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Outreach Training Coordinator
Employer: STEP (Support and Training for Exceptional Parents) - Tennessee
Patricia works for STEP (Support and Training for Exceptional Parents), the Parent Training Information Center in Middle Tennessee. She is located in the Nashville office, where she provides parents of children with disabilities with the information and tools they need to get services for their children. “I love my job. I get a lot of satisfaction in being able to help families learn their rights and how to navigate through the school system, without being adversarial.”
Patricia, a native of Guatemala, has retinitis pigmentosa, losing her sight completely just before she turned 40. At the time she lost her sight, she was living in Birmingham, AL and had become an American citizen. When Patricia later separated from her husband, she had two young daughters to raise and needed the support of her extended family, so she returned to Guatemala.
After going through Rehabilitation Services in Guatemala, Patricia worked for the Committee for the Blind and Deaf for ten years, and did volunteer work at other disability organizations. Two and a half years ago, Patricia returned to the United States to be close to her now-grown daughters and her four grandchildren, all of whom live in Lebanon, Tennessee. Before moving, she got in touch with the Middle Tennessee Council of the Blind which gave her a lot of resources and information so she knew what services would be available and where she could live independently. She relocated to Nashville, where she can go to and from work with AccessRide, and could travel by train to Lebanon each weekend to be with her daughters and grandchildren.
Although she is fluent in English, Patricia had to make some language adjustments—namely to re-learn how to use JAWS in English, since the commands are different in English than they are in Spanish. Patricia got in touch with Vocational Rehabilitation. Her very helpful VR counselor explained that Patricia qualified for the Ticket to Work Program which would pay for her re-training in JAWS. With her VR counselor’s assistance, Patricia signed up for a refresher course for learning JAWS commands in English and an updated technology course.
The course was held in the computer lab of the Disability Cooperative building, which is also the same building where the Middle Tennessee STEP office is located. All staff working for STEP either have a disability or a family member with a disability. At that time, STEP was looking for someone who spoke Spanish. They approached Patricia and asked her to apply for the job. “It was a matter of being in the right place at the right time,” Patricia says. Patricia also points out that “the experience I had in Guatemala working with people with other disabilities also helps, because it gives me some understanding of their needs.”
Essential Job Functions
Patricia’s primary responsibility is to provide information and educate parents about their rights on Special Education and procedures for interacting with the school to create an effective program for their child. Patricia also does workshops for parents, including workshops in Spanish for the Hispanic community. At her workshops, Patricia has to tell parents that she is blind. Because RP does not physically damage her eyes, you cannot tell by looking at her that she is blind. So Patricia tells them if they have questions, not to just raise your hand but to speak up and let her know you have a question. One important outcome of the workshops is what happens just by Patricia’s showing up. By demonstrating with her presence that she has a job, lives by herself and is fully independent, she demonstrates to parents the possibilities and opportunities that their children can have with their participation and support.
Reasonable AccommodationsOne of the essential functions of Patricia’s job is to travel to perform outreach to parents. Within Davison County, Nashville, Patricia uses AccessRide; otherwise she hires someone to drive her to workshops and IEP meetings in the surrounding counties. She pays her drivers by the hour, and the agency reimburses her. When she has to go to Memphis, Chattanooga, Knoxville or other cities, she travels by bus and then takes a taxi to her meeting or workshop. She does take the precaution of checking beforehand to get the names and phone numbers of reputable taxi companies.
The other reasonable accommodations Patricia has received are a screen reader, JAWS software that makes the computer completely accessible, and the Open Book program that scans in printed material and reads it back, so she can read Individualized Education Plans and other documents and save them. Because Patricia prefers electronic formats to Braille, she receives all the handouts for PTI conferences as well as at any other conferences or trainings she attends in CDs or DVDs. However, she uses Braille for creating files using a Braille stylus and labeling tape to label the files for future reference as well to identify CDs or DVDs used at work.
Patricia points out that while technology has given people who are blind a lot more job opportunities and facilitates independent living, “good old Braille still in very much needed, as well as a talking device because someone who is blind needs to feel and hear to identify things and persons.”