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eSight: Online Career Management
by Jim Hasse     Madison, Wisconsin

Mike Burks is a seasoned information technology professional with a long track record of accomplishment, including several breakthroughs for meeting the specific needs of businesses. In January, however, Burks learned that he would no longer have a job at AT&T due to a merger with SBC. He found it ironic because, as a person with a vision impairment, he was chosen "Employee of the Year" by CAREERS & THE DISABLED magazine at the Career Expo held in New York City in April.

Burks realized he had to tap into a network of contacts as part of a job search, and he knew where to go because he had occasionally joined the online discussions about how to manage a career from a disability perspective on  eSight Careers Network  . He sent an e-mail describing his situation to Nancy O'Connell, executive director of The Associated Blind, Inc. (TAB), the parent organization of eSight Careers Network. The two quickly developed a plan that would extend Burks' network and provide eSight members an opportunity to track his job search, offer him encouragement, and learn from his experience.

Burks and O'Connell launched a new eSight blog called  Job Seeker's Network . Job Seeker's Network (JSN) allows selected eSight members to keep online diaries of their job search journeys. Three months into his job search, Burks hasn't landed a job yet but says he has uncovered quite a few interesting prospects through referrals on the blog and has found, in tracking his progress on the blog, that job hunting is, indeed, a full-time job in itself. JSN is just one of the many tools TAB has developed for the online members of eSight during the last five years.

TAB is a privately funded nonprofit organization founded in 1938 by blind individuals to promote autonomy and self-determination for those with visual impairments. Through eSight, a free, interactive Web site, TAB provides online information, guidance and discussion about what works best on a wide range of disability employment issues for individual job seekers, career counselors, job developers and prospective employers. "The purpose of our discussions on eSight is to build knowledge about what works best in managing a career from a disability perspective," says O'Connell, pointing to the real-life lessons Burks and his followers are learning through Burks' diary on JSN.

In 1998, Ruth-Ellen Simmonds, executive director of TAB, and Dr. Herbert Brinberg, a nationally recognized leader in information technology and chairman of TAB's board of directors, first recognized the potential of using the Internet to help people with visual impairments. Together Simmonds and Brinberg developed a business plan to launch eSight.

There have been four phases in the development of eSight:

Technical Development: Between 1998 and 2000, a team of individuals who are blind developed the design specifications so every detail on eSight is accessible to users of screen readers. They also managed an in-house team of international information technology student interns who created the site's infrastructure, using Cold Fusion and a relational database to create dynamic, customized pages.

Content Development: Between 2000 and 2002, five freelance writers with physical disability and mainstream employment experience concentrated on generating content, which now includes more than 1,000 extensively researched articles, step-by-step career management guides, 100 interactive forums, profiles of disability-friendly companies, job postings, book reviews, scholarship notices and internship information.

Interactive Functionality: In 2002 and 2003, eSight began offering members the opportunity to share ideas through dialogue boards, post replies to articles, and use a tool to e-mail articles as well as engage in real-time, private text chat and real-time idea sharing with the exclusive "Blindstorming" feature--all built by Marten Tegnestam, eSight's director of technical development. In 2003, eSight also began offering toll-free telephone conferences, which allow participants to interact with guest speakers. TAB received a $30,000 Economic Independence Fund grant from the American Express Foundation in support of eSight's special initiative, "Steps to Independence: Financial Planning for People With Disabilities," which used eSight Phone Conferences as a training platform. TAB was one of 18 US nonprofits to receive such a grant.

Syndicated Content: In July of 2004, eSight launched the eSight Disability Employment Web, a Really Simple Syndication (RSS) service for providing other Web sites a link to eSight content, which updates daily.

Registered membership at eSight has grown from 325 in 2001 to 3,700 as of April 2005. How is eSight helping blind job seekers? Here are comments from three members.

"I am a blind information technology professional and owner of a new small business. I have found eSight extremely valuable in the success of my career, both in the quality of the articles and the exchanges between blind people like myself." D.S.

"I am an instructor, and eSight has been invaluable in our weekly job readiness classes. The audio files have been especially useful in stimulating discussion and brainstorming sessions." S.C.

". . . You provide me with an opportunity to voice my opinion and see those of others. Through your articles, job coaching tips and career advice, you have pushed me to ultimately making that step and start the search for a more suitable job." Kerry

O'Connell says TAB is working to expand the dialogue on eSight to include key leaders within disability-friendly companies. She points to these four "Swimming in the Mainstream" (SiM) articles eSight has posted on its login page since January 2005, under the heading "Insights for Employers:"

"Breaking Accessibility Barriers"
"Creating a Level Recruiting Field"
"Telltale Signs of Inclusion"
"Unique Confidence-building Experiences"

Each article includes snippets of member comments from eSight's SiM blog, an initiative made possible with funding by American Express and Verizon. SiM blog participants discuss one disability employment issue each month, and eSight staff writers summarize each month's discussion into a concise article for employers. SiM blog participants quoted in the articles are linked to another eSight gathering place where they can post their "offering" statements (how they can help an employer in a particular job sector) for prospective employers to browse. "That's why we call eSight a 'bridge connecting employers to talent in the disability community," O'Connell explains. "Every week people are referred to eSight from more than 300 sites," she adds, citing referrals from employer resources such as the Employer Assistance & Recruiting Network, Pennsylvania Business Leadership Network, Kentucky Business Leadership Network, Job Accommodation Network, Disabled Peoples International, American Council of the Blind, National Coalition for Students with Disabilities, Workforce New York, Benetech and National Organization on Disability. Web sites based in countries throughout the world including India, Canada, Netherlands and Malaysia, are also linked to more than 500 eSight articles. Article downloads have increased from 53,894 in 2003 to 73,410 in 2004. More than 32,000 articles have been downloaded during just the first four months of 2005.

Editor's Note: Jim Hasse is the senior content developer for  eSight Careers Network . When you visit , be sure to sign up for the weekly newsletter, ESIGHT'S NETWORK NEWS.

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