Summer jobs teaching visually-impaired teens valuable life lessons

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by TERESA WOODARD

WFAA

Posted on July 17, 2014 at 10:45 PM

DALLAS -- Outside the CVS pharmacy at Walnut Hill and Central Expressway, there are bright pink flowers.

Inside, there are aisles, and shelves, and signs, and products everywhere. Most of us see all of that with our eyes. But Ernesto Menendez has to see it through his hands.

"I've done these already, done this already, done this already, oh no, haven't done this already," he says to himself, as he's feeling his way around a snack aisle. He's putting a stopper at the back of each hook, which holds the bags of candy or nuts in place and keeps them from sliding backward.

"Do this for three hours and you get muscles," he said. "You really exercise your hands."

Ernesto is 18 and totally blind.

"I used to be able to see light and shadows, and it started going away when I was about 11," he said. "And now I can't see anything."

But he has a summer job at the CVS, working with Andrew Briscoe, also 18, of Sachse.

"I have 20/200 vision," Andrew said. "I am legally blind in my left eye. I had retina detachment when I was a baby."

Andrew wears glasses and has limited vision. He often stocks the store's shelves.

"If I see gum that needs to be in these boxes, I put more in and fill them up," he said, as he was re-stocking. "Chips with the chips and candy with the candy."

They are two of about 20 North Texans working this summer, thanks to the Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services Division of Blind Services and Easter Seals North Texas.

For the third year, they are putting on a five-week program called the Dallas Regional Employment Access Meet, or "DREAM," partnering with companies like CVS, Albertsons, and Dallas Lighthouse for the Blind to give young people with visual impairments on-the-job experience, while giving the rest of us an education.

"Just because there's a disability doesn't make them any less of a hard worker or a dependable worker," said Jennifer Svelan of the DARS Division for Blind Services. "So hopefully people coming into CVS or working in CVS are getting introduced to a new population that for a long time has been overlooked by the workforce.

"They can do pretty much anybody's job, other than, flying a plane - which, we're getting there - or driving a car -- which, we're getting there too!" she added, laughing. "They have the ability like everybody else, sometimes they just do it a little differently."

The students have spent five weeks working part time with a job coach. They are also getting paid. They are living in dorms at SMU, and that's where they're learning life lessons, too.

"We work on grocery shopping, how to budget, how to pick out food and plan a meal, shaving, washing clothes," Jennifer said, "things that sometimes they have to learn alternative techniques, so they can do it all by themselves."

They've learned to take public transportation, too.

"I really had a good experience with walking to the grocery store, doing a shopping list, managing my checkbook, which is really 'eye-opening' - no pun intended - for me," Ernesto said with a wide smile and a giggle.

"You see the confidence in themselves grow. You see independence," Jennifer said. "It's such a sense of accomplishment."

Ernesto said he surprised himself by being able to change the price on some items, if someone was there to help him. Andrew said he has a new-found belief in the future.

"There's a lot of jobs they don't hire blind people for because they don't think they can do these certain jobs, but if you show them wrong, I really think in the next coming years it can really change," he said.

E-mail twoodard@wfaa.com

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