7 Tips to Help Mentally Overcome an Employment Gap

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woking working on her resume attached to a clipboard

Here’s advice on overcoming the mental roadblocks employment gaps create before they sabotage your job search, from those who’ve been there.

William Childs loves his new job. He is Marketing Director at Kitchen Magic, a growing national kitchen remodeling and cabinet refacing company. “This job is a creative person’s dream. The product, the people, the collaborative ideas we are generating, it’s totally amazing,” Childs says. “This is what I spent my 14-month employment gap searching for, and I am so glad I didn’t give up on my career goals.”

Employment gaps do not define you

According to a recent Randstad U.S. study, the average job search today takes about five months. When Childs was laid off late in 2017 from an executive-level marketing job, he did not anticipate a longer-than-average employment gap. He explained: “When my old job was eliminated, it was the first time in many years that I had no specific job to go to next. I had always benefited from people just knowing me and my work, so starting from scratch while unemployed felt pretty weird.” When a few leads at the beginning of his job search didn’t materialize, he felt a bit demoralized.

According to a 2019 Monster survey, 59 percent of Americans have had an unexpected gap in their career. For a lot of people looking for jobs with a gap on their resume, there can be internalized feelings of shame, says Michael “Dr. Woody” Woodward, Ph.D., organizational psychologist, CEC-certified executive coach, and author of “The YOU Plan.” “Shame puts on a lot of added pressure to an already stressful time, which can lead to obsession,” Dr. Woody explains. “Don’t victimize yourself over a lost job or a failure in the past. It can be debilitating.” He advises readers to recognize their setback as just that, a setback — then deal with it and move on to better things.

Childs did keep moving forward. He designed an online portfolio and kept adding to it during his hiatus by taking on freelance work. He wrote for an online magazine and volunteered his talents to local non-profit groups. A year into his search, he took an advertising sales job as he continued to apply for positions. “The sales job was what I needed to do financially, and what I needed to do for my own piece of mind,” he reflects. “I was earning income, learning, and connecting with people. It helped me a lot.”

While he did not give up on finding an innovative executive marketing position, Childs needed ways to stay focused and positive on his continued career search. When it comes to overcoming the mental roadblocks employment gaps create, the following advice can help keep you more focused, motivated, and confident.

1. Honesty really is the best policy

Susan is happily employed in Reno, Nevada at The Slumber Yard, a specialty online clearinghouse of reviews, comparisons, and deals for mattresses and bedding products. Prior to taking the job last year, this mattress review specialist (whose name has been changed for this piece) had left the workforce to care for her young son after he was injured in a serious accident. When she was ready to re-enter the workforce, Susan crafted a very targeted resume and cover letter that succinctly addressed her employment gap. Still, the two-year pause in her career had her a little nervous. “I wasn’t exactly sure what the job market would be like for me,” she remembers.

“Her resume had everything we were looking for, and when she told me why she had a gap in her employment history, her honesty really impressed me,” says Matthew Ross, The Slumber Yard’s Co-Founder and COO. Ross immediately called Susan in for an interview. “Her experience and knowledge of our industry are what got her the job. But, the way that she explained her employment gap really showed her character, both as a person and as a professional.”

You can explain your employment gap without oversharing, says Dick Lively, Partner and HR Consulting Director at RAI Resources in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. “On a resume or in a cover letter, saying you took time to care for a family member who was ill or that you relocated across the country for your spouse’s job should be enough detail. Keep it professional but not too personal,” he says. It is also OK to exclude a gap explanation from the resume altogether, so long as you are prepared to address it during the interview if you are asked. Just don’t make something up. “At the end of the day, the truth always comes out, explains Lively. “You don’t want to face a potential employer or a new boss and try to explain why you lied.”

