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Ed Garcia: From Hired to Hiring

Ed Garcia: From Hired to Hiring

When it comes to getting hired for a job, having successful conversations with a company’s Human Resources Department is crucial. Human Resources employees are usually the first people who review your resume and cover letter and the first ones you’ll talk to in the interview process. 
Ed Garcia is LightHouse’s Human Resources Generalist and is the first blind person to hold a position in the Human Resources department at LightHouse. He does much of the recruiting and interviewing for positions at LightHouse and works closely with LightHouse hiring managers to help them find jobseekers who would be a great fit for the managers’ departments. Below Ed chats about how he got into Human Resources, and lessons he’s learned about blindness and employment.
Ed is a San Francisco native who played baseball and football in high school. For college, he went to the University of San Francisco. where he majored in psychology and minored in biology. That’s also where he met someone who he learned he had near misses with over the years. 
“I met this wonderful woman named Anne who happened to live seven minutes away from me. We learned that we had been at the same events over the years, but we had never met before.” Anne would become his wife.
After college Ed started working as a customer services representative in a call center and over the course of a few years worked his way up to director. He went on to work at a bank call center and was soon promoted to training director. As training director, he took some courses and learned how to recruit employees. He and his Human Resources team ended up hiring dozens of people for the call center. Eventually Ed started his own consulting company and would consult on HR and customer service matters. After doing this for six years, Ed experienced some medical issues that caused him to become legally blind. 
Ed continued his consulting work but realized he missed interacting with coworkers. He was ready to work at a “9 to 5” office job again but had never conducted a job search as a blind man.
Ed admits that he had no idea what to do next.

“I had been working for 25 years. I had a nice career going, and all of a sudden, I can’t see like I used to anymore. I was wondering how am I going to look for work?”
Ed was referred to the Department of Rehabilitation (DOR) where he met a woman who told him about her husband who was a blind computer programmer.
“I was astonished. How can someone be a computer programmer when they’re blind? That’s when I learned about accessibility tools like ZoomText, JAWS and CCTVs. I was referred by DOR to the LightHouse to work with the Employment Services department including [Director of Employment Services] Kate Williams.”
That’s when Ed’s perspective on blindness began to change.
“Kate taught me a lot of things, including how to accept my blindness. Before then, I think I was in denial. Soon I realized you can learn skills that you can use to advance yourself and be independent.”
An opportunity opened up in LightHouse’s Human Resources department. Ed applied and got the job.
Though the general economy took a beating in 2020, Ed is proud that despite those challenges Lighthouse still hired 40 people between the San Francisco headquarters, East Bay office, LightHouse Industries: Sirkin Center and Enchanted Hills Camp. With interviews happening virtually, Ed relies on his years of experience to compensate for cues that are harder to pick up when an interview is not in person.
“One of the things that I’ve gotten pretty good at over the years is a technique called active listening. It’s not just listening; it’s also playing an active role in the discussion. When you’re interviewing somebody, you want to make sure that you ask questions and you confirm that you understood what it is that they’re saying.”
Ed, also known as Edward Garcia V (“my son is Edward VI, so you know what the family tradition is,” he says laughing) notes that one of the most important things to do during a job search is to network. He also takes it a step further: He believes that blind jobseekers must include other blind people in their networks. “Immerse yourself in the blindness community. I had a very extensive work history and I had a lot of contacts, but guess what? None of them were blind. Learn from other blind people.”
Of the nearly 40 people who were hired by LightHouse last year, 70% of them were blind and many had learned about the jobs at LightHouse from others in the blindness community.
Ed explains the best thing about his role as an Human Resources Generalist.
“Nothing brings me more joy than once we’ve gotten to the point where you’ve interviewed someone and you’ve done all your background checking. You get to call somebody and offer them a job and you listen to how excited they are.”
LightHouse is hiring. Check out the career opportunities webpage.

Meet LightHouse Access Technology Specialist Amy Mason

Meet LightHouse Access Technology Specialist Amy Mason

The Lighthouse Access Technology Department offers up-to-date training in the latest accessible methods. Meet Amy Mason, one of our Access Technology Specialists, who trains students who are blind or have low vision on ways to make their phone, computer or other devices easier and more comfortable to use.

Amy began her journey with access technology while in high school in Cedar Bluffs, Nebraska, when her vision was changing. At first, she learned to use a rudimentary screen magnifier, then she moved on to using the popular screen reader, JAWS. But in college, although she used a computer, she had no idea how to set one up and did not keep up with newer versions of Microsoft Windows.

After getting her Bachelor’s degree, she continued her education at South East Community College in Lincoln, Nebraska, focusing on computer networking. She also taught computers to kids during the summer. It was important to her that her students learn not just how to use a computer but how to problem solve when their computer didn’t work. One of her teaching tricks was to unplug all the computers and disconnect the cables in the classroom. Her students were required to put them together before class, including troubleshooting if something wasn’t working. For example, if their computer wasn’t making sound, even with the cable for sound plugged in, Amy would prompt them with questions like, “Did you plug the auxiliary cable back into the right place?”

Amy has brought her sound techniques for getting students to problem-solve and explore to LightHouse. “It’s okay to try things,” she says. “It’s a lot like exploring a new neighborhood or cooking a new dish. You have to learn new skills, new information, and new landmarks, but a lot of your key concepts stay the same.” When students encounter something unfamiliar while using technology, Amy encourages them to apply the skills they’ve already learned and problem-solve.

