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)
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!
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?”
This week, Polly McDaniel, Director of Business Development, and Veronica Ross, Solutions Expert, are joining crisis center directors and staff from across the US at the National Crisis Center Conference in Salt Lake City, Utah.
The theme of this year’s conference is “Reaching the Summit: Innovate to Elevate.” Of the theme, organizers say, “During times of division and uncertainty, crisis organizations are needing to use their collective creative energies to remain relevant and sustainable. But challenging times can bring out the best in crisis organizations. We are excited to hear what innovative and creative programs and approaches are being implemented by our crisis organization colleagues.”
At iCarol, we are strong proponents of innovation as a means for a crisis center’s growth, improved efficiency, and better outcomes for the people they serve. We’re very excited to partake in the conversations at the conference this year, and to see how we can help crisis centers innovate to elevate their service delivery.
The two entities presenting this conference, CONTACT USA (CUSA) and the National Association of Crisis Organization Directors (NASCOD) have a phenomenal history of supporting crisis work and we recommend considering membership for your service if you are a helpline, warmline, crisis center, suicide prevention service, or similar organization. By joining them you’ll discover fantastic networking and knowledge sharing from caring individuals who can relate to your day-to-day joys and challenges as a manager or executive director of a not-for-profit. Find out more about CUSA membership here and NASCOD membership here.
Our history with this group and conference is our longest association, going way back to iCarol’s earliest days, and many of the helplines and crisis centers who host this conference were some of iCarol’s earliest users. It’s a long standing relationship that we value and we’re proud to not only attend but are also long-term sponsors of this important gathering organized by pillars of the helpline industry.
As with all conferences we attend, we welcome the opportunity to connect with old friends and new ones. We’re eager to hear about your latest projects and discuss ways iCarol can support you and the needs of your community. Both Polly and Veronica will be on hand throughout the conference to answer questions and talk about how iCarol can help. We look forward to seeing you!
Paper-based files of all sorts—bank statements, tax records, pay stubs, receipts—can typically be destroyed after a period of time when they will no longer be needed. Depending upon an organization’s internal policies and the laws and regulations by which they must abide, not-for-profit organizations may choose to shred some or all client files after a period of time as well.
With paper files now being digitized, and new data usually collected electronically, the concept of “shredding” takes on new meaning. Instead of literally shredding paper through a machine, electronic files are permanently deleted and erased from storage, whether they be on a hard drive or in the cloud.
One of the best practices seen highlighted within regulations such as GDPR is that an organization should only collect the data that is absolutely necessary for service delivery, especially if that data could be used to identify someone. So, unless it is essential for your organization to collect data such as a person’s name, phone number, social security number, etc. in order to carry our your work, it’s best to never collect it at all.
When you’re speaking over the phone with a person in need, you have control over whether or not to record information shared during the conversation inside your contact management system. However, if you’re communicating by Live Chat or SMS/Text Message, the person in need may share personal information with you that’d you’d prefer not be permanently documented, and if transcripts are automatically generated and stored, that private and personally identifying information may be stored whether you like it or not.
In iCarol, you have the choice whether or not your Live Chat and SMS/Texting transcripts are brought into your contact management system, or if they disappear immediately after the conversation ends, protecting personally identifiable data and allowing your organization to align such data collection and storage with your own internal policies. Further, organizations who wish to keep this information long enough for supervision purposes, but do not wish to retain it long term, have many options within the system to decide when to destroy the information. The capability to electronically “shred” potentially identifying information from your iCarol Contact Records is applied to any documentation recorded in your forms, whether it be data from calls, walk-in visits, chats, SMS/text conversations, public website intake forms, or any other interactions you document.
What gets “shredded?”
We understand that most organizations will wish to keep the data that isn’t classified as personally identifiable information, for instance demographics, issues or needs, and other non-identifying data that is important for reporting purposes. If you choose to utilize the automatic shredding function within iCarol, only certain areas of your Contact Records are effected. Text-entry fields where you might enter names, addresses, phone numbers, contact notes, etc. are deleted. Drop-down, check box, and other pick list type data is retained. For a full explanation of how to set these preferences, as well as more detailed information about what is deleted or retained, customers can sign in to iCarol, navigate to the “Help” section, and search for “Shred” within our help articles. If you’re not yet a customer and interested in learning more, please contact us!
Collaboration is becoming a necessary part of not-for-profit work. Ensuring a partnership is successful for everyone involved takes careful planning that starts long before you begin the work with your fellow collaborators.
The team at iCarol has been helping our customers have smoother collaborations since the software’s creation, through a variety of tools that include sharing resource database for the purposes of both maintenance and referral giving, contact form sharing to help with after-hours outsourcing and network building, and features like the Contact Record Outbound API and Resource API that allow data to be shared directly with other applications.
For several years, before they even worked for iCarol, Senior Product Manager, Crystal McEachern, and Director of Business Development, Polly McDaniel, have offered guidance on collaboration building at industry conferences. They have over 20 years of combined experience on both sides of collaboration—as I&R professionals working with their fellow non-profit organizations and as iCarol staff members helping customers build collaborations.
Now, you can learn from their expertise through an all new eBook authored by Polly and Crystal. In it, you’ll find step-by-step guidance on building a collaboration, including tips for the planning process and important things to consider that are often overlooked. Does the prospect of writing an MOU make your head spin? We have you covered! The eBook even includes a workbook for use in your own personal collaboration planning.
Best of all, the eBook is completely free — we’re sharing it with you in hopes our experience and guidance can help you successfully deliver services to even more people in your communities.
Download the eBook