Skip to Content

AFBAmerican Foundation®
for the Blind

Expanding possibilities for people with vision loss

Interview with Joleen Ferguson, Physical Therapist

Joleen Ferguson Interview (MP3 format)

Interview with Joleen Ferguson
Physical Therapist, Retired
By Claudia Cruz and Chelsea Armstrong

Claudia: Hello, my name is Claudia, and I have my first guest here. Would you mind introducing yourself?

Joleen: My name is Joleen Ferguson.

Claudia: Joleen, can I ask you what is your job title?

Joleen: I am a physical therapist. However, I am retired now, but I worked for 35 years as a physical therapist in a hospital.

Claudia: Do you need any special kind of training? And if you do, how do you get trained?

Joleen: When I took my degree, it was a Bachelor of Science degree in Physical Therapy. I took two years at Western Washington, now University, and graduated from the University of Washington. Then it became a Master's program, and then it became a doctorate program. By 2020, they want all physical therapists to be entry level doctorates, but I have a Bachelor of Science.

Claudia: How did you choose to have this career?

Joleen: When I went to the School for the Blind in Vancouver, Washington, I had student friends who were blind but also had other disabilities, such as cerebral palsy. And I really enjoyed working with those students, and I saw them have some physical therapy and thought that would be a really rewarding career. But when I was in the ninth grade, we had someone come to talk to us in our assembly, and they told us that one thing that the blind persons couldn't do in this country would be physical therapy. I was sort of disappointed in that. But, in talking to two teachers, I got two different reactions. One teacher said, "Joleen, why don't you be realistic and make a career unit," which is a paper I had to write, "on something you can actually be," and the other teacher said, "Why don't you be first?" So, I guess I turned out to be first.

Claudia: What were some of the jobs you had before you got your physical therapy career?

Joleen: Jobs I had before were all student summer jobs. One summer I worked in a work-study program, working with people who had disabilities other than blindness, in the Eastern Oregon Hospital and Training Center. I worked with non-ambulatory, profoundly retarded adults. Another summer I worked in a camp. I took a class at WSU and then I went to camp Easter Seal nearly Worly, Idaho and was a camp counselor. It was an interesting camp because in every four students, there was one regular sighted person and then three with a disability.

Claudia: How do you get your jobs?

Joleen: How I got my job as a physical therapist is that I applied at a couple of different places, and the place where I was accepted, there was a doctor who had worked at the University of Washington, and I had taken Anatomy Dissection from him, and I think maybe he put in a good word for me. But also, physical therapy is a field where there's always a demand greater than can be filled. I went to a job site interview, and they'd been looking for a year for a physical therapist.

Chelsea: Hello, my name is Chelsea Armstrong. I am also a student at the Washington State School for the Blind (WSSB). You said that you were a student at WSSB. Did you have any after-school jobs?

Joleen: When I was a student at WSSB, we didn't have jobs. But I was busy after school all the time. I worked right up until dinnertime, depending on the day. I had PE, I had modern dance, I had weightlifting, I had diving. Every day of the week was a different thing. Then at 6:30 I went to study hall, and I'd get home at 9:00. And then I'd get up and go to class the next morning. And on Saturdays we went bowling.

Chelsea: What made you want to do your therapy?

Joleen: I just continued to like therapy all throughout my career. And the thing that was most rewarding to me was it was one place in life where I could help other people. Many times as a blind person I'd have to ask questions or ask for help, but here is a place where I can do a job and literally, I hold people up, I keep them from falling. And I found it very rewarding for people to trust me.

Chelsea: That's awesome. What is your most challenging part about your job?

Joleen: That's a big question. Of course the print thing is always a challenge, because when you can't read the charts, so you can't read the information, you have to find ways to get access to the information without being burdensome to other employees. When I began my work, believe it or not, they didn't have computers. And everything had to be done by hand. By the time I was done, I worked with a computer and I could listen to the dictations from the medical records. Another area of challenge was to be ready for whatever kind of a person with whatever diagnosis came through the door next. I had to be able to work with that person, a lot of different personality types, different kinds of disabilities, different kinds of diseases, different kinds of medical problems. So that made it really challenging and rewarding. And then just having people understand what it is, and what I can do as a blind person, and what I can't do as a blind person. It's very easy for people to think, "Wow, you're a physical therapist, you can do this." But many years after I was working with some co-workers, we were talking about something and they said, "Well, how do you put hairspray on?" and I said, "Well how do you put hairspray on? You know, you point it at your head and you push the little button." But you know what? Those sighted people, they have to look in a mirror to know where to put the hairspray, so that was really funny to me. So sometimes it's just challenging to know what people don't know about you. [Laughs]

Chelsea: You said something about having to write by hand, so I would assume you would have somebody by your side always having to write the notes for you?

Joleen: I did learn print first because I am a partial, a very low partial. And with my nose on the paper and a flare pen, I could write, but I couldn't read what I had written very much. Sometimes I wrote over other people's writing, but you conserved a lot of paper that way.

Chelsea: Could you explain a little bit more about your technology?

Joleen: Well, in the beginning, as I said, we didn't have computers, but we did have a little DictaPhone, where we put a plastic sleeve on this arm and it did scratch on kind of like a record. And then we had an electric typewriter, which I used for a little bit. And then I got my first computer, which they didn't even know about JAWS in those days. And then I got the Braille N' Speak, and I got the BrailleNote. But still, if my technology broke down, you know what? I still went back to a slate and stylus. I once had a ten-year-old patient say to me, "Wow! That's neat. Do all the nurses know how to write braille?" And I said, "Oh yes, all of them do!" And that's a laugh.

Chelsea: Well, it sounds wonderful and I want to thank you, Joleen, for coming and taking the time. Thank you.

Joleen: I'm really glad I could come today. I really enjoyed this, I had a great time.

Interview taken at the Washington State Council of the Blind Convention, November 2006.

Interview provided by Jack Straw Productions, Arts and Visually Impaired Audiences, Washington State Council of the Blind and the Child and Family Program of the Washington State Department of Services for the Blind.
Copyright © Jack Straw Productions 2006.

services icon Directory of Services

Support Our Work

Your support helps connect young people with mentors in their chosen field—moving them one step closer to success.