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Labor and Economic Opportunity

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

2.5-day workshop features experts from GM, U-M, USDOL, National Federation of the Blind

Media Contact: LARA Communications 517-373-9280

October 31, 2018 – A unique workshop geared toward getting students on the road to exploring emerging and in-demand careers in the auto industry kicked off today in Ann Arbor. Forty blind and low vision students from across the state will hear firsthand from experts about innovations surrounding autonomous vehicles, and the education and skill set needed to secure competitive employment in the transportation industry. The two-and-a-half-day event is sponsored by LARA’s Bureau of Services for Blind Persons (BSBP) and the University of Michigan (U-M) Center for Ergonomics. 

“Michigan’s global competitiveness in the automotive industry and automotive innovation demands the talents and skills of all Michigan students preparing to enter the workforce,” said BSBP Director Bill Robinson. “We’re thrilled to bring this unique opportunity to BSBP students. Introducing them to emerging technologies in the automotive industry through this interactive conference allows our students to realize their potential for employment in STEM fields. We are indebted to our co-sponsors and the fine lineup of speakers who have made this workshop so invaluable.”

Featured speakers include:

  • Keynote: Mark Riccobono, president, National Federation of the Blind, who on January 29, 2011, became the first blind individual to operate a vehicle independently. He navigated a course at Daytona International Speedway as a demonstration of how technology can allow the blind to drive.
  • Keynote: Lindsey Teel, policy advisor, Office of Disability Employment Policy,
    U.S. Department of Labor
  • Jack Bernard, associate general counsel, U-M
  • John G. Pare’ Jr., executive director, Advocacy and Policy, National Federation of the Blind
  • Paul Hemmersbaugh, chief counsel and policy director, General Motors (GM) 
  • Derek Hilbert, strategist for Talent Acquisition for People with Disabilities and Veterans, (GM)
  • Keynote: Tyler Merren, a blind international athlete; a three-time Paralympian, and two-time medalist (1 silver, 1 bronze)
  • Brandon Werner, screen reader specialist, U-M

“At General Motors we recognize that diversity is our strength and we are committed to an inclusive workplace that supports the hiring and careers of people of all abilities,” said GM’s Hilbert. “Having a diverse workforce that mirrors our customer base is important, and our Global Talent Acquisition Diversity and Inclusion team is committed to finding the best talent to support General Motors’ future.”

The goals of the conference align with BSPB’s Pre-Employment Transition Services that provide students with the tools and skills they will need to make a smooth transition from secondary to postsecondary training and outcomes. The workshop will allow students to explore in-demand careers in the auto industry, gain an understanding of the skills and education required for those careers, and, practice networking and self-advocacy skills essential to postsecondary success.

The agenda features:

  • panel discussion: “Universal Design and Autonomous Vehicles”
  • presentation: “Transportation Barriers to Employment and the Promise of Autonomous Vehicles”
  • tours: U-M Duderstadt Center Fabrication Studio (3D printing technology demo and activities); and M-City, a 32-acre mock city and proving ground built for the testing of driver-less cars
  • presentation: “Interviewing and Preparing for a Career in the Auto Industry”
  • panel discussion: “Assistive Technology, Braille and Travel – Why do these skills matter?”  
  • panel discussion: “Legal and Regulatory Issues Surrounding Autonomous Vehicles and Related Career Opportunities”

BSBP continues to bring programs and events to students that will allow them to reach for goals based on experiences that challenge their imagination and allow them to understand their role in society is not diminished due to a disability.

“This event is an encouraging example of how representatives of the automobile industry—as well as policymakers, academic institutions, and other thought leaders—are recognizing the importance of incorporating the input of the blind as the next generation of automotive technology is designed, as well as the profound effects this technology will have on our society,” said Riccobono. “New autonomous vehicles have the potential to provide not only a level of mobility and independence that the blind has never experienced before, but also exciting new careers in the development, design, and operation of 21st century automobiles.”

According to the Governor’s Talent Investment Board, Michigan will have more than 800,000 job openings by 2024. Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) in Michigan partners with business to meet the demands for talent in the state. Michigan VR has two main points of contact for the VR National Employment Team (NET), Jenny Piatt, Michigan Rehabilitation Services; and Lisa Kisiel, BSBP. See for more information about the NET.

Two BSBP alums will also share their personal experiences of working in the auto industry. Bowman (now retired) worked as an assembler at GM from 1978-2008, and Wheat, who worked with Dakkota Integrated Systems Inc. for nine years (specializing in design, development and installation of automotive assembly systems), credits BSBP support for reaching his employment goals. “Having the opportunity to give back to the organization who 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.” 

BSBP programming for Pre-Employment Transition Services includes job exploration and counseling; work-based learning; postsecondary exploration; workplace readiness training; social skills and independent living skills; and self-advocacy instruction. BSBP makes Pre-Employment Transition Services available statewide through its seven field offices and training center, and through partners such as the intermediate school districts.

In addition to BSBP, the conference was offered in collaboration with: National Federation of the Blind of Michigan, U-M M-City, University of Michigan; U-M Center for Occupational Health & Safety Engineering, and Michigan Parents of Children with Visual Impairments.

The pre-employment transition services provided under the Vocational Rehabilitation program described in this press release are funded 100 percent through a grant from the U.S. Department of Education. For federal fiscal year 2019, the total amount of grant funds used for these services is expected to approximate or exceed $2 million.

For more information about BSBP, visit
or call toll-free: voice 800-292-4200; TTY 888-864-1212.

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