Rachel Hastings is a Certified Music Therapist and she tells us how State Services for the Blind along with her Special Education teachers and Teachers for the blind/Visually Impaired worked seamlessly in her transitions from high school to college and to her dream job, a Music Therapist.
Rachel attended STP, a 2-week summer program, aka Student Transition program, and how her involvement with the program opened her mind to the possibilities for her future.
From orientation and Mobility to career research to job applications and job interview strategies, Rachel explains how State Services became her vehicle for achieving a successful transition into the workplace.
Rachel is an avid runner and explains how she runs and is now training for the St. Paul marathon. Running 30 miles a week, she thinks she’s about ready.
Join Rachel Hastings as she walks us through her transition stages, chats about her hobbies and gives us great advice about attitude and self-determination.
You can follow Rachel on Twitter @RachelH262
You can find Rachel on Facebook at RachelElizabethHastings and she is looking forward to hearing from you.
See complete transcription below.
Rachel Hastings: A Success Story — From High School to College to the Workplace. Step by Step
Worked on a lot with State Services for the Blind.
Was job interviewing.
What they shared with me was that there’s really no right or wrong way to approach blindness in an interview; it’s just what are you comfortable with.
And so they kind of opened up that door for me, and kind of explained that to me.
And gave me all the options and then I was able to choose what I felt was best.
Rachel Hastings is a success story, transitioning from high school to college to the workplace.
What really turned my mindset around was a program called STP, Summer Transition Program, is what it stands for.
And it is a program that takes place at St. Thomas University, in the summer.
And it’s two weeks long.
And what it does is it prepares high schoolers, college-bound high schoolers, for taking the next step.
Rachel talks about the relationship between her special education teachers, her teachers for the visually impaired, and her counselors at State Services for the Blind, all working together with a common goal of success.
I’m a long distance runner.
I’m actually training for the Twin Cities Marathon right now.
Which is really fun.
I just ran a half-marathon actually, last Saturday, and I broke two hours; which was my goal.
I run probably 30-plus miles a week, and I just find a lot of joy in it.
From researching her career, to filling out job applications, to working on job interview preparations, Rachel talks about how State Services for the Blind became a vehicle towards her success.
Because I know when I was growing up, and even now it’s like, I value relationships with those who are legally blind, because it’s hard to know, and nearly impossible, I would dare to say, to know what it’s like to be blind when you yourself are not.
So when I was growing up I was always kind of wishing that I had more mentors in my life, who were blind themselves.
Rachel also talks about summer programs, transportation to work, and her passion and love for playing the piano.
In which you will be hearing parts of two compositions she wrote herself throughout this podcast.
Don’t ever think you can’t do sports, just because you’re blind, that is a lie.
You can find more podcasts with the blindness perspective on the web at www.BlindAbilities.com
On Twitter @BlindAbilities
And download our free app, from the App store.
That’s two words: “Blind Abilities.”
And if you have any questions about the services that can be provided to you, by your State Services, please give them a call.
And without further ado, here’s Rachel Hastings.
We hope you enjoy.
My name is Rachel Hastings, and I am a board-certified music therapist, and I was born visually impaired.
I was born with a condition called Bilateral Colobomas, which is basically a condition where your eyes don’t fully develop before birth.
So it’s left me legally blind.
Obviously it hasn’t stopped me from pursuing my dream, and my goal, which was to be a music therapist.
And that’s now what I currently do.
I’m from Maple Grove, Minnesota.
I have two younger brothers which was really fun growing up.
I got to be the only girl, and I have two amazing parents, that always taught me to go for my dreams and never give up on what I want to do.
And they treated me just like they treated my brothers.
And so that was a blessing for me.
So now I have the mentality of ‘doesn’t matter what your circumstance is vision, or no vision you can accomplish your dreams, and achieve your goals.’
[Rachel’s piano playing]
So after I graduated from high school, well actually my junior year of high school; back up a little bit, I met Chad Bovie, my State Services for the Blind counselor, and we got talking about what my plans were for after I graduated from high school.
