Empowers Blind Massage Therapists
Nancy L. De Siervo developed a passion for wellness and helping those with disabilities from an early age. In 2011, this zeal prompted her to create Ability Beyond Sight, a nonprofit organization serving New Jersey, whose mission is to empower individuals who are blind or have visual impairments with independence through training, personal development and career advancement as massage therapists.
De Siervo, who is an esthetician and spa professional, explains that blindness carries a stigma, much like other disabilities, and results in the highest unemployment rate among disabled groups nationally. Although men and women successfully complete massage school, the biggest obstacle post-licensure is finding a job. Ability Beyond Sight serves as an interface with uninterrupted transitioning skills, bridging the critical link between training and employment in order to overcome barriers.
In 2013, the organization recruited four unemployed massage therapists who are blind and launched its very successful inaugural pilot program “I-AM Possible. The therapists provided more than 1,000 pro bono chair massages over a two year period and received rave reviews. Encouraged by the positive response, De Siervo developed Train-to-Hire, a program that provides therapists with visual impairments on-the-job experience and advocacy to build self-esteem enhance prospects for long-term employment or entrepreneurship and educate the community on the capability of those with disabilities.
Train-to-Hire involves a one-month supervised internship during which the therapist is evaluated in several areas, including proper hygiene, draping techniques, massage methods, communication skills and time management. Therapists who successfully complete this step are given a two-year, paid supervised apprenticeship to hone massage skills, build confidence and job experience and job experience and create a client base. The organization provides career guidance as well.
Ability Beyond is currently fundraising to open a dual-purpose facility that will serve as an apprentice and community wellness center,
De Siervo explains. “Ability Beyond Sight massage therapists will have the opportunity to demonstrate their professional ability in an integrated setting, as they work alongside non-disabled skin care specialists. People who are blind can do extraordinary things if given a chance with the appropriate conditions, attitudes and encouragement and should be recognized as equals in the workplace. This organization is all about breaking barriers, promoting changes in attitude and behavior and fostering wellness.”
The organization is in the process of creating a national database of massage therapists who are blind or visually impaired. All inquiries are welcomed and can be made by calling (201) 410-6755 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org