2. Don’t stop networking

Your first instinct may be to hide away until you have a new job, but that will not help your efforts. In fact, it might even hurt them. Keeping your name and face out there can help you get an introduction to a hiring manager. Plus, it’s great practice for interviews. “For me, I talked about the creative process and exchanged ideas; it helped me formulate how to best present myself as a job candidate,” says Childs.

Lively suggests that you don’t wait too long after your last job ends to start networking: “It is not only important to get your name out there and to hear about jobs that may be coming up through the grapevine,” he explains. “You also need to talk shop and connect with people. The longer you wait, the less confident you may feel. Interpersonal skills need to be kept sharp, just like any other skill.” That said, it is OK to take a few days or even a couple of weeks after your last job ends to regain your composure before you start networking. The last thing you want to do is get emotional about your job loss in front of your professional connections.

3. Expand your network

As valuable as your tried-and-true network of professional connections is, Dr. Woody cautions that you shouldn’t always drink from the same well when you are trying to find a new job. “Always networking with the same group of people can put blinders on your job search or create an echo chamber where you keep repeating the same steps that aren’t working anymore.”

Expanding his network definitely helped Childs. “Learning about new businesses and how they do things and connecting with new people is very inspiring,” he says. Telling new people a bit about yourself helps remind you about your talents and experience. You don’t know what else is out there if you don’t ever mix things up.

4. Own your truth

“You can, and should, use a positive spin when talking about your experiences,” says Childs. During an interview or a phone screening, don’t try to hide what caused your employment gap. Don’t complain or point fingers either. Tell your story concisely and truthfully, ending with what you learned or what you have gained since. When Childs interviewed with his new employer, he was prepared to lay his cards on the table when the question came up about his resume gap. His honest, three-sentence elevator speech consisted of:

  1. I was laid off when my department was eliminated.
  2. I am now doing advertising sales. It’s not me, but it’s a job, and I am proud of the quality of work I do.
  3. I have learned a lot about customer service through this sales experience, and I can apply that knowledge to my next marketing and creative position.

Dr. Woody believes this kind of planning is invaluable: “Preparation builds confidence. Working on your narrative reminds you that you have talent and have a lot to offer an employer. Taking time to boil it down to a concise summary instills it in your mind. This is who you are.”

5. Keep up a motivating routine

For years, Childs has emailed daily “Thought Bombs” to colleagues and friends. These are quotes he has collected on creativity, inspiration, and business integrity. Throughout his 14-month job search, he committed himself to continuing this morning ritual. “It got me up and thinking, ready for the day,” he says. “On my worst days, I would tell myself, ‘All I gotta do is get out of bed and deliver the Thought Bomb,’ and it really helped me get moving.”

“I really love this,” says Dr. Woody. “He used this routine to get himself into the right mindset each day. He had a purpose that was of value to his mailing list, and the discipline it took to do this daily task set his whole day in positive motion.” For other people, the routine could be mediation, exercise, journaling, or some other daily ritual.

6. Concentrate on the connection

Childs kept himself well-versed in the current ideas and trends in his field. His knowledge and passion for his work inevitably crept into his cover letters and interviews. “People are much more engaged with stories that are filled with excitement, passion, and personality,” says Childs. “Bragging and standard-issue talking points get stale quickly, but if you can connect with someone about what truly motivates and inspires you, they won’t forget you.”

Coming across as arrogant or whiny is a red flag for employers, notes Dr. Woody. But sharing insights and understanding about your field is a way to help them envision working with you. It also helps them put your employment gap into perspective in relation to your qualifications and talent. He explains: “People remember more about how you made them feel than about the specifics of what you said.”

Continue on to Top Resume to read the complete article.

Comcast Partners With The American Association Of People With Disabilities To Help Close The Digital Divide

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woman suing computer with internet access smiling

At the Newseum recently, Comcast announced a series of initiatives designed to help address the digital divide for low-income Americans with disabilities through the Internet Essentials program, the nation’s largest and most comprehensive Internet adoption program for low-income households. 

