Diversity & Inclusion Discovery Series: The Value of Hiring the Blind or Visually Impaired, Part 2 – Meet Theresa Montano

In: accessibility, disability, inclusion, social impact

By Mark T. Vivien, Board Member, Blind Institute of Technology

Originally published on Mark’s LinkedIn Articles.

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Executive Summary

In Part 1, posted December 15, 2017, I highlighted five key takeaways regarding diversity and inclusion efforts, and unemployment within the blind and visually impaired community:

  • Companies with a formal diversity and inclusiveness strategy said it has improved their bottom line.
  • Diversity and inclusion is key to filling the talent gap companies continually face.
  • The primary driver of the 70% unemployment rate in the blind and visually impaired (BVI) community is a lack of awareness, opportunity, and prioritization (vs. the common assumption that it is due to the lack of education and skills as well as inadequate technology).
  • The blind and visually impaired offer three unique abilities that separate them from sighted employees – listening skills, adaptability/problem solving, and loyalty.
  • The Blind Institute of Technology (BIT) is the only organization proactively working to reduce the high unemployment rate in the BVI community.

Over the next five articles, you will meet a group of amazing individuals that reinforce BIT’s and my belief – companies miss-out on some of the best and brightest talent when they overlook the blind and visually impaired.

Today, I am excited to introduce you to the amazing Theresa Montano.

Employer Needs

Before I get into Theresa’s background, skills, etc. it is important to start with context around the value Theresa adds, specifically to companies in need of talent today and in the future. I propose to you that Theresa’s skills and abilities make her more than capable of filling at least six high demand roles:

  1. Software / Application Developer
  • Software developers are the creative minds behind computer programs. Some develop the applications that allow people to do specific tasks on a computer or another device. Others develop the underlying systems that run the devices or that control networks [Bureau of Labor Statistics]
  • Software developers usually have a degree in computer science, software engineering, or a related field
  • Although writing code is not their first priority, developers must have a strong background in computer programming
  • Important qualities include analytical skillscommunication skills, creativity, detail oriented, interpersonal skills, and problem-solving skills

2. Computer Programmer

  • Computer programmers write and test code that allows computer applications and software programs to function properly. They turn the program designs created by software developers and engineers into instructions that a computer can follow [Bureau of Labor Statistics]
  • Most programmers get a degree in computer science or a related subject
  • Most programmers learn a few computer languages while in school. However, a computer science degree gives students the skills needed to learn new computer languages easily
  • Important qualities include analytical skillsconcentrationdetail oriented, and troubleshooting skills

3. Computer Network Architect / Specialist

  • Computer network architects design and build data communication networks [Bureau of Labor Statistics]
  • Network architects generally need to have at least 5 to 10 years of experience working with information technology (IT) systems
  • Important qualities include analytical skillsdetail oriented, interpersonal skills, leadership skills, and organizational skills
  • Computer network specialists help IT staff analyze, troubleshoot, and evaluate computer network problems. [Bureau of Labor Statistics]

4. Project Manager

  • Project managers are the people in charge of a specific project or projects within a company. The job is to plan, budget, oversee and document all aspects of the specific project you are working on [www.snagajob.com]
  • On-the-job experience in the line of work is a must
  • Certification as a project management professional (PMP) is also available
  • Important qualities include analytical skillsleadership skills, math and budgeting, and time management skills

5. Scrum Master

  • Scrum master is responsible for monitoring agile processes and scrum meetings. She increases her team’s efficiency, motivates her team, spins, and argues for changes that will ensure quality and timeliness. She ensures observance of DoD (Definition of Done). [www.yodiz.com]
  • Important qualities include scrum knowledgescrum experiencecommunication skills, and software development knowledge

6. Computer Systems Analyst

  • Computer systems analysts study an organization’s current computer systems and procedures, and design solutions to help the organization operate more efficiently and effectively. They bring business and information technology (IT) together by understanding the needs and limitations of both [Bureau of Labor Statistics]
  • Most have a bachelor’s degree in a computer-related field, but it is not a requirement. Because these analysts also are heavily involved in the business side of a company, it may be helpful to take business courses or major in management information systems.
  • Important qualities include analytical skillscommunication skills, and creativity

Here is Theresa

I am proud to start our journey of getting to know Theresa with a short two-minute video she made in support of the Blind Institute of Technology (BIT):

How great was it to hear Theresa say she is working in her dream job – Solutions Architect of Accessibility for the State of Colorado? Did you hear the sincerity in Theresa’s voice when she talked about how good it feels to have a job with a purpose – helping the community – helping the employees of the State of Colorado? She has the chance to make a difference, something we all hope for in our own jobs.

