Inclusion Hub has featured Blind Institute of Technology on our ongoing partnership with Salesforce. BIT and Salesforce have recently teamed up with Computers for the Blind to help bridge the digital divide and reduce the low employment rates for professionals with disabilities. Thanks to a generous donation from Salesforce, BIT is able to assist with integrating Salesforce into Computer for the Blind’s organization, along with conducting a Salesforce user training which includes using the technology with screen readers. Executive director, Mike, Hess, is confident that Salesforce will be the first software as a system platform to employ 5000 professionals with disabilities into long lasting careers. To read more about all the work BIT, Salesforce and Computers for the Blind are doing together. Read more here!
Salesforce Proudly Presents a Gala Fundraiser for the
Friday, March 18, 2022, 6PM – 11PM
Salesforce proudly presents the Blind Institute of Technology’s Dining In The Dark Fundraising Gala at The Georgia Aquarium. BIT is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization providing workplace development and inclusive employment solutions for individuals with disabilities. BIT helps ready individuals with disabilities for success in the workplace as well as aids the employers who hire them!
Michael Patellis, VP of Corporate Development for BIT is excited to bring BIT’s Dining In The Dark Annual Fundraiser to Atlanta to help us significantly reduce the severe unemployment and underemployment rates of people with disabilities in the state of Georgia. Please join us in the Oceans Ballroom at the Georgia Aquarium for a night of fun!
- Current unemployment rate of people with disabilities is 81%.
- 21.5 million American adults, age 18 and older are blind or visually impaired.
- Annually the government spends over $4 billion of taxpayer money to support unemployed visually impaired Americans.
- Nearly one in five visually impaired Americans live at or below the poverty level and only 19% are currently employed.
- Among all demographics, unemployment and underemployment rates are among the highest for people with disabilities especially when considering qualifications.
The facts speak for themselves and this is why we do what we do every day. Our team recruits candidates with disabilities from universities, vocational rehabilitation centers, disability-focused forums and events, and social media. Our career development services include interactive workshops, resume writing, interview training, and specific skill training. Our BIT Academy focuses on official certifications for careers at companies such as Salesforce, Cisco, Amazon, and companies within their ecosystems. At a minimum, we guarantee each candidate who completes a course from the BIT Academy a paid internship with the ultimate goal of placement in a full-time employment role. Candidates we place earn a median salary of $72,000.00 per year which is 40% higher than the U.S. average household income of $50,740 per year. At the same time, we work closely with our corporate partners to increase awareness and education on the value of hiring individuals with disabilities.
How You Can Help
BIT’s services are 100% complimentary to all of our candidates. Even after we place our candidates in meaningful careers we continue to mentor and provide career guidance to them. Upon successful completion of the BIT Academy courses, we work closely with the candidate and our corporate partners to identify the perfect fit for mutual success on both the candidate and corporate sides. On average we invest about $5,400 in each candidate that completes our BIT Academy courses. For 2022, our goal is to have at least 100 candidates complete the BIT Academy’s skill-up courses to then place them on a life-changing meaningful career path.
All the money raised at the Dining In The Dark Gala will go directly to maximizing the number of candidates that participate in the BIT Academy. Below you can see just a very small handful of lives we have changed forever by empowering individuals with disabilities and placing them in the professional workforce. Please help us achieve our goal by joining us at the Dining In The Dark Gala for a seated dinner, live auction, and entertainment while being surrounded by the breathtaking views of the Ocean’s Ballroom at the Georgia Aquarium.
Does our approach work? YES!
Contact Michael Patellis. (678) 429-5539 or E-mail.
Organization Providing IT Training, Certification and Jobs for Blind and Visually Impaired Professionals Partners with Salesforce to Strengthen Global Communities
DENVER, CO., December 6, 2021 – The Blind Institute of Technology was awarded its second grant in 18 months from global leader Salesforce for its workforce initiatives, providing BIT with a global expansion of its BIT Academy™, staffing wages for blind and visually impaired professionals (BVI), and to assist with Project SOAR. Project SOAR is a nonprofit program in Morocco focused on adolescent girls to help them break barriers and understand that they are equally capable and have just as bright of futures as their male classmates.