The largest of these was a grant from the Company to the American Association for People with Disabilities (AAPD).  The Comcast grant will help fund the creation and delivery of digital literacy training programs specifically designed to address the needs of low-income people in the disability community.  Once developed, the programs will be delivered at 10 AAPD affiliates across the country, as well as shared online for anyone to access.

According to Pew Research Center, 23 percent of people with disabilities say they never go online and 57 percent say they do not have a home broadband subscription.

The grant follows last month’s announcement that, since 2011, the Internet Essentials program has connected more than eight million low-income Americans to the Internet at home, including nearly 210,000 in the greater Washington, D.C. metro area, 90 percent of whom were not connected to the Internet at home until they signed up through Internet Essentials.  In addition, the company made the most significant eligibility change in the program’s history, expanding eligibility to all low-income households residing in the Comcast service area, including all low-income seniors, adults, and people with disabilities.

“The Internet is an incredible resource so long as you have the skills and the tools to use it,” said David L. Cohen, Senior Executive Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer at Comcast Corporation.  “By partnering with AAPD and working with the disability community, we want to address and break down the barriers to broadband adoption that are unique to this population.  The first step is to address digital literacy issues and facilitate digital skills development.  So, we’re going to create relevant training programs and then fund their delivery at locations across the country.”

“Having an Internet connection at home is absolutely vital for low-income people living with disabilities,” said Maria Town, President and CEO of the American Association for People with Disabilities.  “I commend Comcast for extending its Internet Essentials program to people with disabilities because it will help us advance our mission to provide equal access, integration, and full inclusion for Americans with disabilities.”

In addition, Comcast held events across the Washington, DC area to raise awareness of the digital divide with special guests Paralympic Gold Medalist and Purple Heart Recipient Rico Roman, and Olympic Gold Medalists from the U.S. Women’s Hockey Team Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson and Monique Lamoureux-Morando.

As part of the day’s events, the Company held a digital literacy assembly at Walker Jones Elementary, where Cohen surprised 50 sixth graders with free laptops and six months of complimentary Internet Essentials service.  The company also hosted a digital inclusion event at the Hattie Holmes Senior Wellness Center where 100 seniors were given free laptops to help them stay connected to family and friends in the 21st century way of life.  Lastly, Comcast held a Youth Hockey Clinic with Roman, Lamoureux-Davidson, and Lamoureux-Morando, where the Company surprised 25 students from Cornerstone Schools in Ward 7 with free laptops to help further their education.  In partnership with Dell Technologies, the companies provided new equipment to Friends of Fort Dupont Ice Arena for its computer lab.

Internet Essentials has an integrated, wrap-around design that addresses each of the three major barriers to broadband adoption that research has identified.  These include: a lack of digital literacy skills, lack of awareness of the relevance of the Internet to everyday life needs, and fear of the Internet; the lack of a computer; and cost of internet service.  The program is structured as a partnership between Comcast and tens of thousands of school districts, libraries, elected officials, and nonprofit community partners.

Source: Comcast

Kellogg’s Rice Krispies made sensory love notes to support kids with autism

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childs hand holding a special Rice Krispies treat

As the school year gets underway, Rice Krispies is thinking about what notes parents may want to tuck into their kids’ lunch boxes. (Exhausted parents, on the other hand, may be counting down the days until they can foist lunch-making duties back on to the school cafeteria, no judgment.)

Last year, the Kellogg cereal brand teamed up with the National Federation of the Blind to create specialized “Love Notes” with phrases like “You’ve Got This” to “Love You Lots” written in braille for parents to share with children who are blind.

It was a sweet, inclusive message. Now Rice Krispies is continuing its mission with a new kind of love note, this one designed with children living with autism or on the autism spectrum in mind.

Since not every child communicates love through words, the cereal company partnered with Autism Speaks to create touch-and-feel sensory “Love Notes” so children can actually feel love and support as they transition back to school.

