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for the Blind

Expanding possibilities for people with vision loss

Profile of Paul Filpus, Computer Programmer and Analyst

Intro: See how this positive and practical thinking knowledge engineer succeeded in the corporate world of computer programming and analyzing.

The Story: As a twenty-nine year-old civil engineer working in the construction industry, I suddenly lost my eyesight in a car accident. I went through a rehabilitation program, followed by a six-month term at a business college. Since I already had a B.S. degree, my advisor thought taking the one-term introductory course in data processing would be sufficient in preparing me for a job in that field. Right after that schooling, I began a new career in data processing which led to thirty-one years working as a blind computer programmer-analyst. Retirement came in 2003 at the age of sixty-two.

My job search began when I still had several weeks of study left at the business college. That was in the early 1970s, and computerized data processing was in its early stages of development in corporate America. I made a number of contacts, all by telephone, to personnel managers in corporations I was interested in. Most of them granted me interviews, and one sounded interested enough to pursue the idea of hiring a blind computer programmer. They told me they wanted to research the idea and get back to me later. Through their effort they learned of another blind programmer in a nearby city, found his performance on the job to be generally positive and so they hired me.

A Perkins Brailler and cassette recorder were important tools for me, both at the computer school and throughout my time at work. My employer purchased all the necessary adaptive devices and software tools that I needed over the years to access electronic and print information. Braille output was provided right from the beginning, but the main tool in the later years of my career was a personal computer with speech access. They also purchased a software maintenance agreement from the vendor of that product so I could have the best and latest version available at all times.

Adaptive devices enabled me to perform a number of tasks at work quite well, but there were always areas where lack of eyesight was a major problem. With the windows-based operating systems featuring graphical user interface prevalent in recent years, there have been a number of limitations with speech access. For these reasons, I was never promoted to senior and management level positions like typical sighted analysts reach when they work as long as I did. However, I made a living wage all those years and received good benefits and a good retirement pension.

My work consisted mainly of writing and testing computer programs in the COBOL, FORTRAN, and C programming languages. In my first position, I worked in a business applications programming group, where COBOL prevailed. My next position was in a medical instrument research and development group, where I wrote in FORTRAN, C, and C++. This scientific area of software application was more in line with my civil engineering education.

The most frustrating and limiting parts of my work occurred when participating in design, peer, and technical review meetings with sighted colleagues. The large amount of print documentation discussed in those meetings left me at a serious disadvantage.

All my colleagues at work were sighted. Most were a pleasure to work with while a few were trying at times. I occasionally needed sighted assistance so I knew what was happening when my speech system didn't give me the right information. I didn't ask for help unless it was absolutely necessary, and I always made braille notes of the help I received from a colleague so I wouldn't need to ask for help when the same problem came up again.

Comparing the computer hardware and software of today to what it was when I entered the field thirty-one years ago would be like comparing today's society with that of ancient times. When I first got into the work, it was known as electronic data processing. A series of name changes evolved over the years, the latest one being information technology. I'm sure a young blind person getting into this field now would need to use a very different approach than what I used. Computer programming was common work years ago, but nowadays there's so much pre-written software available off the shelf that additional skills are needed in order to find work in this field. I would think most blind students of today would have opportunities to get experience in using personal computers with a number of software packages while still in high school. Getting further education in college could then lead to career positions. Learning database design, web site design, word processing, and spreadsheet creation would be just a few examples of the many currently popular software packages where employment niches could be found.

The Contact: Paul Filpus

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