Blind and Low Vision Students Explore Careers in 21st Century Transportation

autonomous vehicle

Editor’s note: This blog was written by Shannon McVoy, Transition Services Manager of the Bureau of Services for Blind Persons (BSBP) 

Michigan’s Bureau of Services for Blind Persons (BSBP) has been nurturing collaborative partnerships with community services and local employers to create innovative and engaging Pre-Employment Transition Services programming that is both educational and fun. Michigan’s 21st Century Transportation: Careers for Students Blind and Visually Impaired program was made possible through partnership with the University of Michigan, M-City, MPVI, and the National Federation of the Blind of Michigan.  Community patterns and BSPB hosted this workshop in Ann Arbor, Michigan to introduce students who are blind or low vision to the emerging field of autonomous vehicles.  

While collaborating with multiple local, state, and even national agencies and organizations is a lot of work, the payoff was worth it!  The summer programs BSBP created are dynamic and engaging opportunities to learn about the future of transportation and career paths for blind and low vision youth from local employers and national speakers.  Speakers including: Mark Riccobono, President of the National Federation of the Blind; Lindsey Teel, Policy Advisor, Office of Disability Employment Policy; and Paul Hemmersbaugh, Chief Counsel and Policy Director, General Motors (GM) who discussed the national perspective on autonomous vehicles and how they might shape the future of transportation. 

Drawing on our personal community of BSBP alumnae, we secured keynote speaker Tyler Merren, a previous BSBP student and Paralympic medalist, who inspired students with stories of what it means to be a champion.  Tyler shared his personal journey of his family being told early on that he would never work to how he stood on the Olympic podium representing the United States in 2 of the 3 Paralympic games he has participated in. Students also heard from Branden Werner, who works at the University of Michigan’s Disability Office, on the importance of skills of blindness and utilizing assistive technology.  

Two additional BSBP alums shared their personal experiences of working in the auto industry – Donald Bowman (now retired) worked as an assembler at GM from 1978-2008, and William Wheat, who worked with Dakkota Integrated Systems Inc. for nine years (specializing in design, development and installation of automotive assembly systems). Mr. Wheat credits BSBP support for reaching his employment goals. “Having the opportunity to give back to the organization who helped me, creates an immense sense of pride,” said Wheat. “Confidently knowing that future students will continue to have the resources and direction to grow, reassures my confidence and respect for the program.”  

Collaboration with local employers allowed BSBP to invite Derek Hilbert, a GM strategist for Talent Acquisition for People with Disabilities and Veterans, spoke to the students about what it takes to be employed in the automotive industry. “At General Motors we recognize that diversity is our strength and we are committed to an inclusive workplace that supports the hiring and careers of people of all abilities,” said GM’s Hilbert. “Having a diverse workforce that mirrors our customer base is important, and our Global Talent Acquisition Diversity and Inclusion team is committed to finding the best talent to support General Motors’ future.” 

Admittedly, the program was complex and coordinating the many moving parts to ensure meaningful and engaging activities presented challenges. The BSBP team learned important lessons about streamlining processes, coordinating service providers, and keeping track of budget inputs and expenditures. While these aren’t the things that community partners and workshop attendees see, the project management systems developed by BSBP staff have ensured the success of multiple pre-employment transition services programs for transition-age youth who are blind/ low vision in Michigan. 

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