When Petr [pronounced "Peter"] Kucheryavyy was in high school, his eyesight, which had been gradually diminishing since the age of eight, finally reached a point where he could no longer manage reading schoolbooks and blackboards. He didn’t know there were ways of doing things without sight. So he quit school and found a job in construction.
Today, Petr is a senior manager on the accessibility team for Charter Communications. In that capacity, he travels frequently, trains Charter and Spectrum support staff around the country on how best to assist clients with disabilities, and has a considerable amount of other work, both paid and volunteer, that captures his attention when he's not at his day job. He is bright, articulate, soft-spoken, and charismatic. He is passionate about sharing his amazing life story to help other blind people grasp their own inner power and expand their capabilities.
Early Years in Ukraine at the Time of Chernobyl
In April, 1986, not long after Peter Kucheryavyy was born, one of the most horrific accidents in history took place not far from his home in Ukraine.
The explosion at Chernobyl is considered the most disastrous nuclear accident in history. The number of casualties is still somewhat disputed, but one person affected was young Petr Kucheryavyy. He was a baby when the incident occurred, and many parts of his body, including the eyes, were still developing. As he puts it, “all that radiation can really mess with your DNA.” His family first traveled from Ukraine to rural Georgia when Petr was five, then back again some five years later. His father was a senior pastor in a Pentecostal church, and Petr himself was preaching at age 11. Little by little, his retinal cells were disintegrating. God, he believed, would eventually heal his eyes before the situation became unmanageable.
But his vision continued to slip away.
Recognizing The Power Inside
Even in high school Kucheryavyy knew when he dropped out that his job in construction was not sustainable forever. Today, this soft-spoken corporate manager relates how, at 20, believing he had run out of options, he was depressed and suicidal. “I thought when [the job in construction] is done, I’m done,” he says of his mindset as his vision waned. He couldn’t imagine that there was any future for him beyond living with his parents and being cared for by his siblings.
One day, as he tells it with wry amusement, he simply realized that he couldn’t sit around any more waiting for God to show up. “The power I was waiting for was inside me. I had to take my life back and stop waiting for God or a doctor to heal me.”
Smiling at the memory of his own young misconceptions of what help might be available for blind people, he tells the tale of how he began to follow his own advice.
The first step was to get his GED. Knowing nothing of blindness techniques or training, he called 411 one day (at the time the number was commonly used to obtain phone numbers of households or businesses.) People called 411 for information, he reasoned, so he called and asked about blindness! He was given the phone number and address for the Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired in Atlanta, and the journey to becoming himself began.
He speaks with deep gratitude for his vocational rehabilitation counselor who helped him first with obtaining blindness skills, like the use of a white cane and assistive technologies, and then with getting an advanced education. Today, he holds degrees in religious studies and anthropology, and is a certified life coach. He was 21 when he enrolled in college. At 33, his work history is nothing short of dazzling.
Hospice Worker to Corporate Management, Ukraine to Colorado
While still working on his degrees, Kucheryavyy spent time as a hospice care worker. He studied thanatology, the study of death and dying, and witnessed how there is a strong connection between a person's sense of purpose or orientation toward a goal and their overall physical and psychological well-being. In response, he became a certified health and wellness coach. Throughout his more visible careers he has maintained that certification, working with individuals who are benefit from the one-on-one mentoring of a life coach.
His primary career, however, has been dynamic and multi-faceted.
After getting his blindness skills and college degrees, he wound up in Denver and has worked in a variety of roles for the Colorado Center for the Blind. He was an apartment manager, a personal skills instructor, technology trainer, and employment specialist. In the latter role, he helped people who were losing sight to stay in their jobs and people who were already blind to become employed. Next, he accepted a job traveling to the homes of older blind adults throughout eight Colorado counties. In that capacity, he did everything from counseling to teaching home management and access technology skills, anything that helped people forge a path to reclaim their independence.
Eventually, he says, he wanted to experience the corporate world. As seems to have happened repeatedly since that magical time when Kucheryavyy chose to tap into the power within himself, a perfect opportunity presented itself when Charter Communications dramatically expanded its accessibility efforts. Today, Charter's Center of Accessibility Excellence comprises a team of 24 individuals, the majority of whom have disabilities. Kucheryavyy is a senior manager on that accessibility team, specializing in outreach and training.
Petr grew up speaking Russian, Ukrainian, and Rumanian. Russians weren’t popular in pos-cold-war rural Georgia, so he worked feverishly to successfully shed his Russian accent. His tutor via recordings was Robin Williams. He spent hours listening to the famous performer’s routines, mimicking the accents of a Russian, an American, a man, a woman, a southerner. He can do them all with stunning precision.
Growing up with a pastor for a father, Kucheryavyy was himself preaching at an early age. Although he is no longer involved in any church, believing that one can be spiritual without subscribing to an organized religion, he has fine-tuned his public speaking skills to raise awareness of the capabilities of people with disabilities. While working with the Colorado Center for the Blind, he designed and taught a course for other blind students, teaching the skills and power of public speaking.
In addition to his full-time work with Charter Communications, Kucheryavyy is involved in the disability community in a variety of ways. He and two friends (both also fully employed) have organized a start-up called Socially Accessible, which guides businesses through the small changes that can be made to render a public facility welcoming and accessible.
He continues to have a client or two as a health and wellness coach. He meditates daily, works out, and is learning braille.
The Power of Sharing Insight and Knowledge
Petr Kucheryavyy was preaching weekly sermons at the age of 12. He dreamed of a life as an academic, a teacher or speaker, but as his vision vanished, his dreams of a bright future faded, too. He was in that most desperate of places when he somehow recognized that power to fix his life was inside him. Life became bright again “the moment I realized that I wasn’t just a blind guy stuck in my parents’ home,” he says.
That belief in himself has not failed him. When he was in Bible college, he worked as a youth pastor. That counseling experience taught him to motivate people, transform lives, and help people find the power to get back their own lives. He had a goal to help blind people – and achieved it. He had a goal to work with seniors – and achieved it. And, most recently, he had a goal to find a way to join the corporate world in a role that had a sense of purpose—and in 2017 he got that, too.
Three elements that support his success are assistive technology (learning to use a screen reader and gaining accessible library access), finding a dedicated rehabilitation counselor, and locating the spiritual center of resilience and gratitude within himself.
His advice to others who are blind and not yet employed? “Never forget that the world is big enough for all of us and our differences. Find others who have already been there and surround yourself with them. Spending time with blind people who are already successful will reprogram your brain. If you are around those who have been there and done that, they will motivate and keep you going." Further emphasizing the point, he cites a Russian saying: “Those who you hang with will rub off on you.”
Anyone who hangs with Peter Kucheryavyy is fortunate indeed!
This article is made possible in part by generous funding from the James H. and Alice Teubert Charitable Trust, Huntington, West Virginia.
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