Networking With A Vision Impairment

December 20th, 2016 by FFB Canada

In case you missed the second annual Foundation Fighting Blindness Young Leaders Summit, here are the highlights and our favourite (and most useful) networking tips and skills that we learned from each other.

The 2016 Summit was focused on networking because networking is increasingly recognized as essential for professional success. Here are some highlights and take-home messages from the day-long program:

1. Moments of change: To metaphorically break the ice of introductions, we introduced ourselves by providing a key moment in our lives that sparked a change. These moments covered an array from overcoming some pivotal challenge, identifying a behavior, and finding your voice.

2. Levels of disclosure on social media and at the job interview: How to identify your comfort regarding disclosure, and what benefits can arise from showcasing your skills.

3. Support networks and mental health: Diversifying the types of networks we cultivate and how to mutually benefit from the relationships we build.

4. How to present yourself both on LinkedIn and in networking scenarios: Navigating body language and social norms for young professionals with vision impairments.

5. Always say yes to opportunities.

6. Mentorship matters.

Professional networking with a visual impairment can be rather challenging because the majority of “traditional” networking events are not designed with accessibility in mind! Here are the top networking skills to help you navigate crowded cocktails parties in dimly-lit rooms:

1. Disclosure: this is a decision that only you can decide on, but what we have found helpful for this important decision is to know:

  • How can you incorporate building a personal brand with your method of disclosure?
  • Is disclosure something that can aid to your career aspirations?
  • How can your level of disclosure showcase professional skills?

2. Eat before.

  • Sadly there are not enough hands to juggle a cane/dog, plate of food, drink and shake a colleague’s hand. Our suggested tip is to keep to the fluids. Your elbow can be used to hold certain items, so you can extend your hand.

3. Giving out and getting business cards.

  • Assigning a method for organizing your business cards separate from ones you collect. If you will be shaking hands with the right, put your business cards in a location that your left hand can access easily. If your cards are in a separate location from ones you collect, you will likely give out your card.

4. Cultivating your online network.

  • Be selective: Quality over Quantity.
  • Be prepared: Research the event and individuals. Do not be afraid to reach out to an event coordinator ahead of time to gain clarity on accessing the event.
  • Be concise, professional and honest.

5. Pursuing a mentor.

  • Identify mentors: Seek diversity; choose mentors from different career paths in order to cultivate well-rounded skills.
  • Be bold and reach out: Make contact and call. Be respectfully persistent. Be responsive and prompt to their mode of communication.

6. Becoming a mentor.

  • Developing patients and an aptitude for listening.
  • Demonstrate active listening techniques.
  • Be available.
  • Offer support, advice and resources, both, professionally and personally.

At the end of the day we put these skills into practice during a networking event with professionals in law, education, science, policy, business, and technology. Here, we were able to challenge ourselves and develop meaningful connections. Afterwards, the young leaders embarked on a walking voyage to Dundas Square. Over some food we were afforded the opportunity discuss all of our aspirations and ideas to nurture this community. We plan to cultivate informal social events throughout the New Year, so please find us on Facebook or Slack to participate or post!

Guest post by FFB Young Leaders: Courtney Soden, MSc and Jessica Watkin, MA