Editor’s Note: Each state offers a summer work or pre-employment transition program for youth with visual impairments, including those with additional disabilities. These programs are excellent opportunities for young people to learn about working as a person with vision loss and build confidence and gain valuable work experience. In this blog Gavin, an aspiring actor, shares what he learned during his summer work experience as a remote worker during the pandemic: As they say in the theater “the show must go on”
Firsthand Work Experience
My work experience during the 2020 Summer Transition Program was definitely unique and challenging, to say the least. For one thing, my program started up as everyone was making the transition from face-to-face to online/zoom communication. This was particularly difficult because I was missing human interaction during lockdown and I learn best through face-to-face engagement. But I overcame these challenges and adapted over time by getting used to the idea of online communication for my work experience. It was also definitely different, not being able to interact with my friends and peers in person, because interacting with people face-to-face is awesome and fun and I get more out of it.
The work experience that I was hired for was reading stories in braille to kids. What I had to do was read children’s books to kids who came on Zoom calls for a virtual story hour. I had to make it entertaining enough so the kids would enjoy it, which they did. As a print reader learning braille, I had to practice reading the stories over and over so that I could read them fluently and be familiar and relaxed enough with the stories to be able to use a variety of voices for the different characters to make the stories exciting and engaging.
Although it was fun, another challenge I had to face was creating a good setup. I needed a setup where the kids could see my face and my mouth moving as I was reading and my fingers reading the braille on the books. When I finished a certain page I had to show kids the pictures of the previous pages that I had read. At first, getting the hang of the orientation of the pages to the camera was tough, but thanks to my job coach we practiced and rehearsed to review how my presentation would look to my virtual audience, so the technical aspects of my job weren’t too much of a problem.
Like so many other people in the early days of lockdown, my Internet wasn’t stable and other people in my area were taking up bandwidth. This meant that at times my connection was going in and out while I was reading to the kids. During one of the times I was reading, I kept getting kicked out of the Zoom call because my Internet wasn’t popping up. There wasn’t really much I could do about it, but I tried to troubleshoot. In my role, I didn’t have the option to save bandwidth by turning off my video. I think turning off my Wi-Fi fixed it that time.
Before I forget, another obstacle or challenge that I had to overcome during my summer transition program experience was the fact that I was simultaneously doing school work with my TVI at the time. This meant that I had to hone my time management skills. I had to leave the Zoom calls for Transition at certain points to do virtual lessons for at least 20 minutes on some days. That was a challenge because there were points when I came back on the Zoom call I would have to get caught up. Zoom meetings don’t just stop when someone has to sign off. Sometimes I’d miss information about what we were expected to do during that day at work. I overcame the challenge with help. I asked nice people in Transition to fill me in on the things I had missed.
Beyond the skills I needed to do the job itself, my summer work experience also taught me a lot of important things in general about job skills and looking for work. For example, during my experience, I learned that you can actually oversell yourself during a job interview. How that works is if you oversell yourself, by making it sound as if you already have every skill and experience you might possibly encounter in the job you’re applying for, then you actually may not get hired because an employer will think that you’re not going to want to be in that position for very long. Employers expect that people are looking for a little challenge and opportunities to learn in a job. If there’s no challenge or nothing for you to learn, the potential employer may think you will want to move on from the position too quickly. If they think you won’t stick around for very long they won’t hire you. I was actually very surprised when I found this out.
Recognition & Reflections:
Another thing that surprised me during my work experience was actually getting an employee of the month award! Which was cool and I really appreciated it! Earning that award was great because it was kind of a motivator that kept me going and it was something that told me that I was doing a good job and doing that job well.
So, why did I take my remote summer job? Well, beyond, “to participate in the summer transition program,” I am interested in a career in acting. My transition program hooked me up with an opportunity to spend a summer of reading books in an entertaining and dramatic way which was great practice for an aspiring actor. Being a remote worker during lockdown definitely had challenges and obstacles to overcome but I also learned a lot and actually had fun! Overall, I learned a ton and got too use my creativity to pull off a challenging gig thanks to the great people at the Lighthouse for the Blind and Low Vision.