Let’s dive in to learn how “Networking” can build your system of supports as you move forward on your journey.
What is Networking?
While there are many definitions of networking, this article focuses on networking as a means of gathering information and people to help you make decisions in your life.
Networking involves intentional communication with others as you build relationships with individuals in areas of mutual interest. These areas might be career-oriented (law, education, business, etc.), disability-specific (blindness/low vision, other areas of disability), recreation-oriented (sports, gaming, crafts, etc.), or lifestyle-oriented (living alone or with a non-family roommate, cooking in versus eating out, big-city versus small-town or rural living, etc.).
Why is Networking Important?
Networking gives you access. People in your network can help you discover information you didn’t know existed. Or they can help you connect your needs to seemingly unrelated resources. You can also collaborate with individuals in your network to develop ideas that no one individual has; in doing so, you can make real the saying, “All of us are smarter than any of us.”
What is the Key to Networking?
The most important, and sometimes hardest, facet of networking is building mutually-beneficial relationships. While it’s fine to get information once and move on, networking involves much more than that. Networking often results in mentor-mentee relationships, and these relationships can last for years. Also, even if you are a young person networking with professionals in a certain field, know that you can, and should, be contributing to the relationship.
How Can I Start Networking?
Free Bridges Helpdesk
Reaching out to the Free Bridges Helpdesk is a great step in networking. We can help you find the information you need immediately, and we can also show you how we found these resources. Put another way, we will “give you a fish” AND “teach you how to fish.”
We also have great connections with blind/low vision individuals in many professions, with varied interests, and of different ages. We are also eager to connect you with networking resources related to your interests (both career and personal) that are not directly related to blindness/low vision.
Blindness/low vision-related resources
APH CareerConnect is “an employment information resource offered by the American Printing House for the Blind for job seekers who are blind or visually impaired. CareerConnect provides employment information, career exploration tools, and job seeking guidance for individuals with vision loss and the professionals who work with them.”
- Blog: CareerConnect Blog
- Careers for Blind and Low-Vision Individuals
- Career Exploration for Job Seekers Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired
- Five Social Skills to “Slay It” at Work
The National Federation of the Blind (NFB) “is the oldest and largest nationwide organization of blind Americans. Founded in 1940 and currently headquartered in Baltimore, the NFB consists of affiliates, chapters, and divisions in all fifty states, Washington, DC, and Puerto Rico.” “Through our network of blind members, we coordinate many programs, services, and resources to defend the rights of blind Americans, provide information and support to blind children and adults, and build a community that creates a future full of opportunities.”
“We are the only organization that believes in the full capacity of blind people and has the power to transform our dreams into reality. We believe in blind people because we are blind people—from our democratically elected leaders to our diverse nationwide membership.”
NFB’s headquarters are located in Baltimore, Maryland.
- NFB Career Mentoring
- NFB Divisions
- NFB Committees
- NFB Groups
- NFB State Affiliates
- NFB of Maryland website
The American Council of the Blind (ACB) “was founded in 1961 but many of its state affiliates and local chapters have a history that can be traced back to the 1880s.” and “is comprised of approximately 70 state chapters and special-interest affiliates representing a diverse range of groups within the blind community, including students, families, teachers, attorneys, governmental employees, entrepreneurs, vending stand operators and the LGBTQ community.” “During its nearly 60-year history, ACB has become a leader in national, state, local and even international advocacy efforts.”
ACB’s mission is “To increase the independence, security, equality of opportunity, and quality of life for all blind and visually impaired people.”
ACB headquarters are in Alexandria, Virginia.
- ACB Special Interest Affiliates
- ACB Professional Employment Associations
- ACB Peer Support and Mentoring Resources
- ACB State Affiliates
- ACB of Maryland contact information
Many careers have professional associations, such as the American Bar Association for attorneys, the American Medical Association for physicians, etc. These groups provide individuals involved in these professions opportunities to network with others. These groups are also great sources of information for individuals seeking information about the profession and wanting to connect with working professionals to find out more about the career. Please reach out to the Free Bridges Helpdesk for more information.
College alumni groups
Many colleges, including community colleges, have career development offices. Most also have alumni groups, and they are happy to connect students with individuals who have graduated and are working.
Individual interest groups
Interest groups are great resources for networking. Whether you want to connect with fellow Minecraft enthusiasts, marathon runners, book clubs, or other interests, you can probably find like-minded people happy to become part of your network. Please reach out to the Free Bridges Helpdesk for more information.
Contact the Bridges Helpdesk for More Information
- Our Accessible web form
- Email: Helpdesk@imagemd.org
- Text: Send to: (410) 357-1546
- Voice mail: Call (410) 357-1546, leave a voice mail message, and we will return your call
This unique project is being coordinated through The IMAGE Center of Maryland, a center for independent living in Towson, and it is funded by a grant from the Maryland Department of Education Division of Special Education/Early Intervention Services.
Updated as of September 29, 2023.