Being blind since birth, Rebecca Bridges always felt strongly that work experience would be critical to landing a job. By the time she graduated from college in Indiana, Bridges had completed three internships, including one in Washington D.C.
“I fell for the D.C. area,” says Bridges, who recalls fending for herself on the transit system after only a few hours of orientation. “It was terrifying and exhilarating at the same time. It gave me independence I had never had before.”
During her last year of college, she returned to D.C. to visit the man who would become her husband, an NIB employee. After learning about the Business Management Training (BMT) program, she dropped off a resume.
The day after college graduation she was offered an internship in NIB’s services division, a position that grew into a full-time job lasting six years that included several promotions. Completing NIB’s first-ever BMT program not only piqued her interest in business and organizations, but gave her the confidence to get her master’s degree in organizational development and knowledge management. After completing that degree, Bridges left NIB to join a small consulting firm catering to the federal sector. “I was the first person with a disability they had ever hired,” says Bridges. “They had a lot of questions for me, and I was fully prepared with the answers.”
She spent seven years with the firm, focusing on leadership development and succession and strategic planning. When she realized it was time to move on, Bridges brushed off her networking skills and joined The Paciello Group, an organization that helps businesses make their technology accessible, where she works today as a senior project manager.
Sylvia Stinson-Perez, who has been visually impaired since birth, joined a blindness organization in Florida after graduating from college, eventually becoming director of services running teen work transition, vocational rehabilitation, independent adult programs, and more, for five years.
When her daughter was born, Stinson-Perez took a few years away from full-time work, but kept up with the field. She returned to the workforce full time as CEO of NIB associated nonprofit agency the Lighthouse for the Visually Impaired and Blind in New Port Richey, Florida.
“I started learning about NIB, attending conferences,” she recalls. “When I learned about the BMT program, I wanted to go through it right away, but they weren’t offering it that year.”
Instead, she enrolled in an MBA program. “I was a couple of semesters into my MBA when NIB announced a new BMT class would be starting. I decided to do both, and completed them within a few months of each other.”
Stinson-Perez says for her, the BMT program was as good, if not better, than the MBA program. “The projects we did, the communication, collaboration, and teamwork we built through the BMT program were much better suited to my areas of interest.”
The skills and learning acquired through the BMT program are being put to good use today in her role at the National Research and Training Center on Blindness at Mississippi State University. As director of the Older Individuals Who Are Blind Technical Assistance Center, Stinson-Perez helps state agencies serving people age 55 and older to improve the administration, operation, and performance of their programs.
“It’s a different role,” she says, “but it’s fun to take my experience in direct service to help problem-solve with the agencies.”
Stinson-Perez says people who are blind or visually impaired should always be open to learning new skills and stepping out of their comfort zone. “Experiences like the BMT program made me realize that I can always learn something new.”
She sums up her advice to others seeking professional growth in two words: “Be fearless.”