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The Connections Peer Support Social Network

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      Two blind cane travelers share a walk in the sculpture park.Connections application - Blind Iowans interested in becoming a connector and sharing their experience and expertise with blind clients of the Iowa Department for the Blind must first fill out and submit an application online. If you need assistance please contact Rick Dressler, Communications Specialist, rick.dressler@blind.state.ia.us, 515-281-1314.

      Request a Connection - Clients of the Iowa Department for the Blind may express interest in benefiting from the skills and expertise of a connector by informing their counselor or teacher directly or by filling out this short online form.

      The Iowa Department for the Blind (IDB) invites interested blind and low vision Iowans to participate in Connections, a peer support social network organized by the Department. The network was created to provide a way for blind Iowans to share blindness skills, everyday information, emotional support, and life experience with current clients of the Iowa Department for the Blind. Perhaps you are a blind student interested in learning more about career pathways from someone experienced in a particular field. Maybe you could use some help  learning Braille. Or, you may have hit a snag with some home repair and need some capable advice. Participating in the Connections social network is an opportunity to obtain the answers and information that you seek from an experienced blind person.

      Here is a list of some of the wide range of topics that can be addressed with a Connection:

      • Braille
      • Home management techniques, such as cooking, laundry, and cleaning
      • Indoor home maintenance and repair
      • Outdoor home maintenance and repair, such as gardening and Mowing
      • Mac computer equipped with assistive technology
      • Windows computer equipped with assistive technology
      • iOS devices and applications
      • Android devices and applications
      • Other assistive technology
      • Issues of blindness
      • Leisure and hobbies
      • Recreation, sports, travel
      • Library and news services
      • Experience as a blind parent
      • Travel with the long white cane
      • Other travel aids
      • Other topics

      Since April of 2015, more than 20 individuals have submitted applications, passed background checks, and received orientation materials to become "connectors." They are available to respond to those seeking information and solutions, the "connectees." Connections are enabled by linking these two parties. Introductions are initiated by counselors and teachers of IDB's Vocational Rehabilitation, Independent Living, Orientation Center divisions and Connections staff. The network can be easily used by all parties in a spirit of positive growth and enjoyment of companionship.

      How to Become a Connector

      Blind Iowans interested in becoming a connector must first fill out the application form located at: https://blind.iowa.gov/form/connections-application.

      Applicants will answer basic questions about themselves, indicate interests and expertise, and state their preferred mode of contact (email or regular mail). The information gathered is maintained in a confidential Connector database which will be used in matching suitable connectors with connectees by IDB staff.

      To promote the safety of all persons involved in the Connections network, a mailing is sent to all applicants that includes all required forms and a convenient free matter envelope addressed to IDB. The accompanying letter outlines a few steps that must be completed before being accepted into the network.

      One of these steps is to consent to an Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) background check by signing and returning the proper form. The check takes approximately ten day once the form is submitted to the DCI.

      In addition, all applicants must sign a Confidentiality Agreement, in which they  accept the obligation to maintain the confidentiality of the people they are working with.

      Once an individual clears the background check, the Connections staff will add them to the database of available connectors. New connectors will be sent a mailing with some orientation material to read. Background checks are repeated on long-standing connectors every three years to ensure they remain current.

      Individuals interested in becoming a connector may submit an application at any time. We encourage any blind Iowan interested in helping to get involved today!

      How Are Connections Made?

      The connectors' information is maintained in a database available to IDB counselors and teachers to aid in matching them with connectees seeking assistance. Once an individual from the connector database is selected, they are given a courtesy notice by IDB staff to ensure their schedule is open. However, it is up to the connectee to establish actual contact with a connector. They will have been given given contact information limited to the connector’s name, phone number, and email address. Connectees have full responsibility to make the initial contact and it is then up to both parties to work out the details of their interaction. Connections interactions may be short or long-term, in-person, by telephone, through email, or social media. Any ongoing details of each connection continue to be set and managed by the participants.

      Clients of the Iowa Department for the Blind may express interest in working with a connector by directly informing their counselor or teacher or by filling out the short Request a Connection form online.

      Our hope is that the Connections network provides an edifying opportunity for blind people to share their knowledge and experiences individually and collectively. We anticipate that, with your help, it will continue to grow.

      For more information, please contact one of the members of the Connections staff:
      Rick Dressler, 515-281-1314, rick.dressler@blind.state.ia.us
      Alan Bickell, (515) 281-1313, alan.bickell@blind.state.ia.us
      Keri Osterhaus, 515-281-1281, keri.osterhaus@blind.state.ia.us