Employment Immersion New Hires Salary Now Breaks the $1 Million Mark

Three years ago, looking squarely at a 62 percent unemployment rate for career age blind and low vision adults, the LightHouse for the Blind decided to do something about it. The Bay Area blind and low vision community was in dire need of help getting the skills and confidence they need to be successful in the job world. Beginning in January 2011 we  held our first Employment Immersion classes.

Since then more than 70 people have graduated from the 10 week course. The program enjoys a placement rate of 34% (a rate significantly higher than that of employment programs for sighted jobseekers). This is a particularly satisfying accomplishment because every one of our hires had been fighting years and sometimes decades of unemployment, and the overwhelming majority have been on SSI or SSDI.

We’re proud that we have produced nine graduating classes of students who are more confident, have grown their skills and are much better equipped to find work in an extraordinarily competitive market. But the big news is that we have just reached a tremendous milestone in the program, one that has made us all smile from ear to ear. Collective annual salaries earned by our hired graduates now total over one million dollars!

“This program is important – it can make a difference for so many people because it teaches blind people that WE have to make it happen.”
Program Graduate Michael Peterson, now employed as a counselor for the Pennsylvania Department of Rehabilitation.

Successful program participants now hold a wide range of jobs. Job titles range from customer service representative to EKG technician to secretary to nurse and scientist.

Program leader Kate Williams, who is blind herself, said:
When I first joined the program, [LightHouse CEO] Bryan Bashin wanted to reach high – he wanted enough of our jobseekers to be hired so that the combined total of their salaries would equal a million. At that time I thought that was quite a lofty goal and I wondered if we could indeed make it happen. It’s amazing that in two short years we’ve not only reached that goal, but actually surpassed it. But more important than reaching the million dollar mark is the impact the hiring of our jobseekers has had on their confidence, morale and their ability to participate in society. One person told me, and I almost cried when I heard it, that she was so happy to be able to do something simple like take a friend out to dinner instead of it always being the other way around. It is such a thrill to know how we’ve been a part of this, how many lives have been profoundly changed.

There’s another side to this success. Of the approximately 21.5 million blind and visually impaired adults in the United States, 41% live below the poverty level, and 62% are unemployed. It has been estimated that the associated costs of a young blind person remaining unemployed amounts to one million in Social Security benefits, Medi-Cal, section 8 housing and other forms of public assistance. Through the hiring of the (so-far) 22 blind or low vision Employment Immersion graduates, we have literally saved the Bay Area millions of dollars in public assistance.

We’ve shared in the joy of their successes, writing a killer resume, mastering LinkedIn, acing that important interview and landing the job. The program not only teaches blind and low vision job seekers skills and insider tips, it also focuses on educating HR managers and other employers about the easy, low-cost adaptations required to hire low vision and blind employees, and about the capabilities and benefits of having a low vision person on your team.

For a blind jobseeker, like any jobseeker, having a career is not just about paying the bills.  When asked why they want to find a job, almost no one ever mentions dollars. The primary motivation is always that they want to have something meaningful to do in their lives.  Employment, especially for someone who is blind or visually impaired, gives them confidence, pride and a sense of self-reliance which goes well beyond a paycheck.

We’re grateful for the support of foundations such as the Marie S. Brookreson Trust, the Thomas J. Long Foundation, the Marcled Foundation, the C. Edward and Edith Strobel Foundation, the Eva L. McKenzie Memorial Fund, Safeway Foundation, State Street Foundation, Wells Fargo and individuals like you, who have made this program possible.

Looking for work for the first time? Is it time for you to re-enter the job market? Our next Employment Immersion session runs from Tuesday, August 6 through Thursday, September 26 and will take place at the LightHouse’s office at the Ed Roberts Campus in Berkeley. For more information, call Kate Williams at 415-694-7324 or email her at kwilliams@lighthouse-sf.org.

One thought on “Employment Immersion New Hires Salary Now Breaks the $1 Million Mark”

  1. Hi,

    I’m a low vision young adult and am glad to hear about this great Employment Immersion program for people like me who have difficulties finding work in our competitive world. I’m very curious to know what type of jobs will be offered or available? Thanks

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