BIT has been providing Salesforce training to BVI professionals since 2016 through its BIT Academy™ and began working with Salesforce’s Office of Accessibility in early 2020. BIT’s recent work created an organized and utilized Salesforce program for Project SOAR that includes a comprehensive dashboard that allowed the nonprofit to track, aggregate, and report on important impact data.
“We appreciate Salesforce’s partnership because their funds were dedicated to paying wages for BVI professionals in our program, then, to fund BVI professionals to create this Salesforce program for Project SOAR that will ultimately help the Moroccan-based nonprofit in multitudes of ways,” said Hess. “It makes my heart happy that we can have such an impact to help previously underserved girls in other countries realize their fullest potential while also helping BVI professionals succeed in their careers,” he said.
“I am convinced that Salesforce will become the first global SAS provider in history to be the vehicle for employment for more than 5,000 professionals with disabilities,” said Hess.
“We appreciate partnering with Mike and BIT because they are extremely focused on breaking barriers for people with disabilities, and in proving that each individual deserves to be recognized for his or her abilities,” said Sarah Mark, Salesforce’s Senior Manager of the People with Disabilities (PwD) Workforce Development Program.
“Mike and his team deliver exactly what they tell us they will, and as a global corporation, we depend on Mike’s professional passion and expertise,” added Mark.
“Additionally, as graduates of BIT’s Salesforce Admin Certification Prep course started gaining real-world experience, we saw an opportunity to connect them with non-profits to put their skills to the test. It was a win-win: the admins could put what they learned into practice, and local organizations benefited from their expertise,” Mark said.
“For us at Salesforce, Mike and everyone over at BIT are more than just partners, they’re true friends,” added in Tom Frantz, Salesforce’s Senior Manager of Accessibility Partnerships and Public Relations.
“Our common goal should be to go beyond inclusion and move toward creating a world of belonging for people with disabilities. This work is a great example of how we can reach that goal together,” he added.
“Another thing to note is that creating an atmosphere of belonging starts with our day-to-day interactions as human beings. Mike is one of my favorite people to work with because this is just a natural part of who he is. It’s the difference maker when it comes to creating high-quality work and having a partner that will be there for you during the hardest of times,” Frantz 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. BIT will be launching its first-ever global cohort in early 2022 in the UK thanks in part to the Salesforce grant.
Since founding BIT in 2013, Hess and his organization have been involved in a number of Salesforce programs including:
- BIT has received two separate grants from the Salesforce Office of Accessibility.
- Hess was a speaker at the national Dreamforce 19 international conference with more than 170,000 people from 120+ countries.
- He spoke again at Dreamforce21, where more than 100,000 people attended in person or virtually.
- He has been an invited guest on multiple Salesforce LinkedIn interviews, including a recent show about the Salesforce economy and BIT.
- BIT was recently highlighted in an article about the work BIT did for Project SOAR.
“Our mission is to ensure that people in the blind and visually impaired community 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.
To support BIT’s program, please donate to the organization or learn more about how employers could hire from BIT’s team of professionals. Salesforce has multiple articles and resources about breaking through accessibility barriers
Ethan Holliger Was One of First-Ever Graduates from the BIT Academy™ in 2017
DENVER, CO., November 23, 2021 – Ethan Holliger is part of the team ensuring that CVS Health is making sure its digital presence is available to people of all abilities including the more than 60 million Americans living with some sort of disability. He works with the CVS designs systems team in developing reusable components and patterns to customize the website that reports more than 100M visitors for this more than $250B corporation.Continue Reading Blind Institute of Technology Academy Graduate Now a Digital Accessibility Solutions Engineer for CVS Health
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.Continue Reading Blind Institute of Technology Awarded Largest State Grant in Organization’s History
BIT is recruiting for multiple Customer Care Representatives (CCR) positions for a Fortune 100 company!Continue Reading Customer Care Representative Recruitment
Denver, CO (July 20, 2021) – Nearly 70 percent of blind Americans are unemployed. Two organizations want to lower this statistic by joining forces and letting their complimentary missions work together.
