After losing his vision as a child, Daniel Martinez says he did well in school. But he didn’t have any role models for independence as a person who is blind. It wasn’t until he became part of the National Federation of the Blind of Texas’ mentoring program that he truly understood just how important that is.
When he was getting ready to graduate college. Daniel mentored a 15-year-old student who is now in college himself – and becoming a mentor in his own right.
“We have that connection where we learn the value of learning from others,” Daniel says. “I also learned the value of nurturing others.”
Daniel, who has a master’s degree in Special Education and is studying for his certification to be a Teacher of the Blind and Visually Impaired, mentors with two programs. One is the CAREER (Changing Attitudes Regarding Employment, Education & Rehabilitation) mentoring program through the National Federation of the Blind of Texas.
Preparing students for career success
The CAREER program connects blind independent adults with students in the organization’s transition program, who are ages 14 to 22. There are six to 12 mentoring teams, which are all rooted in advancing students toward success in adulthood.
“The way I inform students is by communicating with them,” Daniel says. “Every mentee is going in their own direction, so I find out what their needs are and have conversations about things like looking for a part-time or summer job, signing up for college, setting career goals, and building a resume. We connect in whatever way we can: phone, email, and in-person when possible.”
Among Daniel’s primary goals are ensuring braille or large-print literacy and teaching mentees to travel independently. For example, one of his mentees is low-vision and Daniel is helping him recognize that he needs to use a white cane for his own safety. He’s also teaching him about adaptive technology – and even fishing.
“I demonstrate how to hook a bait with safety measures, and we’ll experience fishing and have conversations while we do it,” he explains. “Challenges will come up and we’ll focus on them together. In the end, though, it’s up to my mentees to face their challenges as independently as possible.”
The program’s mentees even had the chance to be mentors themselves earlier this year, as part of the organization’s Texas Association of Blind Students. They provided information on financial independence to other students, gaining leadership skills in the process. According to Daniel, they completed the entire session themselves with guidance from mentors.
Changing lives through mentorship
METAS (Mentoring, Engaging and Teaching All Students) is the other mentorship program Daniel is involved in, after they approached the National Federation of the Blind of Texas. Financed by the University of Texas, METAS serves students in both Texas and Mexico. The mentors are Spanish-speaking adults with experience teaching independent living skills, and the program hosts periodic weekend workshops called “Changing Lives.”
“We work not only with students but also with their families – but not at the same time,” Daniel says. “While students are working with their mentors, relatives are in another room learning about how to best assist their family member in continuing to develop independence skills when they go home.”
The program also includes peer mentoring: Students are placed in small groups where they talk about their unique challenges and cheer each other on.
“We encourage them to continue gathering students to participate in this after the workshop,” Daniel explains. This guidance could be particularly valuable in Mexico, where he says students don’t have wide access to rehabilitation services.
Although these workshops were first held in person, the pandemic offered an opportunity to extend mentorship to a broader range of students. Webinars, seminars and conversations have continued providing a mentorship experience for students. What’s more, the METAS program attracted people from all over the world, particularly Spanish-speaking countries.
Sharing the rewards of mentoring: Join APH ConnectCenter on Oct. 5 and 6
Heading into APH’s Annual Meeting, which is being held virtually from Oct. 6 to 15, APH ConnectCenter is hosting a pre-conference event on mentoring policies, initiatives and programs. Daniel is one of the panelists at the event on Oct. 5 and 6, and is looking forward to sharing his love of mentoring.
“It’s so rewarding – not financially, because I do it as a volunteer, although it has developed my professional experience as an educator,” he says. “During the event, I want to share the value of mentoring and paying it forward.”
Join leaders from ODEP, RSA, the disability community, and the field of low vision and blindness while we investigate how inclusive peer mentoring is a highly effective practice for increasing employment opportunities. Register HERE for Inclusive Mentoring and Employment Policy Summit 2021 on November 10.