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Deteriorating Eyesight and an Increasingly Difficult Workload to Manage

Demoralizing, frustrating, and intimidating—three feelings common to individuals who are losing eyesight and who are recognizing their workload is becoming increasingly difficult to execute independently. If this describes you, you may feel all alone and hopeless. First, you are not alone—take a peek at the facts and figures of adults with vision loss. Second, there is hope—let’s examine how you can acquire skills in independent living, assistive technology, travel, and employment, enabling you to live a satisfying life at home and in the office.

Relearning Independence

In effort to acquire adaptive skills:

  • Utilize AFB's Directory of Services to locate a nearby agency that teaches skills to people who are visually impaired. You can learn travel skills, living skills such as adaptive cooking and cleaning techniques, braille, assistive technology skills, and employment-related skills such as utilizing job accommodations.
  • Consider residential vision rehabilitation programs. Several centers across the United States offer training programs, typically between four to 12 weeks in duration, designed for persons who are blind or visually impaired. Training includes adjustment to blindness and instruction in braille, cane and bus travel, vocational rehabilitation, computer and adaptive technology, recreational pursuits, social skills, and home management skills. Some centers and university programs offer residential college preparation training, and other centers offer programs specifically for veterans. It may be difficult to place your life on hold for four to 12 weeks while you acquire skills, but it may be the training you need to attain and succeed in gainful employment. Browse the Connecticut Department of Rehabilitation Services' list of US residential programs for people who are blind or visually impaired.
  • Take advantage of distance learning courses, often provided free of charge, designed as a means of vision rehabilitation. Widespread topics include, but are not limited to, independent living, indoor orientation and mobility, assistive technology, eating skills, personal grooming, sensory development, and GED preparation. Training is provided by organizations such as The Hadley School for the Blind, E.A.R.S. for EYES Program, and Visions Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired.
  • Ask others who are blind or visually impaired how they accomplish particular tasks without the use of vision. Seek career-specific counsel from a CareerConnect mentor, pose questions on the CareerConnect message boards, and ask others at a local peer support group or group class.

When You Need a Helping Hand

Keep in mind, as you’re learning adaptive skills and even occasionally after you’ve mastered these skills, you’re going to need assistance—we all do! To succeed in comfortably attaining a helping hand, read the CareerConnect blog posts "Tips on Negotiating Assistance" and "The Art of Reciprocating Support and Favors." You’ll learn to compensate others for their time and energy, helping them as they help you.

Remember that people are social creatures that thrive in relationships. Your goal should never be complete independence but a healthy interdependence. Meaning, it’s healthy to pay for services, compensate friends for assistance, and help others in areas of your strength.

Related Resources

Maintaining Your Job and Succeeding at Work

CareerConnect Virtual Worksites

Succeeding at Your Job

Low Vision
Personal Reflections
Planning for the Future

Paying It Forward as a Visually Impaired Mentor

Have you heard this before? You can’t change the world, but you can change one person at a time!

As I reflect on my challenges and accomplishments as a person who is blind, two visually impaired people come to mind. They helped me understand what is possible, and their advice changed my outlook about living with vision loss and starting a career.

My First Mentor

The first one, I’ll call him Darren, was someone I had never encountered previously. My father learned about him through a newspaper article and thought I should read it too. It featured a story about Darren. It highlighted the fact that he was a blind business owner. He ran a karate studio and was its primary black belt instructor. His studio was only two blocks from my home. My dad suggested I call him up and ask him for a meeting. Request a little time to ask him some questions about living with vision impairment.

Of course, as you might imagine, I was reluctant. But I called him and made an appointment in spite of my apprehension.

I arrived a little early the day of the meeting. Good timing though. I observed him leading a karate class. When it was over, he sat down with me, and we had a long talk about living with vision loss, career, and family.

Although our visit was brief, it was inspiring. Darren made a lasting impression on me. Not only was he a visually impaired business owner, but he had a wife, a baby, and a sleeping dog guide in the corner of his office. Call it one day mentoring, but it was effective. I left his office feeling like there was a silver lining in my dark cloud.

In a serendipitous twist, Darren and I reconnected about ten years later. Our wives are teachers at the same school.

My Second Mentor

The other person who made a difference in my career is my dear friend whom I will call Chris. He had lost quite a bit of his vision when I met him in 2003. He was an outstanding salesman and a real go-getter despite the vision loss. When we met, he was assisting his wife with sales of low vision equipment throughout Texas.

We struck up a friendship. I found myself relentlessly asking him questions as our relationship strengthened. I’d ask him about living with vision loss, how he worked with it, how he got his guide dog, and so on. He gave me business and sales advice, and he connected me to important contacts too.

Chris has been a good friend for almost 15 years now. We talk at least once a week. I still seek his advice, and he gladly gives it. I appreciate him because he’s been like a big brother to me.