The four “lightly reusable” stickers come in a range of supposedly calming colors and different textures, including fleece, faux fur, satin, and velour for sensory-focused kids to feel the love through a tactile experience.

Continue on to Fast Company to read the complete article.

One Warrior’s Illuminating Journey

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Michael Landry standing outside at a sporting event

The future looks bright for this veteran entrepreneur, who miraculously regained his once lost eyesight.

By Annie Nelson

Marine Corps 1st Sgt. Michael J. Landry Jr. was returning from his 5th combat deployment as a Field Radio Operator when he received orders to Okinawa, Japan in August 2014. He underwent an eye exam and was told his vision had changed but not to worry.

However in Japan, Landry noticed his vision was getting worse—so much so that his optometrist thought he was exaggerating his condition. It was then he was told that both of his corneas were shattered and he was legally blind in both eyes.

I spoke with Landry about his amazing journey, from regaining his sight to competing in the Marine Corps Trials to starting his own lifestyle clothing and music businesses.

Tell me about your journey to being able to see again?

I was medically evacuated from Okinawa in March 2016 and sent to Balboa Naval Hospital in San Diego, Calif. In Japan, I was still able to make out the outlines of objects because of the cloudy weather, but in California, I wasn’t able to see anything because it was so much brighter. I was fitted for hard-lens contacts until I received a corneal transplant in my left eye. The crazy thing was the eye transplant I received was originally blue! But then genetics took over and the eye eventually turned brown.

Due to my amazing doctor, the day after the surgery for the first time in two years, I was able to see the eye chart. Over the next 20 months, the vision in my left eye improved to the point that I was able to get prescription glasses, but only for the left lens because I was still blind in my right eye. Last February, I received the transplant for the right eye and today, I still have 12 stitches inside that eye but my vision overall is constantly improving.

You recently competed in the Marine Corps Trials—what events did you compete in and how did you finish? Are you going to the Warrior Games?

Yes, I competed in several events including track, shot put, discus, 100m sprint and powerlifting. For the powerlifting event, my doctor recommended to limit the weight because the excessive eye pressure could still cause damage. I was scheduled to run the 200m and 400m, but I pulled my hamstring during the 100m sprint. I ended up finishing first place in all events except powerlifting. I competed in the visually impaired category for field events, however, I did out throw every other competitor overall. I was also selected to compete in the Warrior Games and I’m looking forward to it.

What did the Marine Corps Trials teach you?

It taught me that I’m able to do more than I think. I’ve never competed in any of those sports before and it felt as if it came naturally. It also taught me that I need to learn to stretch better so I don’t get hurt!

You are a new entrepreneur. Tell me about your businesses and how you started?

The birth of One Life Clothing started when I was going blind. I tried to convince myself that it wasn’t true so I began sewing with the thought that in order to sew, you have to be able to see. Going blind at the age of 32 forces you to see life in a different perspective. Tomorrow isn’t promised and you never know what can happen so you should always enjoy the “One Life” you have.

My second business I actually credit with saving my life. I was going through a lot mentally and physically with the loss of my sight and was severely depressed. At one point I was contemplating suicide until one day my brother, who is a rap artist, called me to vent about his music career, or lack thereof due to bad business deals. To help him, I started One Life Entertainment Music Group, LLC. Thus far, we’ve released four solo albums and two compilation albums.

My non-profit organization, One Life At A Time Outreach, helps not only feed the homeless, but also provide necessities like clothes, toiletries and shoes.

Michael Landry portrait with children Makiya and Michael III
Michael with children Makiya and Michael III

What does the future look like for you?

Bright I would say. Losing your vision and gaining it back is a blessing on its own, no matter what life throws at me. I’ve already won because I can see again. I’m embracing the new me. Business-wise, I would love to get into government contract designing and making uniforms as well as getting my clothing line into stores.

What advice would you give other service members who are recovering from an injury or illness?

