they can provide seamless referrals regardless of where in the network the client contacting them is located.
- Collaborators share Contact Forms so they can all collect consistent data related to the disaster or event, and complete consolidated reporting.
- When one center must shutdown services at their location and transfer their calls to a partner, their partner can access their Contact Form and Resource Database, to be sure they can fully function as that closed center’s backup until the center can reopen and resume services to their community.
The following iCarol resources may be helpful to you as you research and plan partnerships during an emergency:
Data Exporting, Sharing, and Integrations Options in iCarol
Do More Together: A Guide to Collaborations
Using iCarol During a Disaster or Emergency
We want to take this opportunity to thank our customers for all their current and future efforts in responding to Coronavirus/ COVID-19. Your dedication to the health and wellbeing of your communities is remarkable and does not go unnoticed by us. Please do not hesitate to reach out to the iCarol Team should you have questions about using your iCarol system to respond to this incident, or need help enabling partnerships and integrations, and we will be happy to assist you.
When it comes to teens dating, many parents and guardians worry about things like their teen’s emotions or heartbreak, staying out too late, losing focus and falling behind at school, sexual activity, STDs, or teen pregnancy. And while all of those are worthy of concern for a caring parent, many do not stop to consider another big issue facing teens: Teen Dating Violence.
According to information provided by loveisrespect.org, a survey found that 81% of parents believe teen dating violence is not an issue or admit they don’t know if it’s an issue. And though 82% of parents feel confident that they could recognize the signs if their child was experiencing dating abuse, a majority of parents (58%) could not correctly identify all the warning signs of abuse.
This is troubling considering the problem of abusive romantic relationships between teens problem is a prevalent issue.
- 1 in 3 high school students experience physical or sexual violence, or both, by someone they are dating
- 10% of adolescents report being the victim of physical violence at the hands of an intimate partner during the previous year
- Girls and young women between the ages of 16 and 24 experience the highest rate of intimate partner violence — almost triple the national (US) average
- Among female victims of intimate partner violence, 94% of those age 16-19 and 70% of those age 20-24 were victimized by a current or former boyfriend or girlfriend
- Violent behavior typically begins between the ages of 12 and 18
To learn more about Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, visit:
Break The Cycle
CDC – Preventing Teen Dating Violence
CW: This blog post discusses stalking, sexual assault, and intimate partner violence.
January is National Stalking Awareness Month (NSAM), and though millions of men and women are stalked every year
in the United States, the crime of stalking is often misunderstood, minimized and/or ignored.
What is “stalking?”
Stalking is a pattern of behavior directed at a specific person that causes fear. Many stalking victims experience being followed, approached and/or threatened — including through technology. Stalking is a terrifying and psychologically harmful crime in its own right as well as a predictor of serious violence.
Facts about stalking*
- In 85% of cases where an intimate partner attempted to murder their partner, there was stalking in the year prior to the attack.
- Of the millions of men and women stalked every year in the United States, over half report being stalked before the age of 25 and over 15% report it first happened before the age of 18.
- Stalking often predicts and/or co-occurs with sexual and intimate partner violence. Stalkers may threaten sexual assault, convince someone else to commit assault and/or actually assault their victims.
- Nearly 1 in 3 women who were stalked by an intimate partner were also sexually assaulted by that partner.
- Stalking tactics might include: approaching a person or showing up in places when the person didn’t want them to be there; making unwanted telephone calls; leaving unwanted messages (text or voice); watching or following someone from a distance, or spying on someone with a listening device, camera, or GPS.
What is the impact on stalking victims?*
- 46% of stalking victims fear not knowing what will happen next.
- 29% of stalking victims fear the stalking will never stop.
- 1 in 8 employed stalking victims lose time from work as a result
of their victimization and more than half lose 5 days of work or more.
- 1 in 7 stalking victims move as a result of their victimization.
- Stalking victims suffer much higher rates of depression, anxiety, insomnia, and social dysfunction than people in the general population.