Making a Difference as a Mentor

Vision loss has been a blessing and a curse. A curse for obvious reasons, but a blessing due to the lessons learned and the relationships formed like the ones I mentioned.

Darren and Chris were willing and kind enough to help me so many years ago. I’ve made it a point to repay them by helping other blind and visually impaired children and adults.

Quite often I am invited to speak at schools and community group meetings. I talk about the ordeal of losing my vision and coping with the emotional rollercoaster. More importantly, is talking about rehabilitation services, and that life and career can go on despite blindness or vision impairment and that they can both be good and fulfilling.

Now, that brings me to this situation.

Recently, my wife and I were talking about some students at her school. She told me a fellow teacher approached her about one in particular. This student had been diagnosed with a form of retinal degeneration. Basically, the condition is claiming his vision and zapping his academic drive.

By now, most of my wife’s coworkers know I’m blind. I’ve given presentations to all grade levels at her school. It was no surprise when the student’s teacher asked my wife if I would be willing to volunteer as a mentor.

It is quite an honor to be asked to do that. Of course, I gladly accepted. I received word my volunteer registration was approved the other day. Now, it’s time for me to be a Darren or a Chris to someone else.

Here’s my request to those of you who have transitioned from school to work successfully: Be a shining example for someone else to understand quality of life can be good despite vision loss.

Become a mentor or a volunteer. There are so many blind and visually impaired people who need to meet role models and to hear success stories, especially young people and their parents.

It’s hard to change the world, but we can start by changing one person at a time!

Related Resources

Six Guidelines for Establishing an Effective, Healthy Mentorship

Qualities to Look for in an Inspirational Role Model as an Individual Who Is Blind or Visually Impaired

Make Connections

Grow Your Connections Through LinkedIn

Low Vision
Personal Reflections
Planning for the Future
Social Skills

Maintaining Your Drive in the Face of Adversity

By now, you may know retinitis pigmentosa (RP) barged its way into my life during my college years. My CareerConnect blog posts have documented many of the challenges it created while pursuing goals, but I want to talk about maintaining the drive to reach them.

Let’s be honest. No one anticipates losing their vision. It’s quite a surprise to be told blindness is inevitable. Shocking news of that sort can derail the best-laid career plans.

My eye condition interrupted my drive to earn a college degree and to start a career. It didn’t extinguish it altogether, but it did cause me to lose focus momentarily and delay job-seeking efforts.

In my opinion, drive is a force that propels someone to reach their goals or aspirations. Here’s some easy to use advice for developing your drive.

Identify the Goal

We all have different goals: earning our own paycheck to buy what we want, creating the next best social media startup, moving to a new city with more opportunity, or being our own boss. Now, what if one of those goals belongs to an unsuspecting person who is recently diagnosed with a vision-impairing eye condition? What happens to the goal? Down the drain? Out the window?

I’d say easy does it. Pump the brakes. It may feel like the end of the world, but if CareerConnect has taught us anything, it’s that blind and visually impaired people are capable of much, much more than you’d think.

The key is to maintain drive by applying the proper effort and developing effective practices or habits towards reaching goals.

The diagnosis of RP left me stunned and in a state of disbelief. So much so, I stumbled through two semesters of subpar academic performance. College graduation or bust. That was the goal though. Even more so with blindness now hot on my heels.

Developing the Drive

After identifying my goal, it was time to work towards it. Graduating from college meant hard work. Lots of studying, reading, and writing. Along the way, I learned how to use low vision optical devices and electronic magnifiers for assistance, but what I really needed was effort and good habits. When I invested the time, the effort, and the practice day after day, drive manifested itself.

My grades improved steadily. I showed myself I could do this. My drive grew stronger and stronger as a result. Earning my college diploma proved it was possible to accomplish my goals despite the adversity.

Maintain Your Drive

At this point in my career, I still cultivate drive in myself. It’s easier now because I figured out what works for me. Here’s what I do to maintain it.

  • Set desired goals
  • Brainstorm ways to reach goals
  • Select realistic steps which move you closer to them
  • Develop and practice good habits to support your efforts
  • Evaluate progress regularly

Drive isn’t a tangible thing, but it can be created by setting up a method for reaching your own goals. Put this advice to work for yourself too!

Related Resources for Visually Impaired Job Seekers

Careers for Blind and Visually Impaired Individuals

How Does a College Degree Impact Your Working Future If You Are Blind or Have Low Vision?

Conducting a Successful Job Search

Adapting to Vision Loss

Turning a "Can’t" Into a "Can" as an Individual with Vision Loss

Employment and the Pursuit of Happiness as an Individual with Vision Loss

Getting Around
Low Vision
Personal Reflections
Planning for the Future
Social Skills

Adapting to Vision Loss

Over the last 20 years, my eyesight has transitioned from low vision to blindness. Of course, it hasn’t been easy. The emotional effects of vision loss wore me down more than anything else. While there is hope and help, I’ve got one word for you, "Adapt."