You have to embrace the new you. I know what it feels like to be completely alone and to be stuck in your own head, but you have to remember that you are here for a purpose. God will never give you a task that you can’t handle. We are all gifted—find your gift and get out of your comfort zone.

Continue to follow Landry’s journey at onelifeclothing.net and on onelifemuzik.com

Born This Way Actress Shatters Disability Stigma

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Cristina Sanz poses on red carpet

Fans of the hit A&E docu-series Born this Way know Cristina Sanz as a lovable, fun and family-oriented dancer and romantic. In 2016, Sanz became the first Hispanic woman with a disability as part of an ensemble cast to be on an Emmy award-winning show.

In 2018, she shattered stigmas by getting married to her longtime fiancé Angel Callahan.

The two already had been dating for five years before the show premiered. Their desire to live an independent life together—and get married—was a consistent plot line throughout the show. The first season ended with their engagement; the fourth season finale was an hour-long episode featuring the wedding between these two individuals with developmental disabilities.

“I wanted to show everyone that you can have a disability and get married,” Sanz told People magazine.

Her wedding, moving out on her own and working at two jobs are things her parents never imagined as Cristina was growing up.

“I will not wake up waiting for my daughter to come back from a date like my mother did for me,” her mother, Beatriz Sanz, said she used to think. But Sanz was the first of her siblings to get married.

While studies show many people within the Hispanic and other communities do not publicly discuss their own or a child’s disability due to negative stigmas, Sanz and her parents lead by example by allowing television viewers to watch her life unfold on TV. Therefore, she is an important example of RespectAbility’s #RespectTheAbility campaign, which features people with disabilities who succeed in their chosen career.

When disability is depicted in pop culture, it tends to be all white. Real storytelling requires exploring people of all backgrounds. In addition, far too many Hispanics and Latinos in America who have a developmental disability are not receiving the diagnosis, school accommodations and high expectations they need to succeed. Today, only 65 percent of students with disabilities graduate high school, and only 7 percent complete college.

“[Born This Way] tells our stories, our dreams,” Sanz said. “People can see that our lives are most of the time very typical. People with disabilities have jobs, fall in love, have businesses and enjoy time with friends.”

Our nation’s economy is strongest when it is inclusive of the value that diverse talent brings to the workplace. Harriet Tubman had epilepsy, performer Selena Gomez lives with lupus, business leader and Shark Tank superstar Barbara Corcoran is dyslexic and gymnast Simone Biles has ADHD. Each of them, like Sanz, is a positive role model for success.

Sanz works for her dad’s school as well as at a senior center. Our nation’s economy is strongest when it is inclusive of the value that diverse talent brings to the workplace. Celebrities like Sanz are making a difference.

“What Cristina really inspired us, is that we want to focus on the abilities of everybody—not what people can’t do, but what they can do,” Elaine Hall, founder of the Miracle Project, said.

Source: respectability.org

High-Tech Jobs for the Neurodiverse

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image of wheels cranking with man holding cell phone in his hand

Expandability, a not-for-profit division of Goodwill of Silicon Valley, uses a neurodiverse set of professionals to operate its innovative employment program, Neurodiversity Pathways, formerly called Autism Advantage. The organization increases accessibility to high-tech jobs for neurodivergent individuals, many of whom are on the autism spectrum.

Neurodiversity advocates promoting support systems (such as inclusion-focused services, accommodations, communication and assistive technologies, occupational training, and independent living support) that allow those who are neurodivergent to live their lives as they are, rather than being coerced or forced to adopt uncritically accepted ideas of normality, or to conform to a clinical ideal.

Designed for underemployed or unemployed neurodiverse adults who hold or are working toward a two- or four-year degree (or equiva-lent), the program equips them with workplace and personal effectiveness skills needed to succeed in today’s work environment. Neurodiversity Pathways also supports and educates employers across industries including financial services, networking, security, and enterprise software, on the value of hiring neurodiverse candidates.