And he’s the one that actually recommended music therapy for me.
And so ever since that day at the end of my junior year of high school, State Services for the Blind played a role in helping me figure out, for one thing what I wanted to do after high school.
And then where I wanted to go to college.
And then also they assisted me with helping me find a job, after college.
So they were really crucial in my life after I graduated, and trying to help me figure out what I wanted to do.
And then I also worked with Orientation and Mobility instructors from State Services for the Blind and they were very good.
I started with that when I was a junior in high school, as well.
And they were crucial in helping me gain independence, and helped me with my cane skills.
Because I didn’t really start using a cane until high school.
[piano, music fades in]
State Services was very very helpful for me.
So when I was a sophomore in high school, I started trying to figure out what I wanted to do after high school.
The special education teacher and I, we worked on technology; and we looked at different job options and job opportunities, and career opportunities, that would work for me and my situation.
And then she started bringing up the services that I would begin to receive from State Services for the Blind.
And she kind of informed me about what their role was going to be. She started getting me in touch with Chad Bovie.
Then junior year, my counselor, and then he started kind of explaining more to me what the role of State Services for the Blind was.
So that’s kind of where the District 287 instruction and State Services for the Blind met.
[piano playing continuously in background]
So I went to a private school district in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, called Maranatha Christian Academy.
I was mainstreamed, and so I worked privately with special education teachers who specialized in teaching blind and visually impaired students.
I was in the main classroom for probably 75% of the time; but for the other 25%, I worked one-on-one with a teacher for the blind and visually impaired.
And they came from district 287.
Maranatha Christian Academy worked with district 287 to provide me a private, special education teacher that was able to teach me you know maybe 25% of the time, but yet I was still able to be mainstreamed.
So I graduated from a really small high school.
My graduating class was about 43, just to give you an idea.
I was used to small schools, and so I ended up going to Augsburg College, which was also a small school, relatively small anyway.
So that was a really easy transition for me.
It was kind of one of those things where everybody knew everybody, and it wasn’t a 600 graduating class from high school.
And so then when I went to college I knew most of the people that I graduated with even in college, even though it was quite big.
I still kind of knew most people.
So that was really nice and I was able to get a lot of one-on-one instruction with professors, just like I did in high school.
So the small school aspect was really great.
And something interesting about me, actually, was when you take into account the transition from high school to college I actually took a whole year off, after I graduated from high school.
And that was kind of my plan that I developed my senior year, because what I was thinking I was going to do, was go to a music conservatory, or a performing arts college.
And I wanted to go to a handful of colleges out east, you know in New York and Ohio.
And then I was also thinking of St. Olaf.
But what I wanted to do was take a year off to devote entirely to practicing piano, and building my repertoire, and building my resume; so that I could get into these schools.
And so I did that, and I got all of these amazing opportunities.
I got to go to an international piano festival in Italy; and I won the Junior Division of the VSA National Young Soloists Music Competition, from some of my piano recordings.
And that was really neat.
And then I was under the instruction of a very elite pianist that went to the Juilliard School of Music, and I got to work with him for an entire year.
And it was just really amazing.
But I ended up taking a year off.
It was interesting because I didn’t getting into the schools I applied for, but I discovered that it was a blessing in disguise.
It was a closed door, because I wanted to work with music, and with people.
And I discovered that piano performance was so much practicing and so little interpersonal interaction.
And so it was kind of one of those things where I believed it was a it was a God-send, and it was a move of God that I didn’t get into those schools, because it wasn’t what I was meant to do.
So it’s kind of a cool time in my life, where I discovered that you know something that looks like a disappointment is actually a huge blessing; and it showed me what I was really meant to do.
When I didn’t get into those schools I decided to pursue music therapy, and so I looked at the top schools for music therapy.
And the top school in Minnesota was Augsburg college and so I applied to Augsburg, one year after I graduated.
So I graduated in 2010, and then in August of 2011, I applied to Augsburg.
And I was admitted one week later, and I started one week later.
