As we all know, people who come to the Orientation Center are at all ages and stages of their adult lives. Some are looking forward to, or are in the midst of college training. Others are ready for their first job, or maybe contemplating a return to, or change in, career. Still others are done with all that and are ready to enjoy the fruits of their endeavors. And whatever stage of life they may be in, everyone relishes the opportunity to relax and have a little fun.
This newsletter focuses on recent Center activities highlighting various stages of life. But regardless what stage a person may be in, the first tenet of the Center holds true for all, “It’s OK to be blind.”
A CAREER SEMINAR
ORIENTATION FROM AN OLDER PERSPECTIVE
MOUNDS OF DISCOVERY
College Days this year was a very good experience. The first day we had a wonderful speaker, Dr. Tim Cordes, a medical doctor totally blind from birth. It was amazing to hear the things he has gone through and still pursued his dreams. He talked a lot about “tools for your toolbox.” He taught us that no matter what the situation is, as long as you have different techniques to do the job right, you can do anything you put your mind to. He’s set an example for a lot of people of how much blind people can accomplish.
There were a few current college students who talked to us about their experiences and gave us advice about what’s best to do before starting school and throughout the year. We also had some employers talk to us about what they look for in an employee. They had a lot of good advice to tell us about everything from interviews to resumés.
The technology sessions were also very good because they presented information that a lot of us didn’t know, giving us more options , or at least some awareness of the possibilities. Just learning about all these tools, accommodations and references is a huge support.
All in all, college days was a very good event. We got plenty of food and fun and we also learned a lot. Plus, it didn’t hurt that during the games held throughout the activities we won things we can use for school, such as the hangers and flash drive I was lucky enough to win. The time invested in College Days was time well spent all around.
--Lynsie Crawford and Corey Cordell
Patti Westphal received the award for “Outstanding Academic Student” at the Monticello Branch of Kirkwood on April 21, 2006. Congratulations to Patti and to all Orientation Center alums who have recently celebrated the completion of a successful school term.
The world is what it is because people work hard every day , in numerous career fields , to create products and provide services for others. People with blindness are no exception. In June Brenda Criswell, David Lenz, and Larry Sidwell conducted a career seminar for the students at the Orientation Center. After a quick ice breaker we went around the room introducing ourselves to Brenda and David and describing our long term goals and dream occupations. Then they shared what they do, working both with us and with potential employers.
The seminar covered a variety of topics ranging from how to learn the hard skills necessary to understanding the importance of soft skills. Hard skills are the technical skills needed to do a job. Soft skills are people skills that encompass how a person would work and interact with others.
We talked about how to prepare for an interview and ways to handle difficult questions. Brenda read an article from the Des Moines Register, which touched on interview questions, such as, “Recall a conflict you may have had in the workplace in the past. How did you handle it?” These types of questions are used in behavioral interviewing. This type of interview helps an employer evaluate a prospect’s soft skills, judging how they might interact with others and how they might cope with stress.
The article prompted lots of discussion and we received many helpful suggestions. We were encouraged to consider our strengths and weaknesses, and shown how to handle potentially negative questions, turning them into a positive. One really helpful suggestion was to have a brief statement prepared about yourself before the interview.
Larry provided a list of questions and exercises that encouraged each person present to decide how to market themselves. One exercise asked the question, “What are five adjectives that would describe you?” Among our responses were words like determined, driven, ambitious, organized, studious, spunky, creative, and caring.
Another exercise was called “The Any Game.” Each participant was asked to create a list of four careers that would be their ultimate goals and four jobs that they would not like at all. The resounding majority of people in the group wanted careers that provided flexibility and creativity.
A third activity, called "Sole Survivor", was a lot of fun. We were paired with a partner and each team played the part of employer. We were to hire the best candidate to fill the position of customer service call representative for the “Healthy Baby Company.” After a brief description of the type of person the company wanted, we were given eight biographies to sort through. After each team made their choice, Brenda read a follow-up describing how the person chosen did in the company. This activity demonstrated that sometimes an employer may hire a person with the attitude they are looking for even though that individual may lack the specific hard skills for the job.
In addition to these exercises a couple of helpful videos were also presented. One video provided instruction on how to use want ads and advertised materials, as well as explaining the time one should spend searching for a job. The video recommended looking for employment eight hours a day; in other words, the job search should be a full time job. Another video touched on nontraditional methods of finding a job and outlined the four phases of job position availability.
The final topic was how to survive in a sighted world. Many in the group weren’t sure how to introduce blindness into the conversation during an interview. After this seminar we are better prepared to handle it. We all agreed the advice and networking tips we received will be handy as we each tackle our own job search over the next few years.
--Laine Steward and Buddy Ware
When I found out that I was legally blind at the University Hospitals last year -- my eyesight has been getting continually worse since October of 2002 -- they notified the library here at the Department for the Blind in Des Moines. The library sent me a tape player and three books to get me started. I listened to the books and got hooked, so I sent in a list of titles of books I wanted to read and got on the system.
Next thing I knew Susan Howard, a teacher with the Department, contacted me and wanted me to come up to Des Moines and tour the Center to see what I thought. I was impressed by what they were doing here and how they were doing it. I thought it over for awhile and finally decided I would come in and give it a try.
The reason I decided to come? Well, I was sitting around at home and was getting pretty tired of that, and my wife was tired of it, too. I’ve retired after years of work and I’m not planning on going back to work or to school. But I still wanted to find out how I could do things pretty close to what I was doing when I could see. And that’s what I have done here in the Center.
