Blind Abilities presents the TVI Toolbox. Where the collaboration between Teachers, Counselors, Parents, Agencies and the Students themselves help enhance the opportunities for success.
Transitioning from high school to college and the workplace is a major step and the beginning of lifetime goals and aspirations. As Jeff Mihiletch, this month’s featured interview in the Success Stories portion of this podcast, puts it, “Braille is a tool he wished he would have given a better chance.”
From the TVI’s to the Agency counselor’s and program specialist, working together along with parents as well, is creating more opportunities and successes for Transition age students.
Sharing experiences through Success Stories, sharing programs that make a positive impact, sharing ideas, findings, upcoming events and the Tools for Success all play a part in making the transition process a natural progression and better understood by all.
On The Horizon is a bulletin space for upcoming events, information and resources submitted by listeners and our staff. You can submit to On the Horizon by emailing Jessica Hodges.
The Success Stories feature an experience of a Transition Student, whether they are attending college, preparing for college or are now employed, the Success Stories brings a positive and a sharing of the experience of transitioning from high school to college and the work place.
You can find the full transcript below.
Here are the links to the information we bring to this episode.
Summer Transition Program (STP) Extended School Year Program
Deb Peterson at DPeterson@916schools.org
Check out your State Services by searching the Services Directory on the AFB.org web site.
State Services for the Blind of Minnesota
We offer tools and training for employment and for helping seniors remain independent and active. As Minnesota’s accessible reading source we also transcribe books and other materials into alternative formats, including audio and braille. We assist Minnesotans who are blind, DeafBlind, losing vision, or who have another disability that makes it difficult to read print.
I hope you find what you need here. We’ve also created a Tips for Using Our New Website page.
If you’d like to apply for services, learn more, or have more questions, just give us a call. You’ll find contact information for all of our offices on our contact page, or you can call our main office at 651-539-2300.
You can submit to the On The Horizons segment by email to jessica.Hodges@state.mn.us
TVI Toolbox: Success Stories, Tools for Success – #BeMyEyes App, Meet Jeff Mihiletch (Music)
Dacia: It’s your job, disability or not, to know what you bring to the table, and sell that. That’s your job.
Narrator: Welcome to the blind abilities TVI Toolbox. I’m Jeff Thompson.
Dacia: Because they don’t have any experience with vision loss, so they’re thinking to themselves, “I don’t know if I could do that if I couldn’t see right. I’m not sure that they’re going to be able to do that.” That’s what… there inner monologue isn’t about you, it’s about what they think that you can’t do, and their bias.
Narrator: TVI toolbox is a tool for teachers, for agencies, for clients to enhance the opportunity and the understanding of transition services. Professionals talking about the services they provide. Teachers of the visually impaired talking about topics of transitioning from high school, to college, to the work place. Students talking about their journeys, there successes, and some of the barricades and brick walls that were in there way, and solutions, tips, and tricks on how they got through it.
Dasha: We try to help them develop resumes right from the beginning. We would like some body that even as young as fifteen sixteen to have a resume that they can continuously add to, to build on. It really puts in front of them a more realistic view of “Ok, well I can add this to my resume. I can do this because I can add that. This is going to bring value.” It kind of gives them more of an ownership of there experience.
Narrator: That’s (probable spelling mistake here,) Dasha van Alstine. She’s an employment program specialist at state services for the blind, working with clients, counselors, and employees, to optimize the opportunities for successful employment.
Dasha: I always tell people, if you go into an interview, and you’re thinking that you’re not the best candidate, you’re probably not.
Narrator: On this episode of TVI Toolbox, we’ll be talking about employment. We’ll be hearing more from Dasha van Alstine, and the success story today features Jeff Mihiletch, with A BS degree in Business Administration. And Jessica Hodges with On the Horizon, where she brings you recent news and events with particular interest in the transition process with a blindness perspective. And the tools for success spotlight is Be My Eyes. It’s an ap that, well, kind of speaks for itself. Now, here’s employment program specialist Dasha van Alstine. Dasha, welcome to blind abilities. Can you tell our listeners what your roll is at state services?
Dasha: Hi Jeff. I am a program specialist for the employment team at state services for the blind.
Narrator: Tell us a little more about the employment team.