How you can help
Helpline staff and volunteers can do a number of things to help people who reach you and talk about being stalked:
- Provide validation and empathy.
- Don’t minimize behaviors that are causing the person concern (e.g. “I wouldn’t worry.” “That doesn’t sound harmful.” “They’re only text messages.”)
- Encourage the person to keep keep detailed documentation on stalking incidents and behavior. More information and a template can be found here.
- Use Stalking Harassment and Risk Profile (SHARP) Risk Assessments at your organization. More information and a template can be found here.
- Empower and help the person develop a safety plan that is flexible, comprehensive, and contextual. More information can be found in this guide for advocates.
- If your organization does not provide direct services to assist with the issue, provide helpful resources such as a local domestic/intimate partner violence helpline, sexual assault helpline, legal resources, law enforcement, etc.
We all have a role to play in identifying stalking and supporting victims and survivors. We encourage you to learn more from the Stalking Prevention, Awareness, and Resource Center at www.stalkingawareness.org.
*Source: Stalking Prevention, Awareness, and Resource Center (SPARC)
Wednesday January 29th is a big day for Canadian mental health initiatives: It’s Bell Let’s Talk Day!
This annual event draws attention to the topic of mental health, particularly the stigma attached to mental illness that prevents many from seeking help. The idea is that if we all talk more openly about mental health and are open to conversations about it, it will lessen the shame attached to mental illness. Bell also champions access to care, workplace mental health, and research.
On Bell Let’s Talk Day, people are encouraged to take to social media and discuss the topics of mental health and mental illness. Certain social media activities, such as watching the official Bell Let’s Talk video, using their special profile photo frame in Facebook, or using their special Snapchat filter, will help raise funds for organizations that address Bell Let’s Talk’s initiatives. Bell donates 5¢ to mental health initiatives and programs across Canada (including many services that are part of the iCarol family!). Bell customers can also participate by texting or making calls. Find out more about how to take part.
Bell Let’s Talk has had a profound impact across Canada. Since the campaign began in 2011 there have been over 1 billion interactions around Bell Let’s Talk, with over $100 million donated to mental health initiatives. And 86% of Canadians say they are more aware of mental health issues since Bell Let’s Talk launched.
To learn more about Bell Let’s Talk, check out their website and toolkit that contains everything you need to participate. We hope you’ll follow us on Twitter and Facebook, to join us in raising funds and awareness so we can remove the stigma from the conversation about mental health!
As another year closes and a new one begins, we naturally reflect on the accomplishments, celebrations, and important moments of 2019 while anticipating all that lies ahead. Personally, I consider the past year to be one full of progress, both in the industries we serve and here at iCarol.
All year we engage with our customers at industry conferences, forums, and in other capacities so we can be intimately aware of the topics currently affecting them and others on the horizon. This helps us to respond in kind to meet these needs with new, innovative solutions from iCarol. This year was no exception – we have seen movement across all of the industries we serve that open opportunities for our customers that we are actively exploring ways to support using iCarol software.
In the world of Information and Referral, the topics of Social Determinants of Health, Closed-loop referral, and further encouragement to engage in partnerships and collaboration all show promise for many exciting opportunities for our customers. Those working to address sexual and intimate partner violence continue to advocate for education, awareness, prevention, improved response, and justice for all those who experienced a crime. We’re excited to see their advocacy result in new legislation across several states that extend statutes of limitations for crimes, signaling better recognition of the complexities and time involved for survivors to report, and improved allocation of resources towards testing material from forensic exams, improving the chances that survivors will receive justice. In December, the United States Federal Communications Commission unanimously voted to establish a three-digit number to reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline in the next 18 months. This is long sought after acknowledgement that mental health emergencies deserve the same attention and response as the types of emergencies reported to 9-1-1, something suicide prevention advocates have long been pressing for as a way to prevent suicide. Finally, concerns about consent for contact and data privacy continue to loom large across the world. Previous years have given us CASL in Canada and GDPR in the EU, both sweeping and comprehensive sets of regulations. Now we are beginning to see individual states and provinces taking on the task of writing their own legislation to protect consumers from having their data harvested and sold without their knowledge and consent, most notably in California’s Consumer Protection Act. We are doing all we can, and relying on our resources available through Harris Computer, to make sure that we are in full compliance with such laws, and that our customers are aware of how these laws may impact them directly.
