Defying Geography: NSITE Virtual Learning Options Bring Career Training Home

NSITE partners with state vocational rehabilitation agencies and NIB associated agencies to bring a range of career services to people who are blind or visually impaired, even in areas where NIB doesn’t have a physical presence.

Imagine this scenario: A case manager at a state vocational rehabilitation agency determines a client who is blind or visually impaired would benefit from specific training to improve their chances of finding a job in a particular career field. Unfortunately, the instruction they need is not offered through an authorized vendor in that state. As a result, the client does not receive the vital professional development and is unable to pursue employment in their chosen career field.

Until recently, this situation was all too common. A similar scenario played out not long ago in North Dakota, but with a much different outcome. Instead of having the client pursue a different career path, the state rehabilitation case manager reached out to NIB’s talent management enterprise, NSITE. Now an authorized vocational rehabilitation training vendor in more than 40 states, NSITE was able to connect the client with virtual IT courses offered through an NIB associated nonprofit agency.

The client was so satisfied that they are planning to participate in additional, advanced IT training offered through NSITE. It became a win for the client, who has broadened their career path and opportunities, and a win for the state vocational rehabilitation case manager, who was able to locate courses through NSITE that allowed their client to pursue a career of their choosing. It was also a success for the NIB associated agency, as it established a relationship with the state agency by providing quality instruction and skill building.

Director of Learning and Leadership Marianne Haegeli said NSITE was created in 2021 for just this kind of scenario.

“Our vision is to bring training to people who are blind who may not otherwise be able to access it,” she explained. “By working together with vocational rehabilitation professionals in state agencies and NIB associated nonprofit agencies, we can expand options for professional, upwardly mobile careers.”

Finding The Best Fit

NSITE is more than a conduit for connecting state vocational rehabilitation providers and NIB associated agencies. It also provides comprehensive assessments in order to create the best match between potential students who are blind and quality training organizations. In the case of the North Dakota client, NSITE identified a need for additional foundational instruction beyond the state agency’s initial recommendation. “We not only identified the additional training needed, but we were also able to recommend a program offered through an NIB associated agency,” said Haegeli.

Proper assessment is vital, Haegeli said, because NSITE wants clients and referring agencies to be satisfied and successful in both professional development and, ultimately, job placement.

To that end, NSITE has been working with Indianapolis-based NIB associated agency Bosma Enterprises to adapt an assessment developed for the state of Indiana’s Business Enterprise Program. It will be used to make recommendations on best-fit upskilling for candidates interested in enrolling in NSITE’s nine-month Entrepreneurial Initiative Program. The new Bosma/NSITE Entrepreneurial Initiative Candidate Assessment will gauge candidate proficiency in:

  • Office technologies, including computer, tablet, and smartphone use
  • Microsoft Office products, including Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook
  • Internet use, including web-based forms and basic searches
  • Various meeting platforms, such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams
  • Communication and organization skills, including taking notes, timeliness, reading and listening comprehension, and writing skills

The goal, said Haegeli, is to have similar assessments in place for all NSITE offerings to ensure participants have the fundamental skills they need to succeed in more advanced training.

Building A Strong Foundation

At Blind and Vision Rehabilitation Services of Pittsburgh (BVRS), the Basic Office Skills for Success (BOSS) Program is helping expand career training for NIB associated nonprofit agency employees and vocational rehabilitation clients in Pennsylvania and beyond. The program grew out of an identified need to teach clients who are blind essential skills to succeed in more advanced courses, like NSITE’s Professional Mastery of Office Technology for Employment (ProMOTE) program, said Art Rizzino, assistive technology specialist at BVRS and a ProMOTE trainer.

“We had a number of clients interested in going through the ProMOTE program, but they weren’t quite ready,” explained Rizzino. “The BOSS program was designed to provide the technology skills needed to qualify for, and be successful in, the ProMOTE program.”

BOSS helps students master Microsoft Office applications such as Outlook, Word, and Excel, said Tracey Morsek, an assistive technology specialist at BVRS who helped design the curriculum.