Dasha: The employment team works with various counselors and customers on anything from the very beginning of how to choose a job goal, all the way up to when it’s time to close your case. So are you ready, do you have everything you need, do you need additional training, we’re there all along the way. Whereas a counselor looks at an entire situation, we look at everything from absolute employment
Narrator: Dasha, for a transition student, what would a first meeting with the employment team look like?
Dasha: That can be at any type of stage, it depends on… if somebody has done a lot of research various…market information on their own, we might not meet with any of us until later. Someone who really needs some help and some direction with trying to figure out what they want to be, and what that’s going to look like, and where the doors are going to open, they might meet with us right away.
Narrator: So first they work with state services, then when it comes time to think about employment, that’s when they get handed off to the employment team?
Dasha: Well, preferably, they wouldn’t just get handed off to our team. We would want to have some sort of relationship with them from the beginning. I’ll give you an example. A college student, someone who knows that they’re college bound know they want to go to college to get to a career, we’ll look at them right before it happens and say, “Ok, what is your job goal? What do you want to do? What are the various avenues to get there.” We’ll work on what is the most appropriate way from point A to point B, for you, with college in the middle there. And then, in college, a lot of times there will be some check ins. We’ll check on them, hey, how’s it going? Have you thought about an internship yet? Are you working during school? Do you need help finding something. You know, what can we do to assist you?” We make connections for them, and sometimes we help them find part time employment, or find there internship. A lot of times, we’ll work with the school to try to figure that out with them, to try to get them more independent and not depending on us. And then, when they’re getting ready to graduate, sometime before the last semester, we help the figure out, you know, it’s time to start looking. Because ideally, you want a job before you graduate, you want that job to be ready for you.
Narrator: Dasha: With the age of transition students, I imagine that a lot of them have not had too much job experience. Does the employment team have a component for people to learn about job interviews and filling out resumes?
Dasha: It’s different for each person. That begins whenever appropriate. Some people, especially our young people, We try to help them develop resumes right from the beginning. We would like some body that even as young as fifteen sixteen to have a resume that they can continuously add to, to build on. It really puts in front of them a more realistic view of “Ok, well I can add this to my resume. I can do this because I can add that. This is going to bring value.” It kind of gives them more of an ownership of there experience. Every aspect of every case is so different. There are some people that need us to do the resume and then walk them through what we did. There’s other people that we just give some guidance to, and they do it. you know, everything is so individualized, it’s wherever it’s appropriate for each individual case.
Narrator: That’s great. Dasha, there’s a saying, don’t judge a book by it’s cover, but in the employment situation, in job interviews, can you tell us a little bit about first impressions?
Dasha: First impressions are really important, especially if you have a vision loss, because there’s a really good chance that whoever you’re meeting has never met someone with a vision loss before. There’s no back ground there. They’re going to base whatever experience they have with you, and project that onto every other person that they ever meet in the future who has a vision loss. When you meet somebody, especially if you’re going in for an interview, you want to make sure that first of all, you’re nice to the receptionist, because if you’re not nice to the receptionist, the person interviewing you is going to find out, and you’re not going to get that job. Just saying, the receptionist, that’s the barrier there. Be nice to them. And second of all, once you do meet somebody, and if you have to follow them, make sure that you’re comfortable, and don’t be afraid to ask for information. Left or right? Where’s the room? Don’t be afraid to ask those kinds of directions.. With first impressions, you want to make sure that you are well put together. You want to make sure that you don’t go into a business with saggy clothes, or with dirty clothes. You want to make sure that your hair is, you know, presentable, that you’re not wearing baseball caps. You also want to make sure that you can speak clearly, concisely, have some confidence, that’s going to be really important to an employer. Even if you’re just walking in to pick up an application. Just go to the receptionist, be nice, “Hi, you know, my name is so and so. I was wondering if you’re hiring. Can I get an application? Even something as simple as that. That goes a a long way. You also want to make sure that when you do talk to somebody, especially if it’s an interview, you’re going to get that, “Tell me about yourself.” You could even get that when you meet an employer at a job fair, or an internship fair. Tell me about yourself. You want to make sure, especially if you have more of an obvious disability, you want to make sure that you kind of address that in a way that makes it so they’re not thinking about that, they’re thinking about your skills. A lot of people make the mistake of never saying anything, and then an employer, the whole time that they’re talking is thinking well… Because they don’t have any experience with vision loss, so they’re thinking to themselves, “I don’t know if I could do that if I couldn’t see right. I’m not sure that they’re going to be able to do that.” That’s what… there inner monologue isn’t about you, it’s about what they think that you can’t do, and their bias. So it’s up to you to make sure that you sell yourself. Sell your skills. Tell how you do things. Go into it with confidence. Know what your skills are ahead of time. Know what you have to offer the employer, and just go into it that way. And this is not just with employers. This is also useful with your professors.