Today’s perceptions of people with disabilities often present multiple employment challenges. The Blind Institute of Technology focuses on finding employment opportunities for blind and visually impaired professionals in corporate America, placing qualified talent into positions on par with their education and skill level through networking, education and workforce development. Outlook Business Solutions helps businesses overcome growth obstacles through consulting, marketing and accessibility testing by hiring skilled professionals with vision loss.
The Blind Institute of Technology focuses their work on disability advancement and professional development, providing innovative workplace solutions leading to successful and sustainable employment partnerships. The nonprofit’s programs have led to securing positions for professionals with vision loss in all aspects of business, including IT, finance and sales. Their partners around the country include Salesforce and CVS Health.
“We find Outlook Business Solutions’ dedication to ensuring people with disabilities are an important part of DEI initiatives across the country refreshing,” said Mike Hess, CEO of Blind Institute of Technology. “This company works hard to find meaningful earning opportunities for blind professionals. Together, we can help more of the disabled population gain valuable work experience in their chosen fields.”
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 25 percent of adults in the U.S. have some type of disability. People with disabilities want to work, but they often find limited opportunities because of their differences and lack of awareness of their capabilities.
Outlook Business Solutions provides businesses with consulting, marketing, and accessibility services. Half of the company’s full-time employees and more than 90 percent of its network of knowledge-based professionals have limited vision.
“As businesses struggle to find skilled, dedicated employees, knowledge-based workers with disabilities represent an untapped labor pool,” said Natalie Hadley, vice president of Outlook Business Solutions. “With some minor adaptations, our freelancers and full-time employees with vision loss produce quality work and are dedicated to the success of our clients. The Blind Institute of Technology will help us find more visually impaired professionals looking for work while educating companies on the importance of inclusivity for everyone.”
Through their partnership, the two organizations use speaking engagements, thought-leadership articles and professional conference presentations to educate businesses on the benefits of seeking out job candidates with disabilities. Hadley and Hess believe that this partnership will move the dial to help low unemployment become common among people with disabilities.
About Outlook Business Solutions
Outlook Business Solutions helps businesses clear their roadblocks to growth while creating knowledge-based earning opportunities for people with vision loss. As part of Outlook Collaborative, a nonprofit with a mission to positively impact everyone who is blind or visually impaired, Outlook Business Solutions provides business consulting, marketing, digital accessibility and customer care services. The company’s growing network of professionals covers marketing strategy, customer service, sales, digital accessibility testing, graphic design/art, copywriting, videography and data entry. Businesses can be successful and help reduce the 70 percent unemployment rate among people with visual disabilities by outsourcing projects to Outlook Business Solutions. Call 531.365.5055 for a free consultation. Learn more at OutlookBusinessSolutions.com.
About The Blind Institute of Technology (BIT)
By leveraging relationships built with its corporate partners, emphasizing workforce development and accessible technology, BIT strives to put its talented, corporate-ready professionals in the best possible position for success. BIT works with disability inclusive Fortune 500 industry giants across the country, placing professionals in all aspects of business, including IT, finance and operations, earning a median salary of $70,000 a year. For those candidates who have the technical aptitude but lack relevant certifications, the BIT Academy offers opportunities to achieve the training and certifications that help them to be competitive, such as its Salesforce Administration Certification Prep course. BIT is the only authorized Salesforce training provider for people with disabilities. Learn more at blindinstituteoftechnology.org.
Director of Talent and Marketing
A late Friday afternoon telephone call more than 25 years ago forever changed the way I view workplace diversity.
The call came from someone in a large corporation who told me in a young-sounding, panicked voice that she had been asked to create a program to hire people with disabilities. I mirrored her panic, as it was the last day of my first week of my first real job after graduate school: managing a federally-funded grant aimed at improving the way employers recruited disabled college students.
But inspiration struck; I took a deep breath.
