Blind and Low Vision Students Explore Careers in 21st-Century Transportation

autonomous vehicle

Editor’s note: This blog was written by Shannon McVoy, Transition Services Manager of the Bureau of Services for Blind Persons (BSBP) 

Michigan’s Bureau of Services for Blind Persons (BSBP) has been nurturing collaborative partnerships with community services and local employers to create innovative and engaging Pre-Employment Transition Services programming that is educational and fun. Michigan’s 21st Century Transportation: Careers for Students Blind and Visually Impaired program was made possible by partnering with the University of Michigan, M-City, MPVI, and the National Federation of the Blind of Michigan.  Community patterns and BSPB hosted this workshop in Ann Arbor, Michigan, to introduce students who are blind or low vision to the emerging field of autonomous vehicles.  

Working with various local, state, and national agencies and organizations required effort, but it was incredibly rewarding. The summer programs BSBP developed offer exciting learning opportunities. They cover the future of transportation and career options for blind and low-vision youth. This includes insights from local employers and national figures. Speakers like Mark Riccobono, President of the National Federation of the Blind; Lindsey Teel, Policy Advisor at the Office of Disability Employment Policy; and Paul Hemmersbaugh, Chief Counsel and Policy Director at GM, shared national views on autonomous vehicles and their impact on transportation’s future.

Alumni Stories

Leveraging our BSBP alumnae network, we welcomed Tyler Merren as our keynote speaker. A former BSBP student and Paralympic medalist, Tyler motivated students with his champion mindset. He recounted his family’s story, from doubts about his ability to work to representing the USA on the Paralympic podium in 2 out of 3 games he competed in. Branden Werner, from the University of Michigan’s Disability Office, also spoke. He emphasized the significance of blindness skills and using assistive technology.

Two BSBP alumni also shared their experiences in the auto industry. Donald Bowman, now retired, was an assembler at GM from 1978 to 2008. William Wheat spent nine years at Dakkota Integrated Systems Inc., focusing on the design, development, and installation of automotive assembly systems. Mr. Wheat credits BSBP support for reaching his employment goals. “Having the opportunity to give back to the organization that helped me creates an immense sense of pride,” said Wheat. “Confidently knowing that future students will continue to have the resources and direction to grow reassures my confidence and respect for the program.”  


Working with local employers, BSBP brought in Derek Hilbert from GM. He’s in charge of hiring people with disabilities and veterans. Hilbert talked to students about careers in the automotive industry. He stated, “General Motors values diversity as a strength. We aim for an inclusive workplace, supporting careers for people of all abilities.” He added, “Diversity in our team is crucial. It reflects our customers. Our Diversity and Inclusion team works hard to find top talent for GM’s future.”

Admittedly, the program was complex, coordinating the moving parts to ensure meaningful and engaging activities presented challenges. The BSBP team learned essential lessons about streamlining processes, coordinating service providers, and keeping track of budget inputs and expenditures. Community partners and workshop attendees might not see them, but BSBP staff’s project management systems are key. They’ve ensured the success of several pre-employment transition services programs. These programs serve transition-age youth with blindness or low vision in Michigan.