Narrator: Dasha, I was just doing an interview with a business owner, Susan Robinson. She said that she’d never hired a person because they had sight. She always hired a person because she felt they could best do the job that she needed to get done
Dasha: Yes, it’s all about the what can you do for me. Employers hire because they have a job that they have to get done. They don’t hire because they want to feel good. They don’t hire because they want to spend a bunch of money. They do it because they have a job, and they have to get it done. So your job is to make sure that they know you can do that job, and not only that, but you can bring stuff to the table so you’re the person can help them get that done. You’re the best candidate, and this is why I always tell people, if you go into an interview, and you’re thinking that you’re not the best candidate, you’re probably not. If you’re going into an interview, and you can’t even think of what you bring to offer to the table, the employer’s not going to know. It’s your job, disability or not, to know what you bring to the table, and sell that. That’s your job.
Narrator: Selling it!”
Dasha: “Selling it.”
Narrator: “That’s what it comes down to, selling yourself, letting the employer know that you have a set of abilities that will help their company succeed. Well, there’s that sound, so let’s turn it over to Jessica Hodges with On the Horizon.
Jessica: “Good day to you all. There are many, many lovely events coming up on the horizon. First of all, the national federation of the blind has some awesome scholarships for students both nationally and state wide. To find out more about scholarships both in your state and at the national level, you can visit www.nfb.org. On the subject of college, Perkins has a program for college students where you live on there campus for nine months, and attend school close to them. It’s a good way for college students to kind of get there feet underneath them and make sure that they are really ready, and it’s a great way to get started with college. You can visit there webcite to find out more. The national braille press has a guide for those who are interested in apple watches called, “You and Your Apple Watch,” by Anna Dresner. You can find that on their webcite, nbp.org. Blind incorporated, the well renown training center for the national federation of the blind in Minnesota has there summer programs coming up, and that means they are looking for both students and counselors. For more information on those, you can go to their webcite, www.blindinc.org. For the style program, ,they’re looking for people from July Tenth through August fifteenth, and the buddy program is also looking for people from July Tenth through August Fifteenth. For the prep counselor positions, they are looking for people from June Tenth, to August Fifteenth. The prep is the young adult program, the style is a young adult program here in Minnesota, and the buddy program is the younger children. So, if you would like to know more about that ,visit their webcite, www.blindinc.org. Minnesota has a lovely program for transition aged students called the STP program. An extended school year program, the STP, or summer transition program, is a program designed for students between tenth and eleventh grade who are planning on working competitively and working independently. To get a brochure or have paperwork sent to your school, contact Deb Peterson, firstname.lastname@example.org. If you have any events you’d like included on the next horizon, please email email@example.com. Thank you for staying tuned, and please listen to next time, as we’ll have more events on your horizon.
Narrator: Well thank you Jessica Hodges. And for more information on all the events mentioned, check the show notes. for the links. And now, our tools for success spotlight. We bring you Be My Eyes. It’s an application that hooks the phone to a person that will see through your camera what you’re looking at and describe it for you. It’s a personal assistant. It’s free from the app store, and on Android. So we’re going to demonstrate the iOS device on Apple, here’s Be My Eyes. Siri? Open be my eyes.
VoiceOver: Be My Eyes. Call first available volunteer, button.
Narrator: It’s ready to go. With a single finger double tap, you’re activated, and you’re ready to call. But lets swipe right, single finger swipe left to right.
VoiceOver: Settings, button.
Narrator: Double tap here
VoiceOver: Settings, heading.
Narrator: Now a flick to the right.