So it was a huge whirlwind.
And then I ended up going to Augsburg, and it was one of the best things that’s ever happened to me.
So it just kind of goes to show that what you think is your calling is, isn’t always the direction that you’re supposed to go.
[laughs] So when I mentioned that it was a whirlwind, of you know, starting; I applied, one week later I was accepted, one week later I started.
That next semester the first semester I guess I should say was very challenging.
And one of the reasons why it was challenging is because I had no idea where I was going.
I had no idea where anything was; where any of the classrooms were, where I was supposed to get my books, and how I was supposed to deal with accommodations.
And it was literally one of those things where I was thrown in and I had to learn everything as quickly as I could.
But thankfully, Augsburg disability services program is phenomenal, and they were able to get me up to speed really quickly.
And they had had blind students in the past and so they were able to quickly get my books downloaded on my laptop, showed me how it worked, and that was actually a breeze.
And it wasn’t nearly as hard as I thought it was going to be.
So the technological accommodations were really good, and I was able to adapt fairly quickly, in spite of the circumstances.
After I graduated from Augsburg I had to do a six-month clinical internship.
And so that was a really good experience for me as well.
But when that was done it was time to start looking for a job.
And that’s where SSB was the most helpful for me, in my opinion.
I was on the job hunt for about six months.
And what I did was I contacted my counselor, I had her get me in touch with a lady named Pam Gowen; who specializes in helping blind individuals find jobs.
Pam and I met a couple different times.
She was just incredible, she helped me write my resume, helped me tweak my resume, and then one of the biggest things that she did for me was she helped me fill out job applications.
And it doesn’t sound like a big deal, but oh my gosh, job applications can be so inaccessible.
And a lot of them- you know, I use JAWS which is a screen reader you can- it’s a software that you can download onto a computer, a screen reading software.
And it’s normally pretty good with websites, but for some reason some of these job applications were really hard.
Then so Pam and I would sit on the phone for hours, sometimes 2 to 3 hours at a time.
Just wrenching through these applications, and just plowing through these applications.
And I would basically just dictate to her my experience, I would dictate everything that I would have normally typed, and Pam would type ’em.
It was amazing to have her help because I don’t know how I would have done it without her.
I would have had to have somebody help me, because this screen reading software just wasn’t compatible with these job applications.
It was a huge blessing for me.
I want to also mention that State Services for the Blind was huge in helping me with orientation and mobility, after high school.
That’s something I didn’t mention before.
I talked earlier about how had to kind of dive in with technology, with Augsburg; but what I didn’t really delve into was how difficult it was navigating that campus.
What State services for the Blind did was they provided orientation and mobility instructors to help me.
I would work with them for hours on the weekends, and they would help me navigate Augsburg.
And it was huge, because you know Augsburg is not that big of a campus, but when you never set foot on a campus, and you’re legally blind, you need help.
So that was huge.
Because of their help, by the second month, I was just- wizzin’ around campus like I lived there, and I knew it like the back of my hands.
So they were huge with that.
The orientational mobility instructors also helped me with my internship.
The building itself, where my internship site took place, was very confusing.
So once again, an orientation and mobility instructor came in there, and by about a month’s time I was wizzin’ around the place like I lived there.
So that was huge.
And then the same goes for Shalom where I currently work.
Shalom Home West, a Jewish living facility in St. Louis Park.
State Services for the Blind it once again provided orientation and mobility.
And that took probably three months, but we worked and worked and worked and worked.
And now I’m just going around this place and I know it like the back of my hand.
So orientation mobility, once again, was huge.
And I don’t know how I would have done it without instructions.
I’m very grateful to SSB for that.
When I was looking for jobs, one of the things that I also worked on a lot with State Services for the Blind, was job interviewing.
One of the crucial things that State Services for the Blind did for me, was they gave me really good input on how to talk about blindness, and how to approach blindness in an interview.
And so they gave me some really good tips.
One of them that really stuck out to me was coming from a different angle for different interviews.