These are just a few examples of developments impacting our customers in the year ahead. Of course we will look for any ways iCarol can support our customers through these changes, and help them carry out their life saving work. Look for more from us on our blog and webinars for updates on how we are addressing these topics.
The industries we serve aren’t the only ones experiencing progress – iCarol, too, went through positive changes in 2019. In December we moved to a new infrastructure on which the iCarol web application runs – Microsoft Azure. The migration to this new platform was the culmination of a year’s worth of planning and effort, and was not without its challenges and setbacks, but we are delighted to now be fully operational in the new environment and excited for all it means for our customers. Microsoft Azure will help us provide the most up-to-date, technologically advanced platform available. We can scale and ramp up performance as needed to meet increases in system use, whether it be due to an event, disaster, or the normal periodic demands on the system that occur for monthly exports and reporting. We are delighted not just by the way this move allows us to be more responsive to system demands, but knowing that Azure offers built-in security services that include unparalleled security intelligence. We are very excited to track data over time to show how this new infrastructure improves performance and stability, and supports the future growth in iCarol’s customer base.
I must acknowledge and express deep gratitude for the great support and patience we received from our customers during this transition and in the months prior. Our customers exercised immense trust and patience with us as we developed the plan to make this sweeping change to our infrastructure. Their user testing of the new environment, feedback, and communication with us greatly contributed to the success of this project. I cannot say enough wonderful things about our customers as essential partners with us on this journey.
There is much more to share about what was accomplished in the year behind us, and what’s on our agenda for the year ahead. Later this month we will host a “State of iCarol” webinar for our customers reviewing 2019 progress and our plans for 2020. You can also look to our blogs and email updates, and for customers, our Admin Dashboard, for more exciting information as it develops.
So, as this new year begins, I wish to thank everyone who makes it their life’s work to help others, most especially our customers, on behalf of the entire iCarol Team. Every day we see the positive impact you have on individuals and communities as a whole, and we could not be more honored to play a small part in the amazing work you do. The team at iCarol is excited to see what 2020 holds and hope for continued progress towards a safer, happier, and healthier society thanks to the work you do.
Vice President, Operations
If you want to witness one of the most challenging yet also most rewarding aspects of helpline work, look to the major holidays. Centers that operate 24/7/365 experience the challenge of staying open all the time and being there for help seekers even on major religious and civic holidays. It can be tough to staff these days, and hard for staff and volunteers to spend a special holiday away from friends and family, but ultimately knowing that you helped someone in their time of need makes the hard work and sacrifice worthwhile.
So what kinds of calls (or chats or texts!) do such services receive on these major holidays?
Hello from a familiar voice
At any given hotline it’s fairly common to have a population of people both in and outside their communities for whom the helpline is a part of this person’s support network. These folks rely on the helpline as a support system for a number of reasons; limited social and familial relationships, daily coping with mental illness or disabilities, loneliness, or someone simply had a very successful interaction that keeps them coming back for support. Regardless of the reason, helplines should take this caller loyalty as a compliment and endorsement. And you’ll likely hear from these same people on the holidays as well, either to check-in and talk like they normally would, or often with an added “Thank you for being there.”
More than a handful of times I can recall answering the phone on a major holiday and the person on the other end was baffled by the sound of another human voice. “Oh…hello? Are you a real person?” or “Oh wow, you guys are there today!” Often they were prepared to have to leave a message or were just testing the line. It was nice to hear someone pleasantly surprised that they could speak to another person on a day where so much was going on and so many other services are closed, and it usually made me feel like I was in the right place that day.
