Interview with Doug Hall, Volunteer Services Center Specialist
AFB: Hi, Doug. This is Terry Allen in the Communications department at the American Foundation for the Blind and I am speaking with Doug Hall. Doug, if you would first tell us who you are, and how it is you got involved with CareerConnect in the first place, and please, because I noticed your signature says, “Doug & Keaton,” tell us who Keaton is.
Doug Hall: OK, I’m Doug Hall and my job actually is Volunteer Services Center Specialist. In English what that means is that I am the head of the volunteer services for Florida’s braille and talking book library, and I also coordinate public relations, community awareness for the library.
Let me tell you about Keaton first. Keaton is my German Shepherd, my sixth seeing eye dog, and I’ve had him for 6-7 months.
How I became involved with CareerConnect goes back several years. Originally I was involved in the Careers & Technology Information Bank (CTIB) with Jay Leventhal. When I first joined, they asked me if I would be willing to be a mentor and help other people, and a lot of people have helped me so I figured it is only fair to give back. So I did join, and for several years people have contacted me to find out information about either volunteering or public relations.
AFB: OK, first of all you have mentioned that you are a volunteer program administrator and I know that you have worked in public relations. Let’s start off by telling our visitors how it is that you became interested in these particular lines of work.
Hall: Actually, my original career was as an adjustment counselor. I actually got involved in public relations and volunteering kind of through a back door. I suppose it goes back to high school and maybe even before that.
I am from New York, and I had a braille teacher who instilled in me the importance of being independent and relying on myself. She wouldn’t let me get away with anything. I had a lot of people in school—teachers, advisors—who gave me a lot of help.
I suppose the first volunteering that I can remember that I really did was when I was a senior in high school. I was in the honor society and they gave me the job to set up a tutoring program. That is really how I got involved. I was involved as an administrator of a volunteer tutoring program. Then when I got in college, I started (because of my needs) I started a textbook recording program for myself, which kinda got me involved in the whole library thing and again, working with volunteers and staff.
When I was in graduate school getting my degree in counseling, my professor said, “If we want to be a decent counselor, we need to know what it is like to be with people and doing things for people.” So I volunteered at a school for the retarded and emotionally disturbed.
Also the professor, and I think this is valuable, believed that you cannot be a good counselor unless you know yourself and why you do things. So he did a lot of counseling with me and I think that helped me a lot.
AFB: It sounds like you had a lot of people around who were helping to guide you, which brings me to my next question. You specifically mentioned a braille teacher. But were there others that you would describe as mentors who inspired you, either as a child or as a young adult?
Hall: Definitely. The braille teacher, yes, but when I was in high school I had a geometry teacher—I know a lot of people don’t like geometry. I love geometry, and partly, I think, because I had a teacher who spent hours with me, not only tutoring me on geometry but also counseling and advising and just being a good friend. And I think that probably was very important. It actually gave me an opportunity to interact with others, and I think that is important. I’d say throughout my life I’ve had mentors and people help me.
My first job was at the Rehabilitation Center for the Blind in Daytona. My first boss when he hired me said, “You are a counselor, but you need to know that you will be involved in consumer organizations; you will be involved in the community; you will be an advocate.” He gave me the encouragement, the tools, the training, and the time, and he actually probably was the man who really got me going more formally into the whole field of advocacy.
Then when I worked at the University of Florida, the dean of students who worked with disabled students again gave me a lot of backing. As a matter of fact, when it came to hiring a director for the textbook recording program, she insisted that I be hired in that position. She really was in my corner, and she encouraged me to be involved in the community.
While running that program, I learned about recruiting volunteers. I learned about training and supervising volunteers. In order to do that, I did a lot of “guest teaching” on campus to become known by the students and the staff so that I could get volunteers. It is just a number of things that have come together that encouraged me to go in this direction—not that I had planned to do that.
AFB: OK, well that is one kind of assistance there on the personal side. Let’s switch gears a little, and why don’t you tell us what kind of assistive technology that you use now to do your job or in your personal life too, for that matter?
Hall: OK, assistive-technology-wise—I really don’t use a lot. I’ve been thinking about this. I use computers. I have a desktop computer with JAWS at home and an OpenBook. I have a desktop computer and OpenBook at work. I use a Braille Lite. I used to use a Braille ‘n Speak but now I have upgraded to a Braille Lite, which has the braille display. Of course, I use a telephone, but I don’t consider that special assistive technology—that is just an important part of my life. I use things like talking clocks, tape recorders, and I use the old standby braille writers to do my work.
Most of my work really is talking and listening to others. So technology is not as important in that part, it is important in my ability to be able to write reports, to write letters, to frankly interact with a lot of other people.
AFB: As an APH CareerConnect mentor, Doug, what sort of advice do you have for blind or visually impaired job seekers, or maybe more specifically, if you had to give top three tips to blind or visually impaired kids or young adults looking for a job, what would they be?
Hall: Oh, let me see….The first one I’d have to say that is very important is attitude. My mother taught me a long time ago that attitude is very important—that you can do anything you want if you set your mind to it.
The second thing I think is to be involved, and this probably comes from being a volunteer coordinator. I know in hiring people, I insist that a person has volunteer experience. I think it is important to have that. Even more than volunteering, everything we do and all the experiences that we have will indicate or give us a direction of which way we want to go or where we are going to go. We learn from that. Along with that is to make contact. I learned a long time ago that frequently success is determined by who you know. You only get the “who you know” by making important contacts.
And I think the third tip probably is to be open to change. I have discovered that life is made up of change. We have to learn to accept what happens and then go with the flow. If we don’t, then we could be stuck somewhere in the past.
AFB: Oh, that sounds like really excellent advice to me. Next question. How about advice for other blind or visually impaired professionals who are not in the database, but might know about it and might be interested in joining? What would be your thoughts for them?
Hall: My thoughts for people to join the database goes back to my own reasons for [doing what] I am doing. All of us, regardless of who we are, have gotten help from others to get where we are. I only feel it is correct and right for us to give back to others. Education, life is determined by people helping each other. I’d like to see professionals who have expertise to go ahead and help others who are trying to climb that ladder.
At the same time, I know personally I have found mentoring—helping others by giving advice, asking questions—actually helps me. I’m helping others, but they are helping me by helping me to focus, by giving me information and ideas that I can come back and use to help me to do my job. So I think it is a sharing, a give and take, and I think we all need to be involved in that.
AFB: Finally, any other words or any other topics we haven’t covered, words of inspiration or advice that you would offer to parents or to professionals in the blindness field who are working with blind or visually impaired adolescents or blind or visually impaired people of all ages.
Hall: OK, I have already mentioned attitude so I am not going to mention it again, although it is critical as far as you can’t say enough about it. One of the things I’d like to say to parents is that a parent is crucial to a child becoming successful or being able to achieve. I know my parents gave me the space and the encouragement to do things. Even though they may have been a little scared, they gave me the opportunity, and I think parents need to remember that they need to give their child the space, the encouragement, and maybe the push to get them to achieve things.
AFB: Doug, I want to thank you very much for conducting this interview with us and I know that it is a lot of valuable advice for visitors to the CareerConnect site. Hang in there and give a lot more good advice to the people who call you in the future. It has been nice to talk to you.
Hall: Thank you, Terry. Take care.