It has been forever since I’ve last posted about my time at Perkins last June. To recap, please see my post about test drive two, day one, here.
For a brief post about some funny moments that happened throughout the week, see
I have very purposefully waited a while to post about the rest of my experience with the test drive. I wanted to give enough time after my time at the school to make sure my thoughts and feelings were still the same. While we can’t control how others respond, I wanted to give people who might read this time, too. Let’s be clear. Perkins has done a lot for me and I appreciate all of it. I too, have done a lot for them, so I know from personal experience how the school has evolved. Last June taught me firsthand how Perkins has completely changed. I know I am taking a risk here because let’s be honest, it’s Perkins. Openly discussing flaws about such a famous school can have a lot that comes with it. I’d rather people know the truth and not support something then donate because they were given false ideas. I’m not always right, but people have shared my feelings behind closed doors so I know I’m not alone in my thoughts. I pray they get to a place where they can share their feelings. I’ll gladly be the first one to speak out about it. I’d like to thank my friends, Kaylan and Amber, for their support and lending me an ear as I worked through how to put all this together. I didn’t want people to think I was just upset, tired (hardly slept there! All of us found the beds EXTREMELY (in caps for anyone who is blind) uncomfortable) and not taking the new changes well after being away for so long. When you have a disability, you learn people are often quick to hear what you say and automatically start coming up with thousands of reasons why you’re saying what you’re saying. Who can relate? Comment and tell me about it. I still have the same feelings and questions now as I did during the test and after I left. I took a ton of notes and have gone through them all and will do my best to take you through each day. As a writer, it’s my responsibility to share as much as I can and also in tricky topics like Perkins, (or any situation for that matter) to cover both sides of situations the best I can. This will be a longer post, but let’s break it down. I have broken it into sections so you can find topics should you need to finish reading this later. Like I have stated, this was a test, so what they were going over with us was to be taught at a later developed program in September. This test was to get feedback on what worked and what didn’t so they could go ahead with their launch. If anyone is interested in the program, you can find information about it online, along with information about the staff.
Opening and September Program Description
Every morning we started the day with an opening question that was given to us to reflect upon the day before. This particular morning though, we had a conversation about our strengths. I thought this was a good idea because it started the day off on a positive note. It reminded me of one of my favorite people working at the school in Secondary Program (Perkins high school for those who don’t know) who always began our group class (where a few of us would talk about our feelings and give ideas on how to support each other) with having all of us go around and say something positive happening in our life. Even if we were going through a rough patch, she kindly understood, but gave us time to come up with something even if it meant sharing last. I’ll talk about Jen a few times throughout this. I said so many times throughout the week to Amber that Jen should have helped run the program because it wouldn’t be such a mess. Not just because she’s so awesome, but because if anyone had her lead your IEP, (individualized educational plan) you know exactly what I’m talking about. For everyone else, I always felt like she was very organized, clear about expectations and whether she agreed or not, she was always respectful and never mean. During our conversation, we were given a little time to speak in order to stay on schedule but we didn’t always stay exactly on schedule. I spoke about how I felt like I have good communication skills and am good at building relationships. Amber talked about being able to listen to people and relate to them. Each staff person taught different lessons. It seemed like, though, that one had the most which was interesting. We’ll call her A.
They explained to us that the program would give young blind and visually impaired adults the opportunity to learn and practice interview skills so they can land employment. For anyone who doesn’t know, the unemployment rate for the blind is ridiculously low. Amber and I felt like a lot of what we were learning was things we learned in college, (minus the blindness specific things) but I’m glad I had the experience. They talked about the importance of thinking about the way you answer questions in job interviews to show you have confidence. People with disabilities always have to sell themselves in life and interviews are no different. Sure, sighted people need to stand out too, but it’s completely different when you are blind. We spend our whole life proving we belong and I pray this changes someday. Thank God for the few people you have who you don’t have to sell yourself to. And if you don’t have those people in your life yet, I pray you find them. They came for me. They’ll come for you.
We were supposed to visit a company to learn about their work and hear answers to questions but that never happened, so they replaced that with testing another of their lessons. This was good to a degree but appeared to be a last-minute decision. A lead discussions often and we were only aloud to ask questions at the very end with only a few minutes left. Even though this was a test, I felt this was not handled well at all. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I’m not always right, but think about this. If a company backs out, and your back up plan doesn’t work out, you should have a plan c or a plan d. If those don’t work out, okay fine, but people with disabilities have to do this all the time. In fact, we plan so much sometimes we need to be reminded to live. Sighted people don’t plan the same pile of stuff we do. One time in college I was planning out hours with one of my readers because I needed to tell people about them. She asked if we could take it week by week rather than planning so far ahead. Sometimes planning ahead is great, and sometimes you have to slow down. Sometimes yes, life happens. But, when you’re planning a program like this, you need to plan things out and not fly by the seat of your pants all the time. I cannot tell you how many times staff would fly by the seat of their pants. They often would talk in front of us about what to do because something didn’t work or something was off schedule. I know it was just starting and nothing is perfect, but you can only take that so far. And not for nothing, but this is Perkins. Maybe they really are losing money, but really? The problem is, all of the staff in this program were very new to the school and it was very obvious they weren’t aware of the resources around them. We certainly want to give people a chance to learn blindness, but we also need to be smart about who belongs in the field and who really shouldn’t be there. I’m not trying to attack anyone. I’m strictly talking professionalism here. Perkins loves marketing. Having been one of their poster children, I know all too well how they use the blind kids to make people consider being generous with their money. If they can have marketing come to give out free pizza and take photos to make the program look a certain way, they could have worked with marketing to make visiting a company a reality. All they have to do is put out an email or a call to marketing. It’s good PR for the test drive and for the actual program. This is part of why things should have been planned way earlier. Perkins also happens to have a ton of volunteers who could have helped out if this was planned correctly. This isn’t about myself or anybody else being entitled, but it really doesn’t make your program look very good. I realize some people might read this and think I’m complaining (or anyone else who speaks up about this program) but I’m just trying to play devil’s advocate here. If people with disabilities are always expected to plan everything and always expected to be organized, why is the expectation different for staff? I’ll say that again. If a blind person discussed ideas with a person providing services to them ever shared ideas but they were a mess because the person was still working through them, we would never hear the end of how we need to be more organized and plan better. Then they would talk about all the skills we needed to improve on.