Like for one interview, maybe try not even letting them know that you’re blind, and just going in, because- and you know they gave me the reasons why this might be you know a more beneficial approach.
Then I tried that and I came back to them and I said you know it was very uncomfortable, for this reason and that reason.
And so then they said well you know what you could do here’s an alternative: you can talk to them on the phone interview, and let them know that you’re blind, before the interview comes.
And then the other thing they told me was maybe put it on your application.
Maybe leave it off your application.
So they gave me all these options and then when I would try the options, I would go back to them and Pam, [she] would ask me: ‘So how did you feel about option A?
Or option B?”
And they would kind of troubleshoot with me, because what they shared with me was that there’s really no right or wrong way to approach blindness in an interview.
It’s just what are you comfortable with.
And so they kind of opened up that door for me, and kind of explained that to me, and gave me all the options and then I was able to choose what I felt was best.
So that was the main thing that State Services for the Blind really helped me with, was how to approach blindness when it comes to interviewing for a job.
So the end result of all of this job hunting, and going to school, and internships and interviews, was I ended up with a full-time music therapy job at Shalom Home West, which is a Jewish senior living facility in St. Louis Park.
The way that I got the job was really neat.
I ended up interviewing twice.
I had two different interviews.
The catch was is that I had not taken my board certification exam yet.
So in order to become a state board certified music therapist, in the state of Minnesota, I have to take a board certification exam.
It’s a six-hour test.
150 questions, multiple choice.
So in the midst of both of these interviews I had to pass this test in order to get a job, because I had to be board certified in order to be hired.
So I had my first interview I think it was like September 16th at Shalom.
Then September 25th, I think it was, I had a second interview; where I was actually asked to lead a music therapy session with some of the residents there.
So that was good for me I was able to experience what it was really like engaging in music therapy there, and what the atmosphere was.
But I was scheduled to take my board certification exam on September 27th.
I took the test and passed it.
When I turned my phone back on after I’d finished the test, I got a voicemail from my interviewer from Shalom offering me the job.
I called her back told her I passed the test, and she offered me the job right on the spot, on the phone.
It was an amazing day.
September 27th 2016, was the day that I officially became a music therapist and was offered my first music therapy job.
All within a span of six hours.
So all that hard work really paid off, and it was just amazing how after months and months of searching in a matter of six hours things just came together for me.
So I started working in September and at that time I was living in Maple Grove.
And Maple Grove to St. Louis Park on Metro mobility, for those of you who know is not super fun.
So I really started looking for places pretty soon after I started working.
January came around and I ended up finding a roommate who happened to be one of my best friends.
So we ended up moving to an apartment in Hopkins which is a five to ten minute drive away from Shalom.
And so transportation’s been really nice.
My end goal is to live at a place within walking distance, but how I handle it right now is: I’ll take an Uber, or I’ll ride with co-workers, or I’ll ride with my roommate.
Sometimes, once in a great while, I’ll take Metro mobility.
But it’s been a blessing to be five minutes away versus 25 to 30 minutes away, and I really have not had to use public transportation a whole lot; because Uber is so inexpensive, because I’m only a mile away, so transportation is made much much easier than it was when I first started working.
When I was a sophomore in high school, I was very set in my ways, I wasn’t very much of an over-comer, yet.
I wasn’t really dream-oriented and goal-oriented.
I didn’t really have the dream in my heart, and in my mind yet, about what I wanted to do.
I was just kind of going through the motions, and I was very closed-minded.
I didn’t want to learn technology.
I loved my Braille, I didn’t want to have to worry about putting books on my laptop.
I didn’t want any of that, I wasn’t into that.
And so I was very close-minded.
Junior year this mindset kind of continued, but what really turned my mindset around was a program called STP.
Summer Transition Program, is what it stands for.
And it is a program that takes place at St. Thomas University, in the summer, and it’s two weeks long.
And what it does is it prepares high schoolers, college-bound high schoolers for taking the next step.
And I could talk about STP for hours, but it changed my life.