I need a meal/toy for my child/counselor/shelter/etc.
These calls can be a challenge because for many situations, the help seeker isn’t going to be able to get help that day. As mentioned above, many services are closed and it can be tough to give a person referrals but know that their situation may remain in limbo until the holiday has passed. Thankfully in my experience there were at least a handful of non-profits or religious institutions who were open and providing things like hot meals on many holidays, and even those who had last-minute toy giveaways for families with children who hadn’t signed up for such programs in advance. And, even when the referred service isn’t open, you’re able to at least provide empathy and hope which can make a world of difference.
Crises don’t take a day off
For many people, holidays are more stressful than they are delightful, and actually present a recipe for crisis. Tensions that were simmering below the surface can easily rise up when a person is under stress. And while for most people family gatherings are a happy occasion, for others these get-togethers can easily result in outbursts or even violence. Of course this can happen in a group setting or to someone who is alone. After all, a holiday is just another day, presenting all the same hardships as the day before. There is nothing special about a holiday that can create a foolproof barrier against a crisis or suicidal thoughts — making it all the more critical that someone be available to help talk things through or intervene in some way.
I want to help
Holidays that put a focus on gratitude and generosity will bring out the best in people. For many, the spirit of giving is coursing through them so much that they’re looking for a last minute opportunity to volunteer somewhere so they can give back to others in need. Unfortunately for these generous people, most organizations have long since filled their need for volunteers on the actual holiday, plus there are application processes and/or training that make it infeasible to accept these spur of the moment offers of volunteerism. Luckily these folks are usually willing to accept referrals to the many organizations in their area that need volunteers year ’round, not just on the holidays, and would hopefully follow through with their plan to help after going through the proper processes.
Holidays are a painful reminder
For many people the holiday itself can be a cause of negative feelings, and they need someone to vent to. Perhaps they have a particularly bad memory associated with the day or time of year, and pain surfaces as a result. This may be a memory from long ago or something that happened much more recently, but anniversaries tend to make us recall these past events and relive the emotions experienced, good or bad. Some people are grieving a lost loved one, and holidays remind them of the empty seat at the table. For others, seeing people enjoying get-togethers with family and friends shines a painful spotlight on their own loneliness or broken relationships. Being the person that was there for them when they needed it most can be very rewarding.
Perhaps the most heartwarming interaction you can have is with the person who calls just to say “Thanks.” Sometimes they’re people who have used your service in the past. Or, it may just be a person who finds out you’re there on a major holiday and recognizes that by sacrificing some of your time, you’re making a positive impact on others. A simple “Thank you” goes such a long way.
During the holidays we know many of you out there will be spending some time apart from your families as you work to serve your communities. On behalf of all of us here at iCarol, thank you for all you do and we wish you a happy holiday season and bright New Year!
Figuring out the perfect gift to give can be difficult, and that’s especially true if you’re buying for teens and young adults. And if you feel gift cards or cash are too impersonal, that puts you in an even tighter spot. It might be tempting to give a teen a scratch off or lottery ticket, but according to the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG), that’s not a good idea.
According to NCPG, research shows that early childhood gambling experiences, including those with lottery products, can be a risk factor for gambling problems later in life.
As a result, each year since 2002 NCPG runs the Responsible Gambling Holiday Lottery Campaign. The campaign’s goal is to raise awareness about the risks of underage lottery play during the winter holiday season. NCPG is joined by their partners at International Centre for Youth Gambling Problems and High-Risk Behaviors at McGill University in this effort. The campaign is also endorsed by World Lottery Association, North American Association of State and Provincial Lotteries (NASPL), and the European Lottery Association (EL). And this year, 100% of United States and Canadian lotteries, along with numerous international lotteries and non-lottery organizations, have joined the Campaign to promote responsible gambling.
“The Responsible Gambling Holiday Lottery Campaign educates communities that lottery tickets, the form of gambling with the broadest participation, are not child’s play.”
