For most people, work provides an important source of identity. It gives their lives meaning, aa sense of contribution, financial stability, relationships, and the ability to have a home and provide for themselves and their families. The quest for these “good things in life” does not end because a person has a disability, either one they have had for their entire life or recently acquired.
In 2014, the MA Commission for the Blind became the first agency to sponsor Project SEARCH for adults who are legally blind. This national program traditionally provides internship experiences for transition age youth with developmental disabilities. With MCB and the Carroll Center for the Blind, the Polus Center helped to adapt Project SEARCH to support unemployed adults in Massachusetts to help them build their skills and get back to work.
When funding ran short in 2017, the Polus Center got to work writing proposals to private foundations and corporations to keep some version of the program alive. It re-emerged as the Employment Now Initiative, with support from the Readers’ Digest Partners for Sight Foundation, Massachusetts Eye and Ear Institute, and the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind (MCB).
The Employment Now Initiative (ENI) is quite different from Project SEARCH, since it is intended for a different audience, but it builds on what we learned from three years of implementing the Project SEARCH model for older adults who are legally blind. ENI provides 6-9 months of comprehensive training, internships, 1:1 mentoring/coaching and job search support at Massachusetts Eye and Ear Institute in Boston.
Adhering to our person-centered approach, ENI provides support for each participant based on where they are on their job search journey. We combine on the job work experiences with professional development workshops and 1:1 mentoring.
Interns gain valuable work experiences and references by working in MEEI departments such as HR, Surgery, and Vision Rehab. They work 1:1 or in small groups, discussing the barriers to their employment, their career histories and desires, and a myriad of topics that help get them on track to their ideal jobs.
We help them update their resumes, practice interviewing, and walk hand in hand with them through job openings and opportunities that might match their interests and skills. They receive technology training (both assistive technology and how to use applications like Google Docs and email). Guest speakers discuss topics such as Emotional Intelligence, Giving and Receiving Feedback, and Effective Communication Skills. Business leaders share what it takes to be a successful employee, and other people who have vision impairments share their journey to meaningful work.
Classroom dialogues address workplace issues sparked by the participants' own experiences and what they are learning from others in the program, on the job, and through speakers, TED Talks, reading, and self-reflection. While most of the workshops are the same as one would find in a typical corporate professional development program, guest speakers from organizations such as Work Without Limits provided seminars on when and if to disclose disability, and online workshop topics sometimes address issues of specific interest such as transportation for people who cannot drive. One of the mentors and trainers in the program is legally blind himself.
ENI and other internship programs with MCB, represent collaborative cross-agency and business focused approaches to supporting people with disabilities to find competitive, integrated, meaningful work. Space is limited to ensure individualized support, and it is saved for people seriously interested in obtaining full-time employment. Referrals are needed from the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind to complete the full ENI internship process. If you are interested and not yet registered with MCB, you would need to register at MCB first, something we can help you do!
Employment Now Philosophy
Begin. Believe. Become.
The Employment Now Initiative (ENI) is a professional employment program serving individuals with vision loss. In partnership with Mass Eye and Ear Infirmary (MEEI) we provide opportunities for people with vision loss to explore ways to continue working in their current or previous careers and explore new ones.
ENI takes a person-centered approach, helping each person to develop a unique employment goal and to explore the skills and tools which will help the person reach that goal.
Through a combination of employment counseling and support, work experience and training on new technologies, we help people make the connection between who they use used to be and who they want to be.
ENI staff work one-on-one with participants to create a unique employment goal. Based on that goal, a tailor- made internship is set up within one of the many departments at MEEI, including Human Resources, IT, Customer Service, Social Services, Administrative Assistance, Advocacy, Hospitality, Research and more. The internships are paid and generally run for 6 months. During the internship, participants are supported by both MEEI department staff and ENI staff.
Over the course of the internship, participants:
- Interact with assistive and other technology
- Practice transferrable skills that will allow them to seek employment
- Create current and relevant resume bullet points and cover letters
- Develop enduring professional relationships and networks
The experience, skills and confidence gained during internship prepare participants to find work in a number of fields outside MEEI.
An integral part of accomplishing a goal after vision loss is believing that you can make it happen. It’s not uncommon for a person that has experienced a vision loss to have difficulty dealing the magnitude of challenges that come with that loss. Coming to believe in one’s self, one’s possibilities and one’s future takes strength and courage.
Participants find that strength and courage during their time in our program by learning to:
- Process the changes that a vision loss bring to one’s life
- Shift personal paradigms from I can’t to I can
- Reframe the way they think and cope
- Overcome challenges
- Become their own advocates
- Envision a positive, fulfilling future
ENI participants embark on a journey – from beginning, to believing to becoming.
ENI helps build the skills and the confidence that empower participants to become to become who and what they want to be.
It is the goal of ENI to have participants leave the program with:
- New professional and technical skills
- Confidence, pride and the knowledge that in they can be productive members of their community
- New mantras, narratives and strategies to guide them as they continue their journeys to autonomy and independence
- And recognition of the roles they play in creating their own positive futures
“There will come a time when you believe everything is finished. That will be the beginning.”
“Contrary to the common perception of disability as loss, I've found that the positive tenacity and creativity required of disability surprisingly delivers more unique and intrinsic ability in life and on the job than could ever have been lost.”
“Courage is the power to let go of the familiar.”
What if I just want to work part-time?
We welcome people who are blind or visually impaired who are looking for part-time work as well, if you just need help identifying your path and assistance with your resume and job search.
For More Information
Contact: Jen Whitmore at jwhitmore [at] poluscenter.org or call 781-760-2358
Related Articles and Resources
- The Job Accommodation Network - (JAN) is the leading source of free, expert, and confidential guidance on job accommodations and disability employment issues. Serving customers across the United States and around the world
- Work Without Limits Jobs Ability Jobs Board - A virtual gateway for job seekers with disabilities and employers looking to hire. Thousands of candidates and job postings are updated on a daily basis.
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