I don’t say that very often because it sounds cliche, but it really did.
It changed my point of view, it made me take a 180 view towards my blindness.
Rather than wallowing in self-pity about how I was blind, and how I never could do what I really wanted to do in my life, STP opened the door to so many opportunities, and not even just for jobs, but leisure activities.
Going to Valley Fair, going to the Mall of America, going to audio-described plays and movies.
It also taught me that independence can be achieved.
You can go grocery shopping, you can budget, you can live on your own.
You can cook, you can clean, you don’t have to be able to see to do these things.
You can even navigate an entire mall by yourself, if you really wanted to.
There are very few things that blind people cannot do.
And so that’s what I would really encourage high school students, who are blind, is to keep an open mind and an open heart, and remember that, really when you think about it, there are not that many things that blind people can’t do.
Keep an open mind and I would encourage you, any high schooler who’s listening, to look into the Summer Transition Program.
Ask your vision teacher about it, contact State Services for the Blind about it.
It’s never too early.
If you are a freshman through a senior in high school, even in middle school, you are able to do this.
[piano fades in, in background]
Once you are a freshman in high school this option is open for you, and it’s for college-bound high school students.
And if you kind of feeling stuck, like just stuck in a rut, keep an open mind and look into this program.
It changed my life, it changed the way I view my blindness.
It took me from being someone who was a victim to someone who is driven, goal-oriented, ready to achieve anything, and ready to conquer the most challenging things.
I have always used an iPhone, and I’ve always used a PC, I really believe that both are good because I have friends that swear by Macs, but I’ve always liked my PC.
And I’ve always stuck to it.
I love JAWS.
JAWS is really good most of the time, there are the occasional website that you’ll stumble across that isn’t super accessible to Jaws.
But 90% of the time it works like a charm.
[dialing phone, transition]
As far as the iPhone goes I just love my iPhone.
I can do anything on it.
I got my email, I got my Facebook, I got my calls, I got my contacts; I’ve got LinkedIn.
Which I think LinkedIn is really important because it gets you out there, and it gets your name out there it’s all about connections.
And Linkedin is a really good resource for that.
But it just works like a normal phone would, like anybody else would use a phone, I’m able to call and text, and Facetime and I just love how accessible voiceover is with an iPhone.
[telephone dial-tone, busy line signal and automated voice:
‘Please hang up, and try again.”]
What I like to do for fun, most people would find ridiculous; but I’m a long-distance runner.
It’s so fun for me, I absolutely love it.
I’m actually training for the Twin Cities Marathon right now.
Which is really fun.
I just ran a half-marathon, actually last Saturday, and I broke two hours, which was my goal.
I’ve run four half-marathons and I ran the Twin Cities 10-miler in the past, so I’m an avid runner.
I love it I run probably 30-plus miles a week, and I just find a lot of joy in it.
The way I run is, I either run on a treadmill or I’ll run with a guide runner.
He, or she, will hold one end of a rope and I’ll hold onto the other, and we just run.
It’s really fun.
And don’t ever think you can’t do sports just because you’re blind, that is a lie! [laughs]
Running is really accessible and it’s really inexpensive, and you just got to get a pair of shoes and go.
And there’s actually a guide runner database out there now, on the internet, that can connect you with guide runners.
And now race directors let guide runners run for free, and they provide you with a guide runner.
As long as you give them documentation that you’re legally blind.
So that’s a really amazing hobby of mine.
I also like to read; I love my Braille.
And I’ve always prided the fact that I can read in the dark, and not many other people can.
So I was kind of funny, because when I was a little kid my mom would always tell me to go to bed; she’d turn off the lights and I would just keep reading, because I could.
So when we would ride up to the cabin at night my brothers would have to turn on the lights, to see, to read, and I could just sit back in the dark and do my thing.
And so I always loved reading because Braille is definitely something that I’ve always loved.
One other important thing about me is: I love Jesus.
Faith is really important to me.
And so going to church, and spending time with God; and reading my Bible, and talking to God have always been things that I have really deemed as essential to my success.
