Editor’s note: The following has been updated as of October 2023.
Networking is essential for success in any field of work. Networking can be challenging for people who are blind or low vision. In this blog, I’ll share some tips and strategies for networking as a person who is blind or low vision. You can use them to build a strong network and achieve your goals.
There comes a time for everyone when breaking out of their social network is necessary for growth.
Online research and studies show that networking skills are among the best ways to meet people with similar interests and seek gainful employment. Networking can also be a productive way to learn about and obtain upward mobility within a profession.
Practice Makes Perfect!
Developing your Networking Skills happens over a period of time. Professional and social networking can happen if you put your mind to it.
My experience with networking, from a shy blind kid in high school to now, where public speaking is part of my job, spans nearly 25 years. Various opportunities over this period allowed me to become comfortable talking to small and, later, large groups of people and helped build my networking confidence.
Early on, learning how to connect with people did not come easy, yet not giving up and trying harder to master social and professional conversations ultimately granted me the success to navigate the world with tact, grace, and ease. I can honestly say that putting myself out there and learning how to establish friendships and career connections has been the greatest teacher that I have ever had. Mastering your savvy networking skills is a constant work in progress. It’s not a skill that is perfected and returned to the shelf.
In an occasional unsuccessful connection or networking snafu, reflect and regroup. Let these little bumps in the road guide you to ultimate success.
Networking: You Are Probably Already Doing It
When it comes down to it, networking is “relationship building.” Whether in high school or working through college, chances are you have been networking.
Take your closest circle of family and friends, the ones you talk with weekly or daily. Maybe they have known you your whole life or just a year or two. These folks will likely be your greatest source of additional friends and, quite possibly, a connection to your next internship or job. Fear not; if your closest friends or classmates are few, that is fine, too. Reflecting on my high school years through the first two years of college, my connections were few but mighty.
Connecting Through High School, College, and the Community
Your school years allow you to identify what in your world might interest you. Campus clubs, student associations, sports, band, choir, and that new cool STEM group may be your calling. If you’re not already involved in interest groups or clubs, talk with friends and faculty about those groups and how to get involved.
Next, you will want to talk with the group’s lead organizer or teacher to learn how to join or qualify to participate. It may start with an initial email or phone call to set this up and end with an invitation to visit the instructor in their office and/or visit that club during your lunch break or after school to see if it will be a good fit. Although you start in one group, you may find that your calling is elsewhere. Testing the waters is a form of finding out what you care about most, and from that, you’ll find your personal strengths and values. Before you know it, you will run with the pack and perhaps lead a student meeting or campus food drive.
If you are attending University and planning for that next internship or embracing your emerging career, here are some tips to confidently step into the scene.
Before attending a networking event, research the people you want to meet and their companies. Your research will help you start conversations and make a good impression.
It’s important to project confidence, even if you’re feeling nervous. Remember that you have something valuable to offer and that employers are looking for qualified talent, regardless of disability.
Be open about your disability.
You don’t have to go into detail, but it’s okay to mention your disability if it comes up in conversation. This can help break the ice and show you’re comfortable with yourself.
Don’t wait for people to come to you. Introduce yourself to new people and try to get to know them.
After meeting someone at a networking event, send them a follow-up email or short note on LinkedIn. This will help to stay connected and build professional relationships.
Bring a support person.
Bring a friend, family member, or colleague to the networking event if you feel comfortable doing so. This person can help you navigate the event, introduce you to people, and provide support. Remember, you are in the driver’s seat, and they are simply an assistant as needed.
Focus on your strengths.
When networking, focus on skills, experience, and what you offer. Don’t let your disability define you. Networking can be challenging for anyone, but it’s especially important for people who are blind or low vision.
By following these tips, you can make the most of networking events and build a strong network of contacts.