VoiceOver: Done, button. Profile, heading. Personal details, Jeff Thompson, button
Narrator: Swipe to the right.
Narrator: So this is upgraded, and as you can see you can share this, you can go follow them on Facebook, Twitter, and all the rest of the stuffs there. But one important thing here is this.
VoiceOver: Send us feedback, button.
Narrator: Send us feedback. This allows you to connect up right with the developers of the app in case you have an issue. You don’t have to tweet it out on Twitter and complain or anything like that on Facebook. You can just go here, and send it straight to the main office. There you go. So let’s go back. I’m going to do a four finger single tap, near the top of the screen.
VoiceOver: Settings, heading.
Narrator: Swipe once to the right.
VoiceOver: Done, button.
Narrator: Single finger double tap.
VoiceOver: Call first available volunteer, button.
Narrator: All right, so at this point, if I single finger double tap, I’m getting online, so I’d better have something ready for them to do for this demonstration. I think it’s coffee time.
VoiceOver Using the rear camera. Please wait. Finding the first available volunteer.
Narrator: And this is where the be my eyes app. ..
VoiceOver: We are still trying to find an available volunteer.
Narrator: searches for someone that speaks English, someone that’s in my time zone. So it searches the world basically, and tries to come up with someone who is best suited for answering my questions. Now this time varies. I’ve had people pick up in twelve seconds. I’ve had people pick up in… oh…two minutes. But typically, it’s around that thirty second mark. And for privacy reasons, I’ve changed the voice of the volunteer so it’s not detectible.
Volunteer: “Hello.” (there was another word there but I couldn’t for the life of me make it out.)
Narrator: Hello. Hi, how are you?
Volunteer: I’m all right, how about yourself?
Narrator: I’m all right. I have a question. I have a kurig machine here, this one.
Narrator: And when I push this down, it’s supposed to give me a choice here for ounces.
Volunteer: The light is hitting in a way I can’t read. I think the… ok, that’s better. You have… it says it’s ten ounce, and there’s an arrow at the top and an arrow at the bottom.
Narrator: So down here?
Volunteer: Up a little hire. Right there is where it says ten ounce, yep now it’s at eight ounces. You’re pushing the down button. How do you want it to be?
Narrator: I want it at eight. Is that it?
Narrator: So then the other buttons up here, what are they?
Volunteer: Well, that would be increasing the amount,
Volunteer: and when you’re ready, then you move your finger to the left
Volunteer: And use this button to make it go, let’s see what happens.
Volunteer: It’s brewing.
Narrator: Well there we go. Thank you very much.
Volunteer: You’re very welcome.Have a good day.”
Narrator: You too.
VoiceOver: End call, button. Alert. Are you sure you want to disconnect? No. Yes. Yes button.
Narrator: And that was a very nice volunteer. And it wasn’t mini mouse, believe me. That voice was changed. And there we go. We got hot cocoa coming. All right, so after the experience is over, this is what we get.
VoiceOver: Review your experience, heading.. Thanks for your call. Please let us know if you had any problems during this call, be it either technical or personal. I experienced problems, button. I had a good call, button.
Narrator: And that’s it. that’s all there is to this free app. it’s be my eyes in app store, and be my eyes on android in the google play store. And in this success story, we bring you Jeff Mihiletch, who has utilized the services of state services for the blind for many years, from elementary school, high school, college, and the work place. Jeff has found success, and is currently employed, and invited us down to his south Minneapolis office to chat with us. So please welcome Jeff Mihiletch. We hope you in joy.
Narrator: Welcome to blind abilities, I’m Jeff Thompson, and I’m downtown south Minneapolis with Jeff Mihiletch, and he is employed and has used state services for the blind before. How are you doing Jeff?
Jeff: Good morning, I’m doing good.
Narrator: Can you tell us a little bit about your job and what you do?
