I grew up in Southern California and had a pretty typical childhood filled with adventure and mischief. I was a Boy Scout, participated in sports, and loved learning new things in school. As a teenager, I liked to toss the baseball with the neighborhood boys in front of our houses. Even though nobody recognized it at the time, this was the first clue that something was amiss. If I had dropped the ball and gazed down to look for it, I could only find it if it were in my field of vision. Of course, everybody had the same experience, but we did not know that my field of vision was significantly smaller than the rest of the boys. While the nickname did not stick, I recall some of the kids calling me “eagle eyes” but in retrospect it was not much of a compliment. Since we had no family history of vision problems, we did not think much of it and I continued through the years, especially since I had no trouble seeing printed words in my high school textbooks or the blackboard in the classroom.
During the summer after my freshmen year at college, I came home to spend time with family and friends. While on a road trip with my two best friends, they pointed out that I was consistently not seeing things in my peripheral vision. At first, I just laughed it off but a subsequent visit to a local optometrist confirmed that in fact, I needed to see a specialist. By the end of the summer, I would have endured a full day of testing at a prestigious university medical center and gone home with a diagnosis of Retinitis Pigmentosa. Armed with that knowledge, I merely buried my head in the sand and chose to ignore the doctor’s advice. I was determined to be in the minority of people that don’t go on to lose all of their eyesight. I attribute that stubbornness to being a Taurus and, of course, college kids knowing better than everybody else. I went on to complete my bachelor’s degree, but my university experience was not what I had envisioned. I struggled with my diagnosis and was ill-equipped to handle the emotional aspects. When sharing this new information with my friends and classmates, I encountered disbelief. “You don’t look blind” and other expressions made their way into the conversation and from that time I decided to keep it to myself.
Upon my return to Southern California, I tried to continue hiding my diagnosis. By this point, driving was getting to be a challenge and I found myself crashing into walls and other immovable objects. Fortunately, they were all at low speeds and nobody got hurt. This was in the 1990s before there was a robust transit network in Los Angeles. So, I moved to New York City where the streets were filled with bright yellow taxis, buses to every corner of the five boroughs, and an expansive subway system snaking its way under the city.
As my vision continued to diminish, I decided that I wanted one more adventure before I lost my remaining eyesight. I hopped on a plane and landed in Santiago de Chile. The city was compact and had great transit. I taught English to business executives and made friends from all over the world. It was during this time overseas that I realized that I was not going to avoid blindness and that upon my return it would be in my best interest to seek out services.
I found myself in the office of the New York Commission for the Blind and Visually Handicapped when a wonderful man named Carlos asked me if I wanted to learn JAWS or ZoomText. I must have looked at him like he was an alien because he burst out laughing. I had no idea what he was talking about, so he started fiddling with the keyboard that sat in front of me. ZoomText was enabled but I was slow at picking it up and not able to follow the focus. Carlos asked to take the keyboard and he made some additional changes. He asked me to put my hands on the keys and before I knew what was going on, I heard a voice talking to me. I had no idea what was going on but minutes later, we were diving into the nuances of the powerful magnifier/screen reader. This began my relationship with accessible technology and catapulted me into my current area of expertise.
After a successful career in sales, I began working for the American Foundation for the Blind. I learned the ins and outs of digital accessibility and started to build relationships with key players in the area of technology. When I moved back to California, I discovered the wonderful people at LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired. In addition to learning braille and orientation to a new city, I had the great pleasure of going through the Employment Immersion program where I met [Director of Employment Services] Kate Williams, who would later become a mentor and supervisor. For four years, I crisscrossed northern California working with other people who are blind or have low vision to help them discover the doors that can be opened when they learn how to use assistive technology. Finally, in May 2018, I joined LightHouse as an Employment Specialist where I support jobseekers in their quest to find a career. Together, we work on resumes, cover letters, interviewing, and networking. My favorite area is helping jobseekers address the challenge of disclosing their disability to a potential employer.
As it turns out, going blind was not the end of my adventures. When not at work, I enjoy running and swimming with Achilles International or river rafting and Nordic skiing with Environmental Traveling Companions. I’ve participated in a swim relay across Lake Tahoe with four other blind swimmers and completed the Escape from Alcatraz swim four times without being eaten by a great white shark.
Every month a new cohort of blind jobseekers enters our Employment Immersion Program. To see if the program is right for you, or to sign up lease reach out to the Employment Services department at EiTeam@lighthouse-sf.org or 415-694-7359.