Students learn how to open and close apps, format emails, add contacts and attachments, save documents, manage files, and how to use the accessibility tools built into Microsoft Windows.

A good amount of time is spent helping students personalize their assistive technology configurations and practice reading commands. “We designed this instruction to be less lecture and more of a demonstration, with a lot of hands-on practice,” said Rizzino. “We want to ensure students’ success.”

Since it began in March 2023, approximately 18 students, including four recommended through NSITE, have completed the all-day, two-week virtual program, which is conducted live. Morsek said there is so much need for the program that BVRS offers it every other month. Originally designed to be offered virtually, so students can participate from anywhere, Rizzino said BOSS also has been offered as a hybrid course, with some local students traveling to BVRS for in-person instruction.

BVRS has joined with NSITE to offer the BOSS program through NSITE’s training platform. This allows state vocational rehabilitation agencies and NIB associated agencies that do not offer a similar program to work through NSITE to connect clients to the program and prepare them for more advanced courses.

A Springboard To Career Development

No longer limited by geography, case managers in state rehabilitation agencies collaborating with NSITE can access an array of virtual training programs for their clients. The same is true for NIB associated agencies. Two employees who are blind working at NIB associated nonprofit agency Blind Industries and Services of Maryland (BISM), headquartered in Baltimore, recently earned promotions after completing NSITE’s Sourcing Specialist Certificate Program.

Specifically designed for people who are blind or visually impaired by NSITE and partners SocialTalent and Bristol Myers Squibb, the program prepares participants for a career in human resources (HR) as a sourcing specialist. The extensive, 18-week, full-time program includes an eight-week work experience to allow real-life involvement in HR sourcing. In addition to instruction in areas such as search basics, social sourcing, and agile methodologies in recruitment, students learn to develop and maximize their own personal brand, develop best-in-class resumes and LinkedIn profiles, and prepare for job interviews.

Heather Harris, HR manager at BISM, said Haegeli reached out to the agency about the Sourcing Specialist Certificate Program. With support from an NIB grant, BISM was able to enroll HR employees Brandi Hunter and Terri Walker. Both earned certificates in late 2022 that have served as springboards to career advancement. Hunter, who works at BISM’s Raleigh, North Carolina, location, has been promoted from HR administrator to HR staffing coordinator. Walker, who works at BISM headquarters, earned a promotion from HR specialist to HR generalist.

The curriculum focuses on sourcing for higher-level office jobs and teaches participants how to use different websites to find candidates, explained Harris. But to her, the highlight is the time spent working with Bristol Myers Squibb, which provides hands-on experience in sourcing candidates. It was that practical experience, Harris said, that really increased the confidence levels of both Hunter and Walker.

Hunter uses the skills she learned through the program to recruit for openings throughout the agency, from positions in rehabilitation services to product sales to staffing for BISM’s AbilityOne Base Supply Centers®. Harris credits the extensive sourcing network Hunter cultivated for increasing BISM’s pool of qualified candidates by about 50%. She said Harris also regularly reaches out to the agency’s rehabilitation staff to identify client training needs and get people qualified for their desired jobs.

Walker’s outgoing personality made her a great fit for the program, Harris said. Since earning the certificate, Walker has applied the skills she learned to her HR generalist role, which focuses more on personnel issues, benefits, and workers’ compensation. Like Hunter, Walker believes the experience has been helpful in growing her career.

“NSITE is breaking down doors,” said Harris. “Training like the Sourcing Specialist Certificate Program boosts confidence and helps people who are blind or visually impaired recognize that they can do anything.”

Keeping that goal a priority, NSITE will continue working with state agencies to provide more opportunities for people who are blind to participate in professional development programs that prepare them for workplace success.

“In today’s connected world,” said Haegeli, “there’s no reason to let geography be a barrier to training that empowers people who are blind to pursue any career they choose.” 

Visit to learn more about these training programs and how to apply.