Narrator: I am Jeff Mihiletch. I work in the snap employment and training program, and that is about people that receive food support, snap benefits that they used to call food stamps. If you are an able bodied adult without dependants, it’s mandatory now that you be job searching, and my team does the job searching orientation classes and case management for clients that are in that sector of the snap program. I was originally hired for data management, so my job is to look at the referrals every day of new clients coming in, all the different elements, who they are, nationality, when there orientation class is, location and time, and I put it all in a spreadsheet. Then I take that spread sheet, move it into a different spread sheet so it’s statistically meant for the entire year, and that’s my daily task that I do. I also have broadened my job duties a little bit. My team does orientation class three times a week for new people that are coming onto the snap EMt program. I help out here at the sabathanie center with the Tuesday morning orientation class. So it’s a chance for me to get up in front of a group and talk, and move around, helps give my coworkers a little break, because they need to do that orientation class three times a week, and as you can imagine it gets a little repetitive, so they were totally thrilled when I decided to volunteer myself to help out with that orientation class.
Narrator: So Jeff, on a daily basis, what kind of accessible devices or tools do you utilize for your job?
Jeff: I use Jaws extensively. I have a little bit of vision, so I do use zoomtext sometimes, but only for spot reading, if I can’t find a formula or something in my excel sheet with jaws. Primarily though, it is Jaws, almost probably ninety five, ninety eight percent of the time.
Narrator: What about in your personal life. Do you use a smart phone with access to it?
Jeff: Yeah, in my personal life I have an iPhone seven. I use VoiceOver, a couple different voices, one for Siri, one for the VoiceOver functionality of it. My work, I have a phone for my work, because the phone that is in everyone’s laptops, the soft phone from Sisco, is not screen reader accessible, and so that’s a reasonable accommodation, my employer provides me an iPhone for my work. So I feel kind of a little geekish, because I walk around with two phones when I’m at work, my personal phone and my work phone.
Narrator: that’s status isn’t it?
Jeff: I’m glad that they were able to make that accommodation and provide an iPhone for my work phone calling.
Narrator: Now Jeff, when you applied here, how did you get the job? how did accommodations work for you and what was that process like?
Jeff: The way I found the job was I had a friend of mien who was blind who works for the county, has been with the county for almost thirty years, and he got a phone call from someone, my boss, who was looking to fill a position, a newly created position. My job did not exist before. And she specifically was looking for someone that had a visual disability. And so she reached out to my friend who was blind and worked for the company to find out and assess any barriers that their were, to see how successful he was at doing his job, and to see how many barriers there were, and from there, he told me about the fact that she was looking for someone who was visually impaired to take this new job. I kind of jumped on that band wagon, and followed up with her, and long story short had an interview, and was hired. My job is not a permanent job. It’s a two year contract. I’m a limited duration person, and the snap program, the food stamp program is federal funded. So the county writes my check, but salary comes from the feds, from the agricultural program.
Narrator: So Jeff, in your career, education, did you utilize state services for the blind?
Jeff: Yeah, I did. All through my education. Elementary school I had a rehab counselor that used state services for the blind all the way through that, through college went to (spelling) babija university, BS in business administration, and minor in psychology and chemical dependency. And state services for the blind helped me out with tuition and books, and that type of thing.
Narrator: Great. What is transportation like for you, working in south Minneapolis here?
Jeff: In he morning to go into work, I take metro mobility, because it’s a relatively direct shot, although sometimes I can get to work in ten minutes, and sometimes two hours, so that’s the downside of metro mobility. Going home at night, I do take a city bus. I have to go downtown, and transfer to an express. That’s how I do transportation. Not looking forward to winter time, I will say.
Narrator: Great. So Jeff, Being someone that has used state services, who has transferred from high school to college to the work place, what suggestions would you have for someone who is in those shoes today looking towards there future?
Jeff: I would say if you are a braille user, or have the potential to be a braille user, but also use screen readers, I would really highly recommend still doing the braille thing.
Narrator: You said you use Jaws and PC. Now, in the workplace, there’s always the debate, you know, should people have a PC or a Mack, and I found out myself that most businesses are Microsoft based, so what would you suggest for someone who’s learning technology?
Jeff: The county uses PCs, HP brand. Actually, we just rolled out new laptops and we moved to Microsoft 2010 and office 2016. I mean it all depends on the work environment, but you are correct most of the time that it’s PC based.
Narrator: Jeff, do you want to talk about some of your past jobs?