“Does your organization have a diversity program?” I asked.
“Yes,” she told me.
I encouraged her to talk about some of the successes of the program, and she excitedly described how their efforts were encouraging African Americans to join their company.
“Sounds great,” I said. “What is your organization doing to make this happen?”
She described their outreach efforts on college campuses.
“That’s terrific,” I told her. “Just keep on doing what you’re doing.”
“That’s it?” she asked in a startled voice.
“Well, yes,” I said. “You might have to tinker with the program to adapt it to students with disabilities and those that support them. But there’s no reason to reinvent the wheel.”
“Oh,” she said. “Well, thanks. Have a great weekend.”
I have thought about this exchange often as I straddled the gap between diversity, disability, and leadership. Over the years, I have heard countless diversity managers say some version of:
“Look, we’re focusing our diversity program on (fill in the blank(s). We know disability is important, but—.”
This thinking is self-defeating, as people with disabilities appear in all groups. More importantly, viewing each underrepresented group separately masks similar challenges members of each group face: less ability to control our visibility, an underappreciation of our skills, the tendency to be treated as the spokesperson of the underrepresented group(s) to which we belong, and the sense that we are round pegs in square holes. Viewing each group separately also suggests that a separate skill set is required to support members of each separate group to succeed, making the diversity journey much harder than it needs to be.
Consider the following training activity I have used over the years:
I ask participants to think of an example when they successfully interacted with someone they perceived to be significantly “different,” and what made the interaction successful?
While the differences exercise participants described were vast, the skills used to bridge these differences were surprisingly similar, with empathy, active listening, reaching for similarities, and managing conflicts the most commonly noted.
I suggest the following strategies for those interested in creating common ground among groups, with a focus on people with disabilities.
Stress similarities whenever possible. When I discuss the Americans with Disabilities Act-related “reasonable accommodations” concept, I point out that each of us subtly accommodate to the quirks of others; that’s what inclusion is all about.
Use intersectionality to your advantage. Intersectionality, when stripped of the controversy the term has caused, simply means that each of us belong to separate but related groups, and that exploring these cross-currents can lead to empathy and joint action.
Differences are far less important when each member of the group is truly committed to a common, challenging goal.
Explore the connection between managing diversity and managing conflict.
Incorporate diversity concepts into existing leadership and management training, stressing that the skills learned, while more useful when working with people from underrepresented groups, work for everyone.
Adapt strategies you used to connect with one group as you reach out to other groups; no need to reinvent the wheel.
Consider the possibility that the thread binding diversity, disability, leadership, and management is inclusion.
I recently interviewed an upwardly-mobile nurse whose ascent was halted when she suddenly became blind. After years of rehabilitation, education, numerous frustrating job interviews, and a couple of job that didn’t move her toward her wish of returning to the health care sector, she suddenly landed her dream job.
“How did you land that job?” I asked.
She talked about hearing of the job through a contact; how the hiring manager seemed unprepared for a blind woman with a service dog to enter her office, and how the interviewer seemed uninterested in her demonstration of the technology she used to read and manipulate text on a computer screen.
“But then the interviewer said that I was the most qualified person for the job that she had interviewed thus far, that she was having trouble filling the position, and that she wanted to hire me.”
“But what about the tech challenges?” the interviewee asked the hiring manager.
That’s not my problem,” her future boss harumphed. “That’s IT’s problem.”
So my interviewee’s new career in healthcare was launched, with more than its share of challenges, surprises, and successes.
She’s still happy with her current job ten years later.
Yesterday, I heard about a respected entomologist who, among other things, had identified a new breed of mosquito. But after suddenly becoming blind, he has not been able to reenter the field of insect study. The high-pitched buzz among his interviewers seemed to be that he couldn’t possibly support other entomologists because he is blind.
“Ultimately,” I thought, “landing a job in a nontraditional career path comes down to finding that stranger who somehow believes in you and your abilities.”
How can we encourage these unlikely alliances to form?
