Statewide Assistive Technologist, AT Consultant, Former SeroTalk Co-Host and a good bit more, Laine Amoureux
We think we couldn’t have picked a better candidate for our feature story during National Disability Employment Awareness Month. Meet Laine Amoureux, a vivacious, energetic woman who uses technology and time management to live a well -balanced life of work and play, and how this balance makes her a better employee who happens to be visually impaired. She’s a perfect example of why people with disabilities should be employed.
As my graduate studies came to an end I naturally began wondering, “Now what?” The course work was finished in December of 2014, and shortly thereafter in casual conversations with old friends two new ideas began to take shape. The first was co-hosting the SeroTalk Podcast. This was a short lived adventure that provided tremendous insight into the world of technology beyond the day-to-day tools I utilize to assist consumers, and reminded me to keep up on the latest news and trends, as much as possible.
The second idea conceptualized in the late winter/early spring months was transforming my graduate project, training screenreader users to use Google Web Apps, from a classroom conceptualization into something that real people could use. From this conversation Amoureux AT Consulting was born and a partnership with Digital Apex LLC flowered to life. (Digital Apex LLC is the owner of Trainingware curriculum for assistive technology instructors, at all levels, to train consumers in the use of the most popular, and crucial computer access tools and applications.)
The core component of ICBVI is Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) services, and the mission is to help consumers recognize and develop the skills necessary to gain, and maintain, meaningful employment. Assistive Technology (AT) is a core component of the Vocational Rehabilitation process, and, thereby, I support VR Counselors, their consumers and the agencies mission by traveling the state to provide AT product needs assessment, implementation and individualized training and support. This includes:
- Projecting what type of technologies may help a consumer be successful in a desired vocation
- Testing existing technologies in a variety of environments, for compatibility with Assistive Technology a consumer may use,
- Adapting/customizing consumers AT to work more efficiently/effectively in different technology based environments and
- AT Skill level/needs assessment plus general and individualized training.
In this aspect of the job I may…
- observe consumers use of technology
- suggest areas that may need improvement for use in a desired, or existing, environment
- create new instructional materials for use with consumers and/or by rehabilitation instructors and teachers of the visually impaired
- provide consumers with training and support to effectively use the combination of tools that are best suited for a specific environment
- coordinate programs for introducing consumers to AT and the hard and soft skills needed to pursue a desired vocation
- promote public awareness of the abilities of people who are blind, and how AT can assist people who are blind live, work and play in their communities.
I learned about the Training Center rehabilitation teacher position through a professional network and in the eight years I’ve worked at ICBVI I have served in four different roles, and held two different titles. My ability to adapt, and work as a member of a team, led to an assignment with a special project providing training in the use of AT to Rehabilitation Teachers in the agencies satellite offices, and later to teaching Teachers of the Visually Impaired (TVI) how to conduct AT assessments. The success of both special projects led to the creation of the position I now hold, which is providing similar services to consumers, as I did to Rehabilitation Teachers and TVI’s.
It is not unusual to be working with consumers who are employed in a variety of different fields, while also providing direct instruction in the use of AT and applications for text editing and email to students who are still in high school. It is also not unusual to be asked to travel with only 3 – 5 days’ notice, to a new environment, and be prepared to made adaptations and create a customized plan to ensure employment.
In addition to growing my consulting business, building my professional network and the day-to-day routine with consumers, a summary of a typical day usually goes something like this: I keep my morning appointment with a blender for a leafy greens and frozen fruits smoothie. Next is a brisk walk, and bus ride, or sometimes a car ride with my husband and Seeing Eye German Shepherd, Liesha. This is usually followed with five minutes of play and belly rubs (for Liesha of course!) once we arrive in the office. At least once a week I try to have lunch out with a coworker or friend. The trip home is by bus and foot with Liesha, and may include a stop at the dry cleaners or grocery store. When I arrive home at least 10 minutes of play with all three dogs are given, followed by another three 10 minute chunks of time spent one-on-one with each dog for grooming and play.
Inter-personal communication is probably the most valuable skill I draw on each day while engaging with all stakeholders. It is necessary to be able to read, and appropriately respond to, each person as the individual they are. One thing each individual has in common is that they genuinely care about improving, or maintaining, their quality of life, or that of the consumer ICBVI is serving.