Jeff: Sure. A lot of my job history is kind of broken into clumps. The first is social service, working with developmentally delayed adults, and the second chunk of job history is kind of more customer service type. So the first part, the social service, I kind of fell into that. I moved to Minneapolis after finishing my degree at Bemidji state university, and was really-really desperate for a job, couldn’t find one, and it was to the point that I couldn’t afford my apartment. I took a job as a live in in a group home for developmentally delayed adults. A good chunk is a little more customer service related, I worked in a large call center for computer hardware dispatch, so I was doing in bound calls with customers and technicians out in the field. Some other jobs I had over the years. I had a really really short gig. I was a very small commodities broker. I found the job through one of the venders that state services for the blind hires. They were looking for someone to do phone work and I was hired and given the job. But the screen reader didn’t work at all with their customer management web page that they had. We tried to make it work. After six weeks they let me go, just because it wasn’t working out. I also worked for a guy who ran one of the vending stands in saintpaul, and I would fill in for him in the concessions stand while he was out in the field filling vending machines. Did that for a while, and some other kind of odd jobs. I actually at one time was self employed. I went to massage school, became a massage therapist, and tried to do that to make a living. It’s a really hard field. It’s very seasonal. So that’s a little overview of some of my job history.
Narrator: Sounds like you’re a real go getter. people feel insecure about going into job interviews and that process. And it can be daunting to someone that hasn’t done it before. What’s your experience like when you go into a job interview?
Jeff: The interview process itself, I mean, I’m a partial vision, and it’s always difficult to know whether to disclose that up front or not. And though there were times in my life when I would disclose that on the phone up front, and then there were other times when I did not. And it’s hard to know if disclosing it up front would automatically disqualify me even before I walked in, or if walking in with a white cane and bumping against a desk or a coffee table or something would have disqualified me. It’s always a big debate when you’re a partial whether or not to disclose it. that was the one nice thing about my current job. My boss is aware of my current disability and I did not have to deal with that disclosure type thing. I had to deal with coworkers a little bit, and that was a challenge. Again, because I’m partial, I can see to navigate a little bit, but you know, I can’t figure out who people are until they say something. When you’re a partial, it’s harder for other people to grasp of what you can and can’t see.
Narrator: Jeff, did you ever go through a training center?
Jeff: I did. When I was in seventh grade I did a summer school thing at fairbolt. As an adult I did a couple different stints at VLR, adjustment to blindness training program. The focus for both of those times when I went was Jaws and screen readers. But I also did cooking class, the independent skills, worked in the wood shop, which was a really eye opening experience so to speak. I’d never used a table saw. I’d never used a router, that kind of thing. And it was so cool to actually create something myself out of a chunk of wood and have the skill set to do that. Yeah, I’ve been to VLR a couple times, they do really good stuff. I highly recommend them. And they were the ones the second time through. They were the ones that got me to Jaws. Because before, I would really try to use zoomtext as much as I could, and it was causing headaches and back strain, because I was leaning forward too much. So the second time I went through, I said, “I really want to get to the point where I can faze out magnification and just do jaws mostly. And so they got me to the point where I could use it exclusively and functionally. Yeah, the adjustment to blindness centers were very helpful.
Narrator: That’s vision loss resources on Franklin and Lyndale down in Minneapolis. Well, I want to thank you for coming on to blind abilities and sharing your story, your journey, thank you very much.
Jeff: You are welcome. Hopefully my perspective is useful and helpful for you young people out there, you know, in the path of education and early job searching. Good luck to you, and I wish I would have had this technology when I was going to college. It would have made my college experience much easier, much less stressful, maybe a few less gray hairs.
Narrator: I don’t think we can get around the hairs, we can blame it on whatever we want but… well thank you very much Jeff.
Jeff: Thank you very much
Narrator: It was a real pleasure talking to Jeff Mihiletch and learning about his transitional journey from high school to college to the workplace, and his experiences job to job. And you can find out more about state services for the blind and the services they can offer you on the web at https://mn.gov/deed/ssb. And in other states, be sure to contact your state services, and see what services they have for you. And be sure to check the show notes for the American foundation of the blind. They have a link to all the state services in all the states. Stay tuned next month where we bring you episode three of TVI toolbox. And a big thank you goes out to Cheechow for his beautiful music that we use for the podcast. Thank you cheechow. You can follow Cheechow on Twitter at lcheechow. Thanks for listening, we hope you enjoyed, and until next time, by by.