You may be asking yourself, “How big of a difference can Theresa make?” According to the National Federation of the Blind, there were 102,000 Colorado citizens with vision loss in 2015. So, at least 102,000 citizens will benefit from Theresa making sure all 1,200 current state applications are fully accessible as well as all new applications. I do not know about you, but 102,000 is a big number to me – and so is 1,200 current applications.

Theresa Up Close

The Formative Years

Theresa started losing her eyesight when she was 10 years old. By the time she reached 25 years old, she was blind. The culprit – Glaucoma and Iritis (i-RYE-tis). Iritis is a form of Uveitis, a general term describing a group of inflammatory diseases that produce swelling and destroy eye tissue.

Doctors, surgeries, medication, special treatments, and a lot of missed school was the theme of Theresa’s childhood.

She wore thick glasses, and by the time she reached high school, Theresa was wearing bi-focal lenses.

Despite everything, Theresa graduated from Erie Senior High (a mainstream public high school) with honors. How did she do that? As you will find across the BVI community, Theresa’s success was the result of determination, persistence, and long hours (often until midnight or later) studying and completing assignments. She used magnifiers and bright lights to read.

Outside of the normal school hours, Theresa worked with itinerant teachers (visiting or travelling schoolteachers often with a specialization) to prepare for the continual decline in her vision. She learned braille, how to effectively use a cane, etc.

After high school, Theresa attended and graduated from Colorado State University with a Bachelor of Science in Psychology and a minor in Business Administration. She used an electronic typewriter to write her papers. Both of us laugh when we think about those days, and using the liquid whiteout to fix all our typing errors – which could become very messy work.

Some of Theresa’s college textbooks were on cassette. She took her notes with a cassette player using braille. There was no such thing as a braille test. Sometimes professors read the tests to her, but usually, she had to go to the Office for Disabled Students, where employees would read the tests to her. She had to type essay tests in her room on the old reliable electronic typewriter.

Theresa started using a guide dog right after high school. Her guide dog and a sighted trainer attended college orientation with her. Each semester she had to reorient herself with their help.

Overall, Theresa had a great college experience. She lived in a dorm her first year, sorority house for two years, and a condominium for her last year.

Transformative Years

Theresa, always the enterprising person, earned her Series 7 and started working for Dean Witter, first at the World Trade Center and then in Denver.

While she was successful at Dean Witter, sales just wasn’t Theresa’s passion. After a brief (less than 1 year) interlude working for the IRS, Theresa decided to pursue her true professional passion – computer coding.

Two years later, Theresa had her Associates Degree in Computer Science from Metropolitan State University. The hardest part of learning to code was actually learning to use the IBM screen reader. She leveraged technology to make reading easier and faster, scanning pages of her printed textbooks into the screen reader.

Theresa earned a six-month internship as a mineral rights system coder for the Federal Government. The combination of her degree and the internship led her to a twenty-two-year career with Century Link (U.S. West became Qwest who became Century Link). Over the course of her twenty-two years, Theresa’s roles included Software Developer, Change Manager with Wireless, and Network Team Manager. During the last two years as a Network Team Manager, she managed three Development teams across the globe utilizing Agile processes. Theresa also found time to attend the University of Denver where she studied Telecommunications, Business Management, and graduate level Project Management. She earned both her Project Management and Scrum Master Certifications.

World of Accessibility

Thanks to BIT, Theresa has successfully transitioned into the world of accessibility.

First, she worked on BIT’s accessibility project teams tasked with making the systems of a few of Denver’s largest employers fully accessible.

During this period, the Colorado legislature created a position called Solutions Architect of Accessibility. All state systems need to be compliant to the WCAG 2.0 standards (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines). Per www.w3.org/WAI/intro/wcag, the goal is a single shared standard for web content accessibility that meets the needs of all individuals, organizations, and governments internationally. Web content generally refers to the information in a web page or web application, including:

  • Natural information such as text, images, and sounds
  • Code or markup that defines structure, presentation, etc.

