Ethan Meigs, LightHouse Information Technology Technician, writes about his blindness and how he became the first blind IT Technician in LightHouse history.
I am 37 years old and a native Californian, who began life legally blind in both eyes. I spent my childhood in Southern California attending public schools using magnification and large print textbooks. I was always outdoorsy, playing whatever sport I could get my hands on. I could never see the details like the rim on the basketball court or the angle of the landing ramps when taking flight on my BMX, but never let that get in the way of keeping up with my friends. As I got older and my vision slowly began to change, I left to work for UPS in Kentucky. You can imagine the things a 19-year-old and his friend could get up to in the backwoods of Kentucky. One memorable experience was hopping on the all-terrain vehicle in the middle of the woods. I was low vision and following my friend’s bright orange hunting vest at full speed and somehow ended up stuck between two oak trees when crossing a shallow, fast-running creek. I mean, I ended up looking like Austin Powers stuck between two walls in his electric cart. There were other things, but let’s just say if we are ever invaded, I have learned some cool home security tricks. I found that lack of transportation and access were an issue, so I moved back to California in 2002.
While in the middle of my upper division classes, I was offered a job at what was then Junior Blind of America and now Wayfinder Family Services. I became the Assistant Coordinator for the Student Transition and Enrichment Program. I continued to work that job while completing the final research paper for my Masters in Assistive Technology and Human Services at Cal State University Northridge.
Once my time at Junior Blind was done and I completed my degrees, I had time to reflect on what I really wanted to do. I found great value in working with youth. I was motivated to help others avoid the barriers and pitfalls I found in my path up to that point, so I began searching. I fell into Sociology in college because of a girl, and found I really enjoyed it. I didn’t pursue a Masters in Sociology because I didn’t think it had great long-term employment prospects. I found that technology was vital to leveling the playing field while Sociology developed my talent for understanding people and institutions. I began looking for a job that would allow me to utilize both talents while giving back to the blind community which, through mentors and relationships, had given me so much and brought me to this point in my life.
LightHouse for the Blind in San Francisco promoted itself as an agency which meets people where they are, and I noticed that out of all the agencies I had experienced throughout California, LightHouse seemed to be the only one who walked the walk as far as employing the population they championed: close to half of their staff were blind or low vision. Thus, began my journey with LightHouse in December of 2016.
Through my time in the Access Technology department, I found that I really enjoyed learning the details of how things work and presenting them to groups and individuals. I enjoyed working one-on-one with students but after a few years, I began opening my mind toward new opportunities.
On February 1 this year, I started in my new role at the LightHouse, as an IT specialist. In the last few months, I have found I truly enjoy supporting my coworkers with daily operations and have been learning a lot at the same time. Although, if I had known I would be jumping into this role right as the entire agency was forced to go remote due to COVID-19, I might have more carefully thought about the decision.
It’s been challenging to learn the entire process used for onboarding of machines, and the implementation of Virtual Private Networks, which enable employees working remotely to connect to our networks. Not to mention, the fact that I am still learning on the job.
As a parting note, the two mantras which have stood me up through all my experiences are: “Those who say it cannot be done, should not interrupt the person doing it!” and the Chinese proverb, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil, is for good men to do nothing!”