— Keith Whyte, NCPG Executive Director
Click here to learn more about this campaign, and to see a full list of participants.
This time of year I like to post a blog I wrote years ago about Frank Capra Christmas classic “It’s a Wonderful Life” and how this popular and enduring holiday program centers around the topic of one man’s suicide plan. While most people view the film casually and this aspect of the story may take a backseat to the other major themes, for those of us who have experience working in the suicide prevention or crisis industry, it’s hard not to view the film from that unique perspective. And, I promise you, I’ll get to that in just a moment.
This year I read a highly engaging article titled The Best Way to Save People From Suicide featured in the Huffington Post. In summary, it discusses the idea that making connections and keeping in close contact with someone who is suicidal is a simple yet effective method of preventing suicide. Remarkably, this applies to many different types of contact, from simple texts or emails, making a call, even sending a form letter.
Reading about the importance of connections got me thinking about George in “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Here’s a guy who has connected with a lot of people over his life. He’s a beloved son and brother, and well-liked member of the community. He is devoted to other people and several times through the course of the film, we see him sacrifice his own dreams and ambitions to help family members and others. In my opinion and observation watching the film, that lifetime of deferring his own needs for others leads to a degree of resentment and perhaps even depression.
Suddenly, as things in Bedford Falls turn grim, with a run on the bank and his uncle misplacing a large deposit at the worst possible time, the walls begin closing in and George, who has always been able to come to the rescue, feels desperate, helpless and hopeless. Worst of all, it would seem his connections are failing him right when he needs them most. He can’t see his own value, and the positive presence he is in so many lives.
When Clarence shows George Bedford Falls (or Pottersville, as it’s called in the dismal alternate universe where George was never born) and the lives of the people there without him, only then does George see the meaning his life has and the impact he’s had on the town and people residing there. Having been reminded of his value, he’s pulled from the darkness.
While thankfully Clarence’s supernatural abilities did the trick, just imagine how powerful it may have been for a real person George knew to recognize his pain, then pull him aside and tell him how important he is to them, and ask him how he’s doing. We all have the power to make and keep connections with the people we know, and check in on those who may be hurting. We don’t even have to have all the answers to their problems, we just have to be present with them and provide empathy in that moment.
And now, without further delay…
13 thoughts of crisis workers when watching “It’s a Wonderful Life”
- It bothers you that the movie perpetuates the myth that suicide rates go up at Christmastime
- You’re envious of the detailed and factual background Clarence has on George, and think of how helpful this would be when working with your clients
- You know of a dozen people you’ve spoken to this month who are in way worse circumstances than George, but knowing how complex and unique suicide can be for each person you’d never judge George for feeling how he does
- You can list all the warning signs that George is giving, and yell at the other characters for not picking up on them
- Even better, you wish someone would talk to George about his behavior and ask him directly if he was thinking of suicide
- You cheer on Mary when she calls a family member to talk about how George was behaving, and doesn’t keep his uncharacteristic behavior a secret. Mary – 1 Stigma and Shame – 0
- George’s story reminds you of all the people you’ve spoken to that thought their suicide would be what’s best for their family
- You note the high lethality of George’s plan for suicide
- And think of how more bridges need suicide barriers for this very reason
- It angers you when Clarence tells George he “shouldn’t say such things” when George discusses suicide, effectively shutting him down and judging him rather than listening to why he feels this way.
- You’re relieved when George finds his reasons for living
- You’re thankful for the happy ending, but you know that it’s rarely wrapped up so easily
- You’re reminded of why you do the work you do
Have you had any of these thoughts while watching this classic film? Got any other thoughts to add? We’d love to hear from you, leave us a comment!
And while you may not have wings, we know the countless individuals touched by your caring voices consider you all guardian angels. Thank you for your hard work and dedication to saving lives, during the holidays and all year ’round.
