Governor John Hickenlooper and BIT Executive Director Mike Hess celebrate on November 16, 2017 when BIT was honored with the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment’s first-ever Shining Stars of VR awards.
Organization Providing IT Training, Certification and Jobs for Blind and Visually Impaired Professionals to Foster Visual Diversity and Inclusion in U.S. Workplaces
DENVER, CO., November 23, 2021 – The Blind Institute of Technology was awarded its largest grant ever from the state of Colorado to increase training for the BIT Academy™ professionals with disabilities (PWD) seeking to upscale careers and training. Since inception in 2016, the BIT Academy™ has worked with 70 students, with 50% graduating and 20 of whom were hired directly in professional positions. Each of the students were accepted using grants and donations and none of the students were asked to pay tuition.
The funding is made available through the Reskilling, Upskilling, and Next-Skilling Grant Program that was created through HB21-1264 in the Colorado Recovery Plan.
“We are proud that BIT is training and coaching blind and visually impaired professionals more than anyone in the blind community, and, that we provide not just technical training, but interviewing, corporate introductions, and key skills to help professionals grow their professional careers,” said Mike Hess, Founder and Executive Director. “This grant will allow us to scale our educational operations in a way to impact hundreds of budding professionals and their careers,” said Hess.
“Mike Hess and BIT have been an important partner with our office since 2017 because they are making a substantial difference in the lives of so many in our community,” said Lee Wheeler-Berliner, Managing Director of the Colorado Workforce Development Council. “They model the complete workforce model and have shown us the powerful talent in the professionals with disabilities community, and we want to see their programs grow stronger to make an even bigger impact in our state,” he said.
The BIT Academy™ and its instructors provide virtual classes over 12-13 weeks. The courses create a foundational understanding for students including those who want to go on to gain Salesforce certification as well as additional skills to succeed in interviewing and corporate work environments.
Since founding BIT in 2013, Hess and his organization have been involved in and recognized for their significant programs including:
- Since 2018, BIT has worked with the Colorado Office of Information and Technology to develop web accessibility standards, which under Governor Polis is now required for both state and local government agencies.
- Since 2019 BIT has also consulted with OIT for accessibility elements to build the MyColorado app for all Coloradoans.
- Hess recently completed a three-year-term on the Colorado Workforce Development Council to support its vision to ensure every Coloradan has the opportunity for meaningful employment.
- In 2018/2019 Hess served on the Disability Funding Committee to maximize support for new and innovative programs benefiting Colorado’s disability community by raising and distributing funds as authorized by the Laura Hershey Disability Support Act.
- In November of 2017, Hess was honored by then Governor Hickenlooper as one of the original recipients of the Department of Labor and Employment’s first-ever Shining Stars of VR awards. It was created to honor people and organizations that are making progress in reshaping the employment landscape for people with disabilities.
- In 2017, Hess and BIT were honored by former Mayor Wellington Webb with the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Business Award, celebrating “content of character,” and for “exceptional community service and commitment to the values of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.”
- In 2015, Hess was invited to speak before the Joint Technology Committee by then Senator Linda Newell to advocate for the importance of why accessibility mattered for Colorado’s future. His testimony helped frame the current focus to involve people of all abilities in the workforce.
“Our mission is to ensure that people with disabilities reach their professional goals and for companies to see the enormous value that people of all abilities bring to the workforce,” he added. “Professionals with disabilities possess skills and abilities that corporations have overlooked or have yet to discover,” he said.