Expandability used a $50,000 grant from Symantec Corporation to enhance its program and extend its reach. Cecily Joseph, Vice President of Corporate Responsibility at Symantec, said, “The Expandability program provides crucial access to high-tech jobs for a group of tremendously skilled people within our community, who are often underrepresented by traditional hiring practices.”

Building on previous success, the Neurodiversity Pathways program makes a direct connection between employers and neurodivergent individuals, while also raising awareness in the community to their unique skillsets. To ensure success, the program trains hiring managers and their teams on how to create an inclusive environment. Continuing to build best practices and engagement will bring more employers and candidates to the program and increase employment opportunities.

“Expandability has a unique opportunity to address a need often overlooked,” said Trish Dorsey, Executive Director of Expandability. “Employers are looking for strong technical talent to fill critical roles. Talented people on the autism spectrum can help fill this gap. With Symantec’s generous grant, we can provide training and make corporate connections that are not afforded with traditional education and recruiting processes.”

For more information, visit ndpathways.org.

What is DOBE Certification?

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women in wheelchair looking at laptop held in her lap

The Disability-Owned Business Enterprise (DOBE) certification is granted to businesses that are at least 51 percent owned, operated, controlled, and managed by a person with a disability. With this certification, disability-owned businesses have increased access to contracts offered by large corporations and market advantages over competitors.

As a group that is considered to be “disadvantaged” in the United States, disability-owned businesses are often more attractive to large businesses involved in national, state, and local supply chains.

Benefits of Diversity & Inclusion

Disabilities come in a variety of shapes and sizes, just like business owners. Though many people tend to view disabilities as an obstacle, these traits are unique and special, setting a disabled individual above others. For business owners with disabilities, this distinction is an asset within the corporate world. A ‘disadvantage’ can become a positive advantage, letting business owners join a diverse global supply chain where every voice can be heard and possibilities are endless.

Why Get Certified?

Disability:IN created the Disability Supplier Diversity Program to help disability-owned businesses expand through a diverse supply chain. By certifying your business, you have access to increased resources and a more level playing field than non-certified disadvantaged business owners. Disability:IN offers supplier events, webinars, monthly teleconferences, better business opportunities, a scholarship program, and a Mentoring & Business Development Program to help you better your business opportunities and operations.

Large companies and corporations are becoming increasingly interested in creating diverse supply chains, which opens several opportunities for diverse businesses. Adding a certification to your business can also improve your reputation within your industry, community, and network, making your company more attractive to individuals and businesses alike. The DOBE certification opens the door to networking and matchmaking events throughout the country, allowing you to make connections and relationships with important corporate contacts.

How to Get Certified

To certify your company through Disability:IN, you must meet specific requirements. Read through the questions below to see if you qualify for a DOBE certification:

  • Do you have a physical and/or mental disability that substantially impairs one or more major life activities?
  • Do you own a majority (at least 51%) of your business? Can you verify this through supporting financial and business documents?
  • Is your business independent and not significantly reliant on another business for day-to-day operations?
  • Are you involved in the day-to-day operations and management of your company, including decision making?
  • Are you able and willing to submit the business and financial information required by the USBLN? This information will be used to evaluate your eligibility for this certification and will be confidentially reviewed in a secure, permanent environment.

Are you interested in increasing your access to business dealings with private sector corporations who want to do business with DOBE-certified businesses?

Sources: connxus.com, disabilityin.com

Disability Owned Business Enterprise (DOBE)

A business that is 51 percent owned, controlled, operated, and managed by a person(s) with a disability.

Veteran–Disability Owned Business Enterprise (V–DOBE)

A business that is 51 percent owned, controlled, operated, and managed by a veteran, but disability was not incurred during their time of service.

Service-Disabled Veteran–Disability Owned Business Enterprise (SDV–DOBE)

A business that is 51 percent owned, controlled, operated, and managed by a veteran, who sustained their disability during their time of service.