From July 22-25, 2020, the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG) will hold their 34th National Conference on Gambling Addiction and Responsible Gambling in Washington, D.C.
NCPG is currently accepting proposals for presentations to be offered at the 2020 conference. They encourage submissions on the following topics:
- Promising and proven advances in treatment including brief interventions, pharmaceutical trials, alternative therapies, co-occurring disorders, outcome studies, and research to practice;
- Professional and clinical ethics in treatment, research, and prevention;
- Innovative and novel prevention programs and models that demonstrate results across different domains and populations;
- Recovery-oriented systems of care, self-help, relapse prevention, and recovery supports;
- Developments in responsible gambling policy, programs, legislation, and regulation;
- Data and measurements for responsible gambling program efficiency;
- Re-framing the conversation, positive play and beyond;
- Outreach, concerns, and research for special populations such as seniors, youth and racial/ethnic groups;
- And more!
The deadline to submit presentations is January 17, 2020.
Learn More and Submit Your Presentation
Guest Blogger Elizabeth Hassett Schmidt, M.S., is Director, Workforce Development at VIA. Elizabeth oversees the programs and staff in VIA’s workforce development department in collaboration with our local, state and national partners.
Guest blogger views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of CharityLogic and iCarol.
Since 1907, VIA, formerly the Olmsted Center for Sight, has remained the leading organization providing comprehensive vision rehabilitation, education, and employment services to individuals of all ages throughout the eight-county region of Upstate New York.
Our Mission: To help people who are blind or visually impaired achieve their highest level of independence.
Our vision is to be recognized as the Center for Excellence for blind and visually impaired (B/VI) children and adults by promoting independence, empowerment, inclusion, and hope. Each year, over 2,500 people benefit from vision rehabilitation, education, and employment services provided by VIA. We are the only Western NY organization providing a full spectrum of services with trained/certified vision rehabilitation professionals. We are located on part of the larger Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, a 120-acre world-class collaboration of medical providers existing to better the community we live in.
Our vocational training and workforce development programs have a statewide and national reach supporting students from over thirty-seven states who seek our training for employment. Our hospitality curriculum was the only program of its kind at inception in 1998, and today we remain a leader in vocational programs for the blind and visually impaired with curriculums ranging from Telecommunications, Customer Service, Office Software, Transcription, to Food Service Preparation. In 2017, VIA invested in, developed and implemented a distance learning platform to allow potential candidates the ability to participate from anywhere in the country. This interactive platform now houses all of our traditional in-house training to offer more flexibility for clients especially those in rural areas and to graduate more employees to meet workforce demands.
The purpose of VIA’s “Breaking Employment Barriers” initiative is to convey to employers the benefits of hiring people who are B/VI not solely to celebrate diversity and inclusion, but because it makes sense to their companies’ bottom line.
The 2019, State of the Workforce, Labor Market Snapshot provided by NYATEP (New York Association of Training and Employment Professionals), examined workforce needs and training/educational output to understand who is working and who isn’t and the “number of potential workers produced by New York’s education and training systems.”1
Among the key findings of this report were:
- New York must grow its labor force by maximizing underutilized labor such as young adults and persons with disabilities.
- Workforce development is a core aspect of the State’s economic development and programs that promote education and skills development directly correlate to wages and therefore an increase in skilled labor directly affects the overall incomes of New Yorkers.
Nationwide, individuals with disabilities have an unemployment rate of 67.9%2 and individuals with blindness or vision loss have an unemployment rate of 63%3, yet we know that with education and skills training, the complete inverse of these numbers is possible. In fact, OCS boasts a placement rate for graduates of our vocational programs of 82% employment in competitive, integrated employment in New York State and 77% employment in competitive, integrated employment for graduates nationally. We know from experience that the complete inverse of employability is possible when skills training occurs and when employers are knowledgeable about the B/VI population as an underutilized workforce. In New York State alone, the population of working-age persons who report significant vision loss or blindness is 410,103, with the number of working-age B/VI persons between the transitioning ages (10-18) group and 18-64 years old group at 19,6704. These numbers do not even include already employed workers who may be experiencing significant vision loss on the job with no knowledge of how to stay employed and an employer who may not know what simple accommodations could retain an already trained employee. We believe those numbers to be significant.