They talked about recruiting and about the questions employers may ask to make sure interviewees are best fit for the position, and what employers are looking for from the people they hire. They wanted everyone to think about questions such as how does this information help me, my resume, and my interview skills? What is the company looking for, and how am I matching that? They talked about the importance of asking questions and engaging in your interview.
Hearing From Perkins Panelists
Next, we listened as a panel of mostly sighted staff talked about job experiences. Again, A did most of the asking and wanted to move very quickly. I personally wish we had a little more time with certain speakers. I will say though, even though some of us struggled with A, in a way I do feel for her a little bit. It had to have been really hard to be A. Even though she wasn’t always nice to people, she (and others too) were pretty clueless about the population they were working with. You could clearly tell the staff didn’t quite understand the difference between total blindness and visual impairment. I don’t want to excuse anything, but I also want to acknowledge how hard it must have been to always wonder if you’re sticking to your schedule.
The panel consisted of a security director (we’ll call her Carley), while another trained in assistive technology, (we’ll call them Peter) and another a patient communication manager. They took photos with A, the director of the program, (we’ll call her Megan. Anyone using Jaws, enjoy your laugh since Jaws can’t pronounce Megan spelt that way.) and everyone else. The manager, we’ll call him John, talked about the importance of working on teams. He talked about the importance of connecting with patients through their insurance process. Each speaker talked about their previous careers in customer success. One working in social justice, another a counselor for the blind, among others. One talked about how people thought a blind employee interview would be extra work. One talked about how they used a typewriter to type their answers at Providence College but how they needed help with papers. They talked about struggling at first but eventually found their place on their team of coworkers. They didn’t have paratransit so they needed to use public transportation. Another talked about the importance of knowing who you’re working for as well as the team you are working with. They shared the importance of knowing what kind of employee you want to be and knowing what you can bring to the table for the company. They also said if you find you’re not curious about the company during an interview, ask yourself why not? They also mentioned not to waste time during your interview.
Carley talked about how she made up her job as she went as a security administrator because Perkins didn’t have one. She did her own research and discovered that Perkins had outdated safety documents. She said the most updated document was from 2011. She started in 2016 and talked about how she worked with a woman (who I know by the way and was always great) at Perkins who helped create her job. This is great, but how come Perkins will help a sighted woman make up a job out of nowhere but they have never done this for someone who is blind? When you really talk to people, (yes, I have) you will learn that sadly, Perkins is becoming more like a business these days. One of the speakers who was blind talked about how they had to lower their expectations of sighted people. That’s so sad to me to have to lower your standards. He was used to people handling his blindness well but then discovered that people didn’t understand what blind people are capable of. He talked openly about how the district manager during one of his interviews asked who was going to shave him. Part of me couldn’t believe this. Sighted people would never be asked personal questions like this during job interviews. Part of me did believe it though because I know that blind people aren’t always treated the same. He talked about how blind people can do anything sighted people can. Sure, we do life differently, but we still do life. One talked about the importance of building relationships and being loyal to patients. They talked about not arguing with customers but stating facts to them as they are, and making sure you bring the conversation back to the topic being discussed. They also said not to take it personally when they get upset. He said to remember in moments like that that it’s not you they are upset at, but rather the situation. He explained that each call with people is different so taking time to breathe through difficult calls is important. He discussed the importance of helpful experience and how that might help conversations with customers. I think connection is important no matter if that’s personally or professionally. He mentioned the importance of reading articles on emotional intelligence and the importance of receiving feedback from your supervisor about your behavior. He talked about how both educated and uneducated customers have equal rights to good customer service and the importance of forgiving yourself when you don’t handle situations well. He talked about the importance of how you talk to customers and the body language you are using. Body language is important, and we definitely need to be talking with blind people about this. Some of us might know certain social cues but some blind people are behind on things like this. Not because they’re stupid, but because sometimes you miss a lot when you cannot see. It’s so important to have good sighted (or visually impaired) people you can talk to who can teach you these things. One speaker who is blind talked about how cassette players had just come out and he used readers who were paid to help him but said there wasn’t much accommodations. They talked about the importance of volunteering if you cannot get a job. I think this was great to bring up because I know people who are blind who think volunteering means nothing. I’ve felt that frustration of having lots of volunteer work but having no paid work, so I get that. Experience is experience though and we should never make people feel as if their experiences are not valuable.
I’m going to split day two into two posts, so next we’ll finish talking about the panelists and I’ll share what was discussed in the staff’s session about taking notes.
Thanks so much for reading. I realize people might not like some of the questions I have raised or some of the points I have written about here, but if we don’t speak up about issues or inequality, we’ll get nowhere. Change won’t happen if we keep our mouths closed.
If you want to talk about your experiences with the Career Launch Program or anything related to inequality struggles, let’s connect. I want my blog to be a platform where we can all speak out about the things that matter to us. Find me on Facebook at Miranda Oakley, but if you do, please reach out to me and tell me who you are and how you found me. You can leave me a comment here on my site or you can find me on Twitter at mirandaloakley
My best to you,