If you are ready and interested in pursuing this certification, start the process by completing the application offered by the Disability:IN.

Source : disabilityin.com

Tips for People with Disabilities Starting a Business

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man sitting at desk in a wheelchair wearing a business suit

By Larry Mager

Small business ownership gives people with disabilities an exciting opportunity to have more flexibility in their work—wiggle room that is often unavailable through traditional employment.

Starting a business with chronic pain, a mobility issue, a visual impairment, or another type of disability comes with its own set of unique challenges, however. Here are ideas on the type of businesses that you could benefit from pursuing, in addition to tips on how start a business without taking attention away from your personal needs.

Don’t Start From Scratch
If you want to start a business, but don’t want to start from square one, consider opening a franchise. This will lessen the risk, and allow you to have access to existing branding and other assets. Owning a franchise has a numerous benefits for an entrepreneur with a disability, including already-established branding, marketing efforts, and guaranteed assistance when it comes to construction, repairs, and staffing. This can be an especially smart path for veterans with disabilities who want to run their own business but don’t want to burden themselves with too much stress soon after returning to civilian life. Mental health concerns like depression, anxiety, PTSD, and addiction (which can also be linked to discrimination) can all be exacerbated if a veteran takes on too much stress.

Start a Home-Based Business
Entrepreneurs who want to run home-based businesses can pursue a myriad of opportunities. Many are online-related, including graphic design services, website building, IT consulting, and social media consulting. In addition, you can use other skills to start a home-based business, such as services related to marketing, accounting, writing, and retail, among others. If you are dealing with mobility issues, a home-based online business could be better suited for your needs than running a traditional brick-and-mortar office or storefront. The overhead costs are lower as well.

Don’t Sacrifice Your Health
You should devote considerable time to exercising, eating healthy food, and getting enough sleep. In addition, you might benefit from meditation or another relaxing activity. Without devoting time to your mental and physical health, it will be more difficult to start and grow your small business, so ensure that you can balance your personal needs with running a business. While small business ownership can be a wonderful opportunity for individuals with disabilities, it can also present challenges. Before you start a business, ensure that you have a solid plan that will help you prepare for the responsibilities that come with being a business owner. It’s a fun dive into the unknown, but do remember that it is a dive!

Source: forafinancial.com

Meet The Kenyan Engineer Who Created Gloves That Turn Sign Language Into Audible Speech

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Kenyan engineer is seated at work station holding up the sign language glove wtih his right hand

Twenty-five-year-old Kenyan engineer and innovator, Roy Allela, has created a set of gloves that will ultimately allow better communication between those who are deaf and those who are hearing yet may not necessarily know sign language. The Sign-IO gloves in essence translate signed hand movements into audible speech.

Allela’s gloves feature sensors located on each finger that detect the positioning of each finger, including how much each finger will bend into a given position. The glove connects via Bluetooth to an Android phone which then will leverage use the text-to-speech function to provide translated speech to the hand gestures of a person signing.

The inspiration behind the Sign-IO gloves comes from the personal experience of having a young niece who is deaf. He nor his family knows sign language and often struggled to adequately and consistently communicate with her.

“My niece wears the gloves, pairs them with her phone or mine, then starts signing. I’m able to understand what she’s saying,” Allela shared in an interview with The Guardian.

Allela’s vision for the gloves is to have them placed in schools for special needs children throughout his home country of Kenya and then expand from there to positively impact the experiences of as many deaf or hearing-impaired children as possible. His gloves are amongst a number of cutting-edge projects that are contributing to the growing market of assistive technology devices that seek to provide aid to those with specific impairments and limitations.

Continue on to Because of Them We Can to read the complete article.