I have learned a lot about cooking, and how to do it without making a mess. Working in shop is easier than I thought. I’ve found in both classes that I can do a lot by feel. With cane travel I’ve learned the cane tells me what’s ahead and what’s to my side and how to maneuver. I’m still not real good on travel, I get mixed up on directions, but I’m learning to listen and I’m able to get around a lot better than I did before. I didn’t think I would ever get onto Braille, but I did. I have a hard time reading but I know the alphabet and numbers and can write with a slate so I’m happy about that.
Now when I go home for a weekend I don’t just sit, I’m doing things. Some things take me longer now but that’s ok, there’s no rush. Everything is getting better for me; I’m real glad I came.
When you see the bus sitting outside of the Department for the Blind building it can usually only mean one thing, an Orientation field trip. Thursday, March 23, was no exception as we headed off for Omaha. Why, you might ask. Well that is where the Air and Space Museum formally known as the SAC Museum is located, and that was the destination for this particular Orientation field trip.
We all boarded the bus and were off around quarter to eight in the morning. It was about a two and a half hour ride to get there so a lot of the students wanted to sleep on the way. I don’t know how much sleep anyone was able to get, but the ride was enjoyable and went faster than anticipated.
When we got there it was just in time to start the tour. Our tour guide was really good at describing what the planes looked like. We actually got to feel some planes and even a few bombs. There was one plane that you could even get in the cockpit. I liked that because that was as close to a plane as I have ever been. I didn't even know what they looked like until we went to this museum.
After the tour it was time for lunch. When we finished eating we were on our own to explore the museum. Several of us went for rides in this flight simulator. I went with Larry. When we first climbed inside the attendant went over things with us making sure we knew what to do before fastening our seatbelts, closing the top and locking us in place. The controls were really touchy. If you hit them just right, you would start going really far that direction and even flip upside down sometimes. It was like an amusement park ride! I thought it was a really fun, interesting and informative day. I’d recommend you give this tour a try.
The bus was finally loaded on May 22 with five students, three staff and Dave’s son, Matt, who came along as photographer. We were headed for camping at Pike’s Peak and to go hiking at Effigy Mounds in northeast Iowa near Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin. We arrived at our campground in the late afternoon and began to unpack our gear. While sleepshaded we set up our camp, which included three sleeping tents and a screened in cooking tent, found where our fire was going to be and got ready to make supper. Everyone pitched in to cook supper and after the cleanup we sat around our campfire. We all decided to turn in early because we knew we had a long day ahead of us.
We wanted to get an early start so we got up early—well, most of us that is. With sleepshades in place the ladies cooked breakfast which consisted of “slop”—a mixture of hash browns, scrambled eggs and sausage—crummy corn cakes and our much needed coffee. While we were making breakfast we had a visitor in the cooking tent which made a lot of noise as it kept flying around our heads buzzing by our ears. We couldn’t figure out what it was until Dave and his son popped by to see how breakfast was coming along. They told us that it was a ruby-throated hummingbird trying to get out of the tent. The poor little guy had to be scared to death, but boy was he flapping those wings! Lots of pictures were taken and they even got him on video. What a thrill!
Once the excitement was over we finished breakfast, cleaned up and each packed our own individual sack lunches to carry on the trail. Lunches packed, we hopped on the bus and headed to Effigy Mounds where we learned a little background information about the mounds and had the chance to handle some of the artifacts found there. After this it was time to start hiking. Sleepshades down, canes ready, we made our way along the trail headed for the first lookout point. On the way we checked out a mound’s shape, tracing the small bear mound with our footsteps. It was pretty cool. Then we were off the rest of the way, switchback after switchback. Some of these switchbacks were quite tricky as there were drop-offs we had to find with our canes. We soon learned that while we needed to pay close attention mainly we just needed to keep moving on. Everyone did a great job.
At the lookout we stopped to enjoy our sack lunches and took in the gorgeous view. It was a very dramatic, yet peaceful scene. After our break we decided to head back. As we went we found that going down seemed to be more difficult than going up. About a third of the way we took time to check out another impressive lookout before continuing our way down.
Back at camp it was the guys’ turn to make supper. We had grilled steaks, baked beans, roasted corn on the cob, and baked potatoes. It was an awesome dinner. Later we all pitched in and loaded what we could back on the bus. After the work was done several of us sat around the campfire discussing our discoveries of the day while making the ever popular Smores.
Next morning we fixed a quick breakfast, drank our coffee, tore down our camp and finished loading the bus to head back to Des Moines. Around lunch time we made a stop in Allison, Iowa at a restaurant and bakery owned by Becky Schrage, a former student of the Center. She has a wonderful establishment there and we all thoroughly enjoyed our lunch. We visited with her for awhile before continuing on our way.
What were some of the discoveries we made while hiking and camping? We learned that the more you practice cane travel on different terrains, the better your skills become. We discovered when we all share the same experience we become a closer knit group which really helps all of us because we learn to trust each other and work together. The most important discovery of all was that, even though we are blind we can still enjoy the things we once did with sight. That’s an important key to take with us for the rest of our lives.
--Chelsey Allen and Jill Clausen
Speaking of close-knit groups, shared experiences and all around fun, don’t forget to make room on your calendar for Alumni Day, Saturday, October 7. Further information will be provided in a forthcoming letter. Meanwhile set aside the day to join us. We look forward to your company.
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The Orientation Center Newsletter is published by the Iowa Department for the Blind. Please direct questions and suggestions to the Iowa Department for the Blind, 524 Fourth Street, Des Moines, IA 50309-2364, 515-281-1333.