I’m Mohamed, Accessible Pharmacy Services for the Blind’s student intern. Last week I interviewed Khadija Bari, a Student Career Coordinator on the Workforce Team of VISIONS Khadija Bari From VISIONS Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired. The Workforce Team helps blind and low vision individuals with career readiness and entering the professional workforce. They work with people from all different walks of life and ages. Read more to hear Khadija tell us about herself and VISIONS. Also, I actually met Accessible Pharmacy Services through VISIONS!
Mohamed: What’s your name and what’s your title at VISIONS?
Khadija: I am Khadija Bari and my title at VISIONS is Student Career Coordinator. I’m part of the Workforce Development Team.
Mohamed: How long have you been with VISIONS?
Khadija: I’ve been with VISIONS since September 2016 … so four to five years.
Mohamed: Can you tell me a bit more about yourself and your background? What led you to VISIONS?
Khadija: In terms of my educational qualifications, I hold a Master’s in economics, which I obtained from Hunter College. Prior to that, I obtained my bachelor’s with a double major in Economics and Finance, which I obtained from a university in my home country of Pakistan.
Prior to VISIONS, I was working at Queens College, just part of the city university of New York and over there, I was a supplemental instructor for their SEEK Program.
I did that for a year, and I was a supplemental instructor for algebra and calculus 1 courses. Then essentially that time I was finishing up my master’s degree, it was my last year of my master’s degree. I was finishing up my thesis. After I finished my master’s degree, I was like ‘Alright I kinda need a full-time job now to pay bills’. So, I started networking… I had done a couple different internships. One was with the NYC Parks Department and their Operations Planning Team. Then before that I also did an internship at an investment bank in portfolio management and then also at a nonprofit that was geared towards civil rights. I realized from my internship at the investment bank that I didn’t see myself walking around in a suit and tie, five days a week. The culture wasn’t for me, at least in that company. I was geared more towards the nonprofit or more government side. I was interviewing in both places, and I picked VISIONS. The way I stumbled upon VISIONS was through networking. Most of my internships and jobs at Queens College I found through networking rather than just entirely applying online. So, I mentioned to some of my friends who also have low vision that I’m looking for a job. Basically, I let everyone know, friends, and family, that I’m looking for work so that they can share my resume or contact info or connect me with anyone. So, that’s how I stumbled upon the Workforce department at VISIONS. I didn’t know this before I started working at VISIONS, that there is something called work experience training or help with job search or any of those services. One of my friends told me that VISIONS provides help with job search, and I didn’t know that. So, that’s how I first came upon VISIONS and that’s the intent with which I approached VISIONS but then I was told ‘hey, you have a good resume, we have an opening in our department, do you want to interview for it?’ I said sure. So, I interviewed, and I got the job and I’ve been loving it since.
Mohamed: Can you tell me a bit more about VISIONS? Its values, its mission?
Khadija: We serve low vision and blind individuals from birth, there is no upper limit in terms of age. So, it could be any age. If you’re legally blind, you’re eligible to receive services from VISIONS. We provide services in different stages of life. If it’s a baby that is blind, everything from learning how to crawl, how to touch, and learn safely. To someone who is a senior and maybe they want to go back to work, or they now want to learn how to communicate with their loved ones. A lot of independent living skills for college students as well. Like learning how to get around, do laundry, cook, and use technology. Training is a big part of our department, including training people that have lost their vision and need help learning how to deal with that. I should point out that we have three offices. Two are in Manhattan, one is our administrative building, and the other is our senior center for the blind and low vision. Additionally, we have a campus upstate in spring valley where we have a lot of programming all year round.
Mohamed: How many people work at VISIONS?
Khadija: Close to 110 people.
Mohamed: Does that include your interns as well?
Khadija: No actually… I guess with our interns over the summer it would be more like 150 people.
Mohamed: Who are VISIONS/Workforce’s partners?
Khadija: Our goal is connecting our clients with internships and jobs, so whatever leads us to that goal. For example, on the local NYC level, we partner with the Mayor’s Office for people with disabilities. On the other hand, we partner with employers of all different sizes such as Amazon, Google, mid-sized companies, all the way down to non-profits and small businesses. Everything from healthcare, to technology, to finance… The goal of our connections is to get the resume of our clients to recruiters and help them through the process. Even if we feel they are qualified, it’s never a guaranteed thing but we try to help them through it as much as possible.
Mohamed: Is VISIONS still working virtually or have you transitioned back to in-person work?
Khadija: We have instructors that have started to get back into people’s homes to instruct them, of course while adhering to safety guidelines. We have coaches who will go into clients’ jobs when they first begin to help them assimilate. Mainly, non-administrative jobs are returning into the office or field but we’re starting to slowly come back into the office as a whole.
Mohamed: Is VISIONS looking to release any new programs in the future?
Khadija: We’re constantly applying to grants and coming up with new ideas but it’s hard to say for certain what programs will ultimately come to fruition. One new program we have recently started is a one-week class that teaches job coaches how to work with someone who may have cognitive development issues as well as vision loss. We them put them into internships to give them practical work as well.
Mohamed: What makes you proud to work for VISIONS?
Khadija: Well, I’d say being a member of the community myself, being someone with low vision [with Stargardt’s] and being able to give back to the community. I grew up in Pakistan and never knew I qualified as legally blind until I moved to the US at the age of 22. I mean I knew I couldn’t see very well and advocated for myself… I tried to figure out what was best for me but there were no services for someone like me, I had never met someone else like me. So, I think being a part of a company like VISIONS that offers so many different types of services to help people reach their goal or work towards their independence… And that feeling of someone I’ve worked with getting a job never gets old.
Mohamed: Do you have a favorite color? Foods? Hobbies?
Khadija: Favorite color… blue. Favorite food… Sushi! Pre-covid, I used to do martial arts at this dojo who had a section for low vision people. The material was the same, the instructors were just more hands on. Post-covid, I mainly focus on my restaurant that I opened up with two partners in January called Meat and Bread. I’m pretty much working all the time at home, so I sleep for fun!
Mohamed: Do you have any role models or people you look up to in the blind and low vision community?
Khadija: I do. When I first started using my cane and learning that I was legally blind I used to try to hide my cane whenever possible. For example, after I would get off the train and get to my destination, I would immediately put away my cane. I actually applied to a National Federation for the Blind scholarship when I was doing volunteer work with the Lighthouse (now the Lighthouse Guild) tutoring blind adults in math. So, over there, the person who was the volunteer supervisor told me about the NFB and their scholarship program for college students. I put in the application and next thing I know they paid for my flight to Buffalo for their convention and announced me as the largest recipient of the scholarship. This was a state-wide one, they also have a national level one as well. Over there, I basically met a type of people with low vision that I had never met before. Before then, I had always thought that it took someone somewhat sighted to give services to the blind and low vision. But there I was exposed to people who lived their lives independently, had jobs, careers, had families who traveled, and everything. They were thriving and did it on their own. Afterwards, I connected with a few people there and they became my role models who showed me I don’t have to hide my cane or feel that I am a lesser person. That these were just tools to help me be me. Attending that convention really changed my outlook on my disability.
Thank you, Khadija for speaking with me! And thank you for your work with VISIONS.
To learn more about VISIONS Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired, please visit: https://www.visionsvcb.org/