In order to address the need for a skilled, trained workforce, VIA seeks to match employers to this underutilized, able workforce by breaking barriers of common misconceptions or lack of knowledge of what it means to “hire blind”.
We understand that most hiring managers are not aware of the abilities of people who are blind or visually impaired because they simply have had no exposure in their own workplace or careers. The occurrence of blindness and visual impairment among people of typical working age is approximately 1.1%5 with extremely low employment presence in the general labor force.
However, the lack of blind and visually impaired in the workplace has nothing to do with talent, skill or ability – more so, it’s a reflection on the difficulty associated with finding employment and eliminating the barriers of an employer’s lack of exposure and knowledge.
The BEB focuses on answering typical questions about hiring the blind and visually impaired such as:
- How does a blind person use the computer?
- How do they get to work on time?
- How do they find their desk or the breakroom?
- What will my staff say?
- How much will it cost me to hire someone who is blind?
- WHY should I hire someone who is blind?
In reality, there are very few jobs that are not able to be accommodated for a blind or low vision person— simple accommodations such as screen reading software, magnification, color contrast, lighting, and other adaptations can open up the door to a pool of potential employees with natural skill set that in some ways outperform sighted counterparts.
For example, a skilled screen reader user may navigate digital content with higher speed and accuracy due to the ability to use keyboard commands to search and answer specific content areas and, because the auditory skill allows a screen reader user to access a greatly increased speech rate thus cutting down on listening and response time in a call center — allowing for higher productivity and performing rates. The use of dual headset technology- screen reader in one ear and caller in the other – is something that most call center hiring managers have never seen in action and when they witness the speed, accuracy, and performance of a blind CSR agent, their understanding of labor market is never the same again!
There are different assistive technology tools that B/VI might use in the workplace. Assistive technology (AT) refers to hardware and software that enable people with disabilities to perform the essential functions of the job. For those who are blind, the main AT are screen readers, screen magnifiers, braille displays, and speech recognition software.
A screen reader is a program that analyzes the layout and content of a website and provides a text to speech translation. The playback speed rate can be set by the user and keyboard commands allow them to skip from heading to heading, click links, and complete other important tasks on the computer. Much like how a sighted person can visually skim a website to find the section they want to read, a person who is blind can do the same with their screen reader—as long as the content has been coded properly.
Have you ever pinched to zoom on a touchscreen device? If the answer is yes, you have used a small part of assistive technology. For individuals with low vision, it is helpful to magnify a section of the screen so that they can read easily.
Screen magnification can happen by using in-page controls, system setup tools, and accessible level zooms.
Refreshable braille displays
A braille display is a flat keyboard-like device that translates text into braille and enables blind individuals to interact with digital platforms using only their fingers.
Dictation software allows a user to navigate, type, and interact with digital content using their voice.
WHY should I hire someone who is blind?
Because it makes smart business sense and there are no additional costs to hiring a B/VI person versus a sighted person. Blind and Visually Impaired employees have:
Low attrition rates. Hiring blind employees can actually improve staff stability for your company. Because hiring barriers are so difficult for a blind person to overcome in the first place, blind persons tend to be “company people” in that they are very loyal and tend to be long term employees with very low attrition rates and very low absenteeism.
Creativity/Problem-Solving – The world in which we operate is a visual world- this puts those with vision loss at a disadvantage. In order to overcome daily obstacles and challenges, the blind and visually impaired have to problem solve and create workaround solutions to encumbrances they face every day. This type of problem-solving and the ability not to get “ruffled” is a huge asset when looking for behavioral-based responses in screening potential employees.
