Thomas, 24, wore many hats while interning at the ophthalmic research firm, Ora, Inc., starting in human resources, transitioning to recruitment and ultimately moving over to reception.
His bosses noticed and were impressed by his effort and ability to fill in wherever necessary. After eight weeks, they offered him a job as a Patient Recruitment Coordinator.
“I had no idea if I’d be getting an offer so I was really nervous,” he recalls. “When I did get the offer, I remember feeling both overjoyed and proud of myself.”
That payoff was more than just the first chapter in Thomas’ professional journey, however. His employment at Ora also shines as a good example of what the Career Launch @ Perkins program intends for all participants.
“Our young adults have limitless potential, yet they’re still faced with staggering unemployment rates,” says Alicia Smith, Associate Director of Training. “We’re saying to employers: We’ve got these candidates, we’ve trained them, we can vouch for their abilities. So we’re helping our participants find career paths and at the same time breaking down misconceptions about what people with disabilities can accomplish in the workplace.”
Founded by Perkins School for the Blind, Career Launch opens doors to young adults with visual impairments, like Thomas, by equipping them with the skills they need to begin and sustain meaningful careers.
The program starts with nine weeks of on-campus training, during which time participants work on general but crucial skills like resume building, interview prep, how to communicate about their disability and what accommodations they need in the workplace.
They also study business cornerstones like customer acquisition and retention, take part in simulated customer relations scenarios and visit job sites in the area. The idea is to make sure participants have every tool in their belt to not only land competitive employment, but also the skills needed to pursue career growth once on the job.
“Aside from being a program for blind and visually impaired adults, it’s also just a really great career training program,” notes Deana Criess, Associate Director of Recruitment and Admissions. “We’re setting them up to walk into interviews with knowledge that their peers, sighted or otherwise, don’t yet have.”
Following their course work, participants spend two months at an internship with a community business partner, putting into practice the lessons learned over the preceding weeks. For some, like Thomas, this combination leads to job offers. Either way, each participant also receives a full year of career services support to help them get hired.
And for those who participate, Career Launch also provides ample opportunity for self discovery.
Before accepting the job at Ora—even before he’d ever heard of Perkins—Thomas didn’t think he’d be able to pursue the type of job that would afford him financial independence. He had low confidence and just assumed a career to be out of reach.
“I used to think I didn’t have any useful skills that would help me in the workforce and wondered, ‘who would hire me?’” he says.
Adds his mother, Betty, “Life is challenging enough. Then you throw in a visual impairment or some other disability and it makes it that much more complicated and difficult.”
But that all changed during a simulation exercise, where Thomas had to help customers solve problems and answer their questions over the phone. He discovered he had a knack for it and the type of personality that makes customers feel taken care of.
“Through Career Launch, I learned so much about myself and about what useful strengths I actually have,” he says. “For the first time, I feel like I have the means and skills to excel in any field I go into.”
That moment—and the larger journey of self-discovery that was Career Launch—led to him landing his job at Ora. Now, Thomas is busy starting the career he never thought he’d have. And back at Perkins, a new group of young adults are figuring out for themselves what they want out of work and life as they discover what they can do.