And that is the reason why I am the way I am today.
God provided the people that I needed to steer me in the right direction, and he made me the driven and strong-willed person that I am.
So it’s because of him that I am where I am today.
Again I just can’t reiterate enough how essential it is to just keep going, and never give up on your dreams.
Don’t let people that are ignorant tell you that you can’t do something.
Because odds are they don’t fully understand what is out there, and the resources that are out there, for people who are blind and visually impaired.
There’s so much, you know?
Obviously screen reading material, like I mentioned before; there’s Braille displays, that you can actually hook up to your laptop.
If you have JAWS on a computer you can hook your Braille display up to a laptop and it’ll read everything to you in Braille.
So if you get tired of somebody talking at you all the time you can actually read the screen.
And it’s accessible to you in Braille, you know.
There are talking books.
The Library of Congress has a whole stack of Braille books that you can use.
There are movies with audio description.
A lot of times you can go to the theater and you can get a unit that has headphones on it, and you can have audio description with your movie, no extra charge.
All you have to do is call ahead.
You can do that with plays as well.
People say ‘The sky is the limit,’ and I believe that to a great extent.
Obviously there are certain things like driving a car; that you can’t really do if you can’t see.
But the thing is is that there are always ways to get around.
There’s the bus, there’s a Uber, there’s Metro mobility; and there’s always ways for people who are visually impaired to be independent.
And I think it’s really important that we, as visually impaired individuals people who are legally blind, keep in mind that we’re very blessed to live in the age that we’re living in.
We are living in the technology age.
We’re living in the age of accessibility.
We’re living in the person-centered age, where we’re not defined by a disability.
We can rather use it as an ability to do a job even better than we could do it with our vision.
I mean, for me for example, I really feel that I’m a better therapist because I’m legally blind.
I’m able to have empathy for those who have lost, or are losing one their senses.
And right now working with seniors, that’s huge.
A lot of them are losing their vision, they’re losing their hearing.
They’re losing their independence and their dignity.
And for me even though I’m only 25, I’ve lost a significant amount of vision, even since my teenage years.
Even though I was born legally blind, I lost even more.
So it’s kind of one of those things that I have a, a certain amount of empathy that I could not have gained without having to go through that first-hand.
So with all that being said, just remember that you can do all things through Christ who gives you strength.
And there’s always a solution to every problem; no matter what the circumstances.
So “keep on keepin’ on” and never give up on your goals and dreams.
[piano fades in]
I’m a firm believer in connections and I want anyone that wants to talk to me to feel like you can talk to me.
I am on Facebook, and I am also on Twitter.
You can find me on Facebook at Rachel Elizabeth Hastings; all three separate words. And Elizabeth is spelled with a ‘Z.’
Rachel Elizabeth Hastings and I’ll pop right up.
The other place you can find me is on Twitter; and my user name is @RachelH262. So it’s R-A-C-H-E-L-H-two-six-two.
So please, please, please reach out to me.
I love people.
I am an extrovert, if you can’t tell.
I always love to talk, and I love to share my experiences.
I’m a very open person.
And so, you know, the other reason why I really encourage you to reach out to me if you would like to is because I know when I was growing up, and even now it’s like I value relationships with those who are legally blind, because it’s hard to know and nearly impossible, I would dare say, to know what it’s like to be blind when you yourself are not.
So when I was growing up I was always kind of wishing that I had more mentors in my life, who were blind themselves.
So please feel free to reach out to me, no matter how old you are, no matter what your circumstances.
I would love to be a shining light to you, or just a good connection someone to talk to.
[piano music picks up, then fades out]
-When we share..
-What we see…
-Through each other’s eyes…
[Multiple voices, overlapping then combining in unison]
We can be a gap between the limited expectations and reality of blind abilities.
For more podcast with the blindness perspective, check us out on the web at www.BlindAbilities.com
On Twitter @BlindAbilities
Download our app, from the App store; Blind Abilities, that’s two words.
Or send us an email at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks for listening.