Amy’s experiences have informed her teaching strategies. She relates how when she was growing up, her father brought a computer home with several tutorials, including one that taught computer basics. One sentence really stood out as she was going through the tutorial: “The computer is no more intelligent than a toaster.” Now, in explaining her approach to teaching, Amy uses the metaphor of a toaster to help her students understand the basic functions of a computer. “What you’re doing with a computer at its most basic level is no more complex than what you’re doing with a toaster,” she states, with amusement. “With a computer, you’re giving input, with a toaster, you’re giving it bread. Then you add in variables, such as ‘I want this input to be put out in this format’, or ‘I want the bread to be medium dark’. Then you execute the program. If you’re using the computer, you might get a spreadsheet. If you’re using a toaster, you get toast.”

During the course of training our students learn how to use a number of technologies. Among the things Amy can teach you are how to use a screen magnifier such as ZoomText, screen readers such as JAWS, your smartphone, email and other programs on your computer, and for braille users, how to use refreshable braille.

Amy is concerned with accessibility, but also has expertise in the user experience. Besides technology training, the LightHouse Access Technology Department works with developers to evaluate websites and mobile applications for accessibility. Amy likes to educate developers on the impact poor accessibility or a poor user experience has on a blind person. For instance, developers may not realize that many blind people do not use a mouse at all though the software they use assumes they do. As Amy explains, “if a someone has to press tab 52 times on a keyboard to get to where a mouse user can get with one click, well that is not a great user experience.”

Amy trains her students to become their own teachers, so that when they finish their training program at LightHouse, they are confident enough to problem-solve when their technology downloads an update. With her help she hopes they will be able to work through any changes the update brings because “they’ll have the tools they would need to explore.”

When Amy is not training you may find her hard at work on hobbies such as drawing and crocheting. Amy is owned by two especially opinionated cats.

Let LightHouse get you connected with access tech. If you are interested in Access Technology Training at LightHouse, visit our access technology webpage or email skuan@lighthouse-sf.org.

Meet Amber Sherrard, our new Health and Wellness Program Coordinator

Meet Amber Sherrard, our new Health and Wellness Program Coordinator

“At the start of my childhood, I remember being happy, fearless, and free. But as I reluctantly grew up in a world designed for people to live with sight, I developed a deep fear characterized by tough questions with no answers.” Amber Sherrard has a knack for summing up the existential fear that can come with a major change in vision; and with Retinitis Pigmentosa setting in early in her life, Amber needed to develop a strong sense of who she was, outside of the level of her eyesight.

Before Amber began hitting the gym on a regular basis, finding dignity and self-worth through her ever changing situation at times felt impossible “I found bits and pieces of solitude in poetry, music, and theater,” she says, “but each time I was alone, the thoughts of ‘what if’ and ‘why me’ returned. Deep in my innermost being, I knew I was called to a higher purpose, but when the negative thoughts and intense fear were upon me, it seemed like ‘someday’ would never come.”

Today, Amber is a powerlifter, a yoga instructor, and an incredibly motivating person to be around. Amber might seem like she’s got it all figured out to other blind people who find just stepping foot in a gym a little intimidating – but she started from square one, like everyone else. Amber also knows that health and wellness is about more than pumping iron, which is why in her new role at LightHouse, she is hosting regular workshops on healthy eating, yoga and inner-body exercises to improve the health of the “whole you.”

Amber remembers her ah-ha moment well: Fresh out of high school and on the first day of her blindness training program, her travel instructor, Arlene, told her about the gym across the street – a place called Curves. Arlene showed her how to get there, showed her the ropes and in doing so, eliminated the anxiety Amber might have felt getting to know a brand new gym.

The result was what Amber calls a “frenzy of independence.” Within a few short weeks, she was hooked, suddenly taking joy in a body that she once thought of as ordinary, now amazing. “I can remember people walking up to me and asking if I was an athlete or what sport I played,” she recalls, “those were my favorite compliments. I felt unstoppable. I felt as if my mind and body were so sharp and strong, that I could handle anything in life with grace, dignity, and ease.”

After graduating her blindness training program, Amber had a new mission: helping people find complete freedom, independence, and self-worth through health and fitness, just as she had done.

Amber received her bachelor’s degree In Nutrition and Dietetics from Louisiana Tech University.  There, she enjoyed a vibrant new social life and joined the Powerlifting team, competing in two nationals and one world competition, “I was the only blind person on my team and at nationals, but that meant nothing to me,” she says, “I was out to author and create a life that I loved. My entire being radiated with freedom, joy, and happiness and people noticed. For a young, single, black woman, who was legally blind, my life was extraordinary.”

Going on to become a Registered Nutrition and Dietetic Technician (NDTR) and a Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT 200) Amber taught yoga full-time through grad school, eventually earning a masters degree in Health and Human Performance with a concentration in Health Promotion from Northwestern State University. Finally earning a credential as a Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES), Amber wanted to turn her education into a new opportunity to mobilize a community in a bigger way than she had before.

We are pleased to welcome Amber to the team at LightHouse, and hope that you’ll sign up for one of her upcoming classes. Check the LightHouse calendar for all Health and Wellness events!

Interested in learning more? Contact Amber at asherrard@lighthouse-sf.org or 415-694-7353.