I thought back to those stranger allies that crossed my path. Michael Pratt, a young conductor who took me on as a percussionist in the orchestra of the college I attended even though I would be unable to see his gestures. Lana Smart, who gave me a bolt of confidence during my first day on my first job after graduate school. Mary Jacksteit, who hired me to support her in promoting dialogues between pro-choice it and pro-life activists even though I was a male with no mediation training. Rochelle Friedlich, who hired me as a consultant after our employer laid me off.
Over the years, I’ve had the chance to ask these supporters what prompted them to take a chance on me. Michael Pratt said that I was the only percussionist who auditioned, and that while he knew that he could import other percussionists from elsewhere, my confident musicianship sold him. Lana Smart told me after becoming my boss that the organization had found it hard to locate the right person, and that while inexperienced, my enthusiasm, independence, and ideas convinced her to hire me. Mary Jacksteit told me that she was having trouble finding the right person, and that my ability to find value on all sides of a controversial issue and willingness to listen without judgment sealed the deal for her. And Rochelle Friedlich told me that she was afraid that the initiative we were shepherding might flounder if my skill set left the building.
In order to transform the sound of hiring people with disabilities and other underrepresented groups from the whiny buzz of a mosquito to a productive hum, we can find ways to encourage “people with significant differences” and hiring managers to meet informally. Encourage children and youth to develop strengths and support them in exploring how these strengths can lead to a career. Take young people to work when you can. Give them a realistic view of the work world, with its challenges and rewards. Find ways to support them to develop the grit to grapple with the inevitable discrimination.
Support hiring managers in sharpening their empathy, curiosity, and listening skills. Encourage them to serve as volunteers in organizations that address needs of groups to which they don’t belong. Help them see that good ideas can come from all quarters. Take inclusion seriously.
And just the right amount of desperation might tip the scales.
“Assuming competence from day one is a must if you want to retain talented disabled employees…”
So said Nancy Doyle in a recent Forbes article entitled “Assume Competence: Neurodivergent Staff Don’t Need Kid Gloves.”
This advice came to mind during a recent conversation between two visually-impaired people and a COO of an upcoming nonprofit organization.
“How can I make my presentations more accessible to blind people?” the COO asked us.
After an awkward pause, my visually-impaired colleague and the COO began an increasingly lively conversation sharing the often similar challenges they experienced creating PowerPoint presentations: what fonts to use, how to incorporate headings, what content to include on which slide–
“Don’t worry about it so much,” my colleague counseled. “The easiest thing to do is to ask disabled people who will be attending your presentation if you get the chance.”
“My take on this might be a bit weird,” I interjected, “but are you aware of the concept of universal design?”
Verbal head nods.
“Well, we usually think about universal design in conjunction with environments: how many non-disabled people use wheelchair ramps, for example. But over the years, I have discovered that this concept is relevant to leadership best practices – that those who do best leading people different from themselves are often better leaders for everyone.”
More verbal head nods.
“This concept might also apply to presentations,” I continued. “Like most non-disabled people, we dread PowerPoint presentations. They’re dull. Crammed with unnecessary information. Disorganized. Preachy.”
“True,” someone said with a smile in her voice.
“So by improving your presentation skills, you will make everyone happier. Put only one concept per slide, and let your presentation and each participant’s notetaking skills do the rest. Accept that people learn more if they believe they are controlling their learning. Mix stories and statistics, because stories bring feelings into the picture — and feelings, not thoughts, drive action.”
This led to a brief discussion about the downsides of cramming too much information onto a slide, and how to address this challenge.
“And we could do a lot of good by trying to figure out if another approach might be better in conveying information than a PowerPoint presentation,” I said, trying to conclude my ad hoc presentation smoothly. “And we would each do well in trying to assume that everyone we meet is competent, especially those who are significantly different from us.”
This essay was written under the auspices of Blind Institute of Technology™ (BIT, a nonprofit organization that envisions a world in which disabled people have the same employment opportunities as their peers. They aim to help disabled professionals and the employers who hire them find synergistic success through education, preparation, and accessible technology. For additional information, please visit their website).