I learned about the Training Center rehabilitation teacher position through a professional network and in the eight years I’ve worked at ICBVI I have served in four different roles, and held two different titles. My ability to adapt, and work as a member of a team, led to an assignment with a special project providing training in the use of AT to Rehabilitation Teachers in the agencies satellite offices, and later to teaching Teachers of the Visually Impaired (TVI) how to conduct AT assessments. The success of both special projects led to the creation of the position I now hold, providing similar services to consumers, as I did to Rehabilitation Teachers and TVI’s.
My role requires me to adapt quickly to new environments and figure out how that environment can be adapted to meet another individuals needs as well as how the consumer must adapt to the environment they will be in. In order to ensure that I can perform the essential functions of my role ICBVI provides access to a variety of operating systems (i.e. Windows 7, 8.1, 10, Mac OS X, iOS, Android, Chrome), the latest operating system access software (i.e. JAWS, Window Eyes, MAGIc, ZoomText etc.), and the latest Optical Character Recognition (OCR) hardware/software for text access (i.e. OpenBook, Kurzweil, DocuScanPlus and KNFB Reader Mobile). They also provide use of desktop and handheld video magnification for text. All of these items are for teaching and training purposes.
As for my personal job accommodations ICBVI supplies me with an iPhone and BraillePen 12 for access to agency communications, electronic, large print and Braille calendar and agenda options for time management and stand lamps, with soft yellow bulbs to replace the overhead lighting in the office. A part-time assistant performs the following tasks on my behalf: driving, description of graphics and the environment, reading hand written materials, large volumes of text, or when OCR software is unavailable and electronic document creation when materials are not inherently accessible, or usable.
I really enjoy the variety my role has to offer. Rarely are two days alike, and there is always a new challenge just around the corner. I get to meet the nicest, most intriguing people, and visit the most interesting corners of this beautiful state. Some of the things I like best about my role can also be some of the worst things about it. At times there is no reasonable solution for a challenge, and it feels like a failure. The need to be available to travel with only three to five days’ notice often takes time away from the people I love most. The unpredictable nature of the job, which usually keeps the day moving and me engaged, can also make it difficult to plan and care for a home and pets.
Four nights per week I spend 60 – 90 minutes in the kitchen preparing lean, healthy, dinners. On the other three nights I use the time to catch up on business correspondence and administrative work. After dinner my husband and I take all three dogs for a leisurely 1.5-mile walk, or to the local park for 20 minutes of fetch and chase. (I give Liesha a break and take my cane) then it is finally time to just sit down, and watch a little TV, read a book or catch up on Facebook and Twitter.
If you are interested in this type of work my advice would be to seriously consider how much you really like people, and be honest with yourself about your communication skills. Pursue undergraduate and graduate studies related to communication, vision rehabilitation teaching/therapy, VR counseling, AT & Human Services, special education or other person-centered field. The person-centered soft skills are either a core part of one’s personality or can only come with time and experience gained through studies. Consider certificate programs and free learning opportunities to learn the hard skills, like typing and scripting.
One of the most important things I’ve learned in the past year is to do the job, and do it well, but make time for friends, family and face-to-face connections. My former supervisor, Bruce C., had been telling me this for years, during the time that I had been working and doing graduate studies. But it wasn’t until his sudden, and unexpected, passing in May 2015 that I really started to understand what he meant. He was one of the most knowledgeable VR councilors, and supervisors, I’d ever had the pleasure of working with, and while he was at work he was at work. When the 40 – hours came to a close however, he was a friend, a spouse a son and a brother first. People remember him most for the amazing person he was, not for his knowledge and dedication to his job, which no one can question, but people miss Bruce, the person, more than the knowledge he had.
Bruce’s words echo in my mind any time I start to feel like I’m not giving my all, or enough, to the consumers, my job or building my technical knowledge. His advice to me, which I’ll share with you, was, “What good are you to others if you aren’t good to yourself?” This is sage advice that can be used in any walk of life and I hope you take it to heart as you develop your own successful career.
The Contact: Laine Amoureux, M.S.