Disability advocates are often the first to say that people who are blind or visually impaired make excellent workers. Why? In addition to their unique strengths and talents, these workers are more likely to use assistive technology and have specific workforce training. They may have mentors, teachers, and close family members who support them. They may also take full advantage of knowledge resources, like Bookshare, to learn about their professional interests.
When it comes to knowing about workers who are blind and about braille literacy and resources to train blind workers, Bookshare member Bill Powell, an Assistive Technology Director for Bosma Enterprises, comes to mind. This Indianapolis nonprofit provides employment services, rehabilitation, and outreach for adults who are blind. The organization is one of the largest employers of people with vision loss in industries such as health and safety, printing, warehousing, contract packaging, hearing aids, and more.
Mr. Powell has been blind since birth with optic nerve hypoplasia. Early in his childhood, he attended the Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired and eventually went to public school. He graduated from college and taught in public school for twenty-five years. Bill credits his mentor, a high school coach, for helping him rise above lackluster expectations that had been set for him as an adolescent. “He taught me to wrestle by using math formulas in my head,” said Bill. “This coach taught me to live life to the fullest and not just to survive, and that’s what I tried to accomplish in my life.”
During his tenure in college, Bill trained future teachers at the University of Nebraska and Indiana State University to use the literary Braille code and assistive technologies. He developed educational curriculum and wrote books. He lectured at the University of Vienna, co-chaired a special thematic session on service delivery at the University of Paris, and authored two assistive technology training websites (www.brlsts.com and www.brlsts.us) for teachers and students.
Many of Bill’s students graduated from college and went on to become computer experts. Bill is extremely proud of one of his students who developed technical devices to assist persons with physical disabilities.
When asked how we can educate and change perceptions about the capabilities of blind workers, Bill said, “There are still misconceptions about what individuals who are blind can and cannot do. It is all a matter of matching individuals up with the right trainers, skills, and technologies. Today, individuals who are blind operate computers, work in manufacturing, and manage people. In schools and in business, we need to help all persons identify their unique talents and vocational opportunities. And, we need to use resources like Bookshare to help them succeed professionally and personally.”
To train workers and help students who are blind or have low vision expand their career opportunities, Bill and his staff download accessible books from Bookshare, including titles about computer programming, technology, finance, and specific training manuals. Bill recently used these books in some of his workshops:
• The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement by Eliyahu Goldratt
• Network Your Computers & Devices Step by Step by Ciprian Adrean Rusen
• Ubuntu Hacks by Kyle Rankins, Bill Childers and Jonathan Oxer
“I deeply appreciate Bookshare and all programs of this nature for giving me the lifelong treasure of reading,” he said. “The best part of my work is the knowledge that people who did not have much hope of economic success have found work and increased their independence. I recommend membership to all my clients so they will benefit from professional and pleasure reading. We hope our mission at Bosma and my story will help more employers, educators, and advocates take notice of the true capabilities of a person with disabilities and will consider all of the technological advancements that have opened up new vocations for workers like us.”
There is no better time to join Bookshare. For a limited time, new adult members get 33% off an annual subscription, and qualified U.S. students are always free.
Read Bill’s inspirational story and watch a video of his tremendous perseverance and commitment to helping all people experience work and life to the fullest.