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Online Service Connects Blind Workers, Job Seekers

Editor's Note: The following article is reprinted from the Toronto Star, November 13, 2004, courtesy of Torstar Syndication Services.

An online service is being launched today to introduce people in the hopes a few will form a "connection" and eventually talk on the telephone or even meet in person. But this isn't a dating service.

MentorMatch is "an internet tool that connects Canadian blind or visually impaired job seekers with a blind or visually impaired professional working in their field of interest," says a news release from Mentor-Match, which is jointly offered by the Canadian National Institute for the Blind and the American Foundation for the Blind.

Job seekers who are visually impaired--including those who are blind and those who are deaf and blind--will be able to virtually team up with those who have the same physical impairment and who have been able to find work. They can get advice, through emails and online discussion forums on job searching, interviews and overcoming negative attitudes toward their abilities, the release says.

"The unemployment rate ranges between 50 and 75 percent," says Chris Sutarno, director of MentorMatch at CNIB, of the Canadian blind population. "Compared to the national average of about 8 percent, that's quite a difference."

MentorMatch has 50 Canadian mentors, representing 30 different career fields. The AFB has, for the past 20 years, had its own mentorship program and introduced its online MentorMatch last year. The U.S. foundation currently has 1,300 mentors and teamed up with CNIB to enlarge the program and increase its pool of mentors, Sutarno says.

One mentor who's signed on is 31-year-old Jennison Asuncion, project manager at the Bank of Montreal's Institute for Learning in Toronto. "I know that I'm fortunate that I'm employed. ... I know I'm lucky and I want to give back."

Asuncion has been blind from the age of 11/2 years from a disease called optic atrophy, but his lack of vision hasn't stopped him.

Asuncion worked as an instructional designer at International Business Machines Corp. during a practicum in 2000, and the following year completed his masters of art in educational technology.

In the fall of 2001, he started at BMO. Because his current job-in which he is responsible for strategic tasks such as developing standards and identifying project risks--requires Asuncion to attend meetings, read documents and work at the computer, BMO has equipped him with technology that allows him to perform as well as his sighted colleagues. Asuncion says he has a device called JAWS that can read his computer screen and one called Kurzweil that can read a printed page. He says his most valuable tool is a PDA called VoiceNote that acts as a notebook and scheduler.

Sutarno says once mentors and job seekers have connected, the next challenge will be to convince employers to hire from the program.

"Employers aren't sure what blind people can do." Hopefully, he says, they'll get a better idea from the mentoring venture.

MentorMatch can be accessed at www.careerconnect.org/cnib

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