Apple unveils disability-themed emojis in push for greater diversity

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Apple's images of the disability emojis that will be available in the fall

Apple will introduce disability-themed emojis in a move designed to “bring even more diversity to the keyboard.The emojis, which were unveiled to coincide with World Emoji Day, will include a guide dog, an ear with a hearing aid, wheelchairs, a prosthetic arm and a prosthetic leg. They will be available to use later this year.

“Celebrating diversity in all its many forms is integral to Apple’s values and these new options help fill a significant gap in the emoji keyboard,” an Apple spokesperson said in a statement.

The tech giant submitted a proposal for more emojis that were inclusive of disability in a proposal sent to the Unicode Consortium — the nonprofit organization that sets the global standard for emojis — in March 2018.

“Currently, emoji provide a wide range of options, but may not represent the experiences of those with disabilities,” Apple wrote at the time. “Diversifying the options available helps fill a significant gap and provides a more inclusive experience for all.”

Apple said it chose options that are most inclusive of people in four main categories: blind and low vision, deaf and hard of hearing, physical motor disabilities and hidden disabilities. The iPhone maker said it had consulted with top organizations for people with disabilities when submitting the proposal.

Apple noted that the new additions to the emoji keyboard are designed to be a starting point, not a comprehensive list of all potential disabilities.

Continue on to CNN to read the complete article.

Meet Grace Hopper Celebration 2019’s Honoree Jhillika Kumar

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Jhillika Kumar poses outside smiling wearing a white blouse and smiling

The Student of Vision Abie Award honors young women dedicated to creating a future where the people who imagine and build technology mirror the people and societies for which they build. This year’s winner is Georgia Tech student Jhillika Kumar.

When Jhillika’s parents brought home an iPad for the first time, they could not have predicted how much it would improve their family’s lives. Accessible technology, for the first time ever, allowed her autistic and nonverbal brother to enjoy his passion for music. It distracted his mind from the physical world of disability. She watched her brother instantly swipe and tap swiftly across the interface. The smile that it brought him is the smile she wants to bring to millions of others with disabilities.

Jhillika’s family experience ignited her passion to advocate for disability rights and a career driven by a mission to create an inclusive world. She is a UX/UI designer, aspiring entrepreneur, and a third-year Georgia Tech student with a desire to improve the lives of the differently abled. She advocates to lift the barriers that exist within technology, design, and even policy, and empowers the largest underserved group by bringing attention to the importance of empathy and mutuality in design.

Knowing the impact that UX Design could make on someone who once couldn’t communicate, Jhillika decided to pursue a focus in computer science and interaction design through Georgia Tech’s undergraduate Computational Media program and Digital Media master’s program. Over the summer of her sophomore year of college, she interned at Disney where she created a short film to raise awareness to the product teams on the capacity that their technology had to empower entire communities of untapped potential, purely through improved accessibility. Expanding on this, Jhillika presented a talk at TEDxGeorgiaTech last fall, where she spoke about the importance of accessibility in the industry.

All of Jhillika’s efforts in this space have come together in her current initiative: an on-campus organization she founded called AxisAbility. In order to augment the capabilities of individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder, AxisAbility is creating a virtual platform to understand family needs and match them with the technology engineered to directly generate physiological changes in the brain to improve cognitive function.

At the School of Interactive Computing, Jhillika currently works in academia, collaborating with Dr. Gregory Abowd and Ivan Riobo to study how non-speaking autistic individuals could use technology-led therapies and assistive technologies to communicate. The study looks at evaluating cognitive competency through eye-gaze tracking software (retinal movement). This could provide vast insight into their cognitive abilities. Jhillika returned to school to her junior year of college engulfed with the spirit of empathy for the differently abled, and was invited as a speaker at World Information Architecture Day and FutureX Live, as well as Women in XR. Her initiatives won her the Alvin M. Ferst Leadership and Entrepreneur Award for 2019 awarded by Georgia Tech.

Continue on to “How Our College Startup’s Autism App Is Flowering Into Fruition – Enlighten Mentors to read Jhillika’s personal story and how you can help her mission.