For Federal Contractors – it’s the law – Section 503 of the 2014 Rehabilitation Act6, applies to all federal contractors and established a 7% hiring goals for companies to hire persons with disabilities and data collection on the number of persons with disabilities who apply for hire. Hiring blind or visually impaired can help federal contractors meet this requirement.
Tax Credits – the Federal Work Opportunity Tax Credit provides a tax credit for each new employee hired who was referred by their state vocational rehabilitation agency- this arm of each state government exists to provide employment services to people with disabilities. Most states have additional tax incentives for hiring persons with disabilities. Working with your state’s VR agency that serves the blind and visually impaired can introduce your company to a host of different training and try-out incentives to support the hiring of that individual including salary compensation during the try-out.
Customer service/Conflict management – It is true; when one sense is impaired the other senses are heightened in skill. For blind and visually impaired, this can mean an increase in auditory skills— not just the speed at which a BVI person can listen to screen reading materials but also the ability to really listen and pick up on personality and emotions expressed by a customer. Often times, in the areas of customer service and conflict resolution, the blind are quickly able to pick up on a caller or customer’s tone and quickly diffuse a potential conflict.
Increase your Consumer Market – Businesses that are in tune with diversity and inclusivity are not only opening the door to a potential workforce but also opening the door to a new population of customers. Once a company has the barrier of accessibility within their purview of hiring, they open up the door to attracting a consumer base that is able to access digital media and interact with the company which will grow the customer base.
Find out about the demand occupations in New York State and how you may need needs by hiring diverse by accessing the NYS Department of labor site here:
So, how do I go about finding potential employees who are Blind or Visually Impaired in my state and what supports are available to me?
By contacting your state VR agency. Under the Federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), state VR agencies are required to provide services to businesses in addition to the services they provide to persons with disabilities. This is meant to bridge the gap between participant and employer at no cost to an employer. In this way, your state VR agency can learn more about what your workforce needs are and provide qualified applicants. In addition to this, the VR agency can assist with:
- Work Try-Outs, On the Job Training Support, Internships at no cost to an employer
- Disability awareness/sensitivity training/etiquette in the workplace for staff
- Jobsite assessments for accessibility
- Job analysis of skills required for potential referrals
- Education about financial incentives for hiring BVI
- Assistance with accommodations for a new hire
- Assistive technology evaluations to determine what software may be used to accommodate for a new hire
- Post-hire follow up and ongoing employer relationship to a pipeline of talent
In NY State, you can contact the New York State Commission for the Blind- https://ocfs.ny.gov/main/cb/employers.asp
In other states, you can find your state’s VR agency listed here7:
And, of course, you can contact non- profit agencies such as the VIA (www.olmstedcenter.org) to ask about our free Breaking Employment Barriers initiative and our trained graduates who can meet your company’s needs.
The Breaking Employment Barriers initiative will:
- Make you aware of the advantages that hiring B/VI bring to the organization
- Show you how BVI perform customer service-based jobs as any other person
- Challenge myths about B/VI by answering questions you may have
Learn more about our Breaking Down Employment Barriers by clicking here: https://olmstedcenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/BEB-Pamphelt.pdf
To Contact VIA or to arrange a BEB, please email us at Breakingbarriers@olmstedcenter.org or call us at 716-878-0543.
1 NYATEP.org; State of the Workforce- A labor Market Snapshot for New York;2019
2 Mississippi State University; National Research and Training Center on Blindness and Low Vision; blind.msstate.edu; “Blind People Can’t Perform This Job…Or Can They?”
4 Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2016) (Unpublished data tables of specific disability questions in Current Population Survey, 2015 Annual Averages). Washington., DC
5 Mississippi State University; National Research and Training Center on Blindness and Low Vision; blind.msstate.edu; “Blind People Can’t Perform This Job…Or Can They?”
6 US Dept. of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (2014) ; Section 503
7 Mississippi State University; National Research and Training Center on Blindness and Low Vision;blind.msstate.edu;”blind People Can’t Perform This Job…Or Can They?”