Starting October 17, 2017, the State of Colorado hired Theresa as the Solutions Architect of Accessibility.

The task is immense when you think that all public facing interfaces and applications, as well as all employee facing applications, must be compliant – that is 17 agencies and currently 1,200 applications.

On top of this, all developers must go through Universal Design training. MIT offers a few courses in Universal Design, but other schools are only just starting to offer these courses.

If this is not enough, WCAG 2.0 includes all disabilities – not just the blind and visually impaired.

To help you envision what Theresa does on a daily basis, here is a brief list of some of her responsibilities:

  • Create relationships to hire third party vendors for contract work to develop and test projects and applications
  • Manage the contractor budget, their work, and ensure timelines are met
  • Create and work with an Advisory Board / Steering Committee comprised of state employees and citizens, both BVI and sighted
  • Work with each agencies’ IT Director to ensure alignment on key initiatives, budget dollars, training, etc.
  • Make the WCAG 2.0 AA standard for all state systems as an OIT Architecture Board (ARB) mandate (for each guideline, there are testable success criteria, which are at three levels: A, AA, and AAA).
  • Secure on-line Universal Design training for the development team
  • Outreach to the community to discuss progress and further identify the needs of Colorado’s citizens

It is truly awesome that the State of Colorado is taking a leadership role in accessibility, and that Theresa Montano is leading the charge.

In Summary

So, when we match Theresa’s education, experience, and skills against the qualities required for success in the six high demand positions I highlighted earlier, the result is conclusive – Theresa “checks” the most important requirements boxes:

  •  Analytical skills
  • Business courses
  • Communication skills
  • Computer degree
  • Concentration
  • Detail oriented
  • Leadership skills
  • Problem solving skills
  • Project Management, certification and direct experience
  • Scrum Master, certification and direct experience

Companies definitely miss-out on some of the best and brightest talent when they overlook the blind and visually impaired.

About BIT

Led by founder Mike Hess, the Blind Institute of Technology is a team of staff, volunteers and board members passionate about addressing an attitude shift for blind professionals and educating companies on how to hire and cultivate success for the visually impaired

BIT’s mission is simple, but powerful: Prepare the blind and visually impaired, and the employers who hire them, for success in the workplace. Said another way, “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.”

BIT fundamentally believes that companies are missing out on some of the best and brightest talent available in the country today. It means that talented individuals are left to live off public welfare programs, rather than being afforded the opportunity to put their skills to work and earn a living wage.

BIT believes that addressing these problems is a moral and economic imperative.

BIT is the only organization proactively working to reduce the high unemployment rate in the BVI community.

Read more about the BIT story, our candidate and employer services, special events etc. by clicking here.

About Mark

Mark Vivien and his wife of twenty-seven years, Laura, are both Ohio natives who fell in love with Colorado in 1997 and fulfilled their dream of living there in 2002. 

Since earning a B.S. degree from John Carroll University and a MBA from Texas A&M University, Mark has excelled in a variety of roles and industries: financial, business, and strategic planning & analytics, business development, mergers and acquisitions, sales, oil and gas, consumer products, technology, and non-profit. Today, he is an Account Executive for Softchoice Corporation, a leading technology company in North America.

Over the years, Mark has provided volunteer support in areas such as conservation, homelessness, and supporting veterans. Today, he spends most of his volunteer time supporting diversity and inclusion efforts.

Mark currently serves on the Board of Directors for the Blind Institute of Technology (BIT). BIT prepares the blind and visually impaired, and the employers who hire them, for success in the workplace. There is actually a 70% unemployment rate in the adult Blind and Visually Impaired community in the United States. When you add underemployment (working in positions requiring a lower level of skills and abilities and for less pay than equally skilled sited individuals), the rate goes over 80%. Paraphrasing Mark, the problem is not a skills nor technology issue. It is an awareness issue.

This month Mark begins an eighteen month term on his company’s lead Diversity and Inclusion Committee, ONEsoftchoice.

Mark also enjoys camping, hiking, fly fishing, riding his Polaris RZR side-by-side, hunting (especially with his dog Riley), obstacle racing, music, and spending time with friends and family.