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t expect you to adapt to vision loss by simply snapping your fingers. I know, first hand, it is a process. In some cases, like mine, it’s a long-term one.

Vision loss doesn’t mean the end of your education or your career. I was in college when doctors diagnosed me with retinitis pigmentosa. My vision deteriorated slowly at first, and then blindness moved in some years later. Along the way, adapting to changes in my vision became a necessity.

Enter vision rehabilitation services. They played pivotal roles throughout my career. There were tools, equipment, supplies, and training to help me continue my education and my career endeavors. These things paved the way for me to adapt at every turn of the journey.

Starting with Education

Reading college textbooks was no picnic, but combine it with low vision, and it’s like having a picnic in a thunderstorm. At first, I revolted from college studies. Eye fatigue shortened the length of time I spent reading. I couldn’t stay between the lines of my notebooks when writing. As frustrated as I became and as much as I thought about quitting school, I forced myself to stay on track.

Here’s where the vision rehabilitation services come to my rescue. A low vision professional helped me learn about the tools for reading print visually. Then, by using large print, optical devices, and electronic devices, I was able to use my remaining vision to work more effectively.

As easy as that sounds, I practiced a lot with the new devices. It took patience and a lot of grit to make progress. Adapting to vision loss enabled me to earn a college degree.

Searching for a Job

With a degree in hand, I began a job search. It took three months to land my first full-time job, but I was thankful.

I hit a snag though. The job required some accommodations to be effective. The company tried handling the issues in-house. Let me put it bluntly, it was a disaster.

I moved on to another job within a year. This time, I coordinated with the employer and the state agency providing vision rehabilitation services. I received additional technology training and orientation and mobility training too.

I became more effective and more successful in this second job. I credit the employer and the additional assistance from vision rehabilitation specialists for working together to enable it.

Since then, more career changes required more services. Every step along the way required a commitment to adapt myself. Whether it was learning to use a CCTV/electronic magnifier, a screen reader system, or a dog guide; I had to be ready, willing, and able to adapt again and again.

Adapting to vision loss is a step-by-step process, but if you feel lost, you’ve come to the right place. The American Foundation for the Blind’s website is packed with information and resources for you.

It’s a modest beginning, but it’s a great first step to adapting yourself. Make it your goal to visit AFB’s website two or three times per week. Explore it. Challenge yourself to read a few articles or blogs. Click on the various links within each blog to expand your understanding of living and working with vision impairment.

Living with Working with Low Vision

What Is Low Vision?

Careers for Blind and Visually Impaired Individuals

Find a Job as an Individual Who Is Blind or Visually Impaired

Succeed at Work

Our Stories: People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired Succeeding at Work and Life

Low Vision
Planning for the Future

Steering Your Way Around Office Politics as a Blind or Visually Impaired Employee

Among the numerous challenges of working in an office are the conflict and the tension created by office politics, but when two or more people work together, it’s inevitable. When we spend eight, nine, or 10 hours a day at the office, it starts to feel like we’ve got a second family there. Drama included. Of course, the drama leads to conflict and tension within the staff. Try as we may, sometimes it gets difficult to stay above the fray.

I’ve worked for companies with 10,000 or more employees to companies with less than 20 employees, none of which were immune to office politics. Those places and the people I worked with taught me some valuable lessons about communication skills and interpersonal skills.

Those of us who are blind or visually impaired might find it a bit tricky to steer around these situations. Recognizing nonverbal communication, like facial expressions or hand gestures, leave us, well, in the dark. At times, it may not be obvious to know who is in conflict without asking another coworker. Which, in and of itself, is like treading on mud. It quickly becomes a sticky, ugly mess we should have avoided.

Here’s a little guidance for side-stepping office politics.

Pop art drawing of a close up of a woman's mouth whispering to another woman

Guidance for Side-Stepping Office Politics

Keep Relationships Professional

In general, it is best to conduct yourself professionally when it comes to matters in the office. It’s a way of showing managers and coworkers that your work isn’t influenced or motivated by personal feelings. I call it relationships at arm’s length.

Developing professional relationships is expected in the workplace. Of course, sometimes they do cross the line into personal, and even romantic, ones. The closer you get with coworkers, the easier it is for you to open up to them and vice versa. There lies the risk.

Friendships do grow in the workplace. No way to deny it, but beware of its perception to others. If there’s turmoil involving a friend, you may feel the pressure of taking sides.

Show Kindness and Gratitude

I learned it’s a good idea to be kind with everyone in the office. For one thing, you never know when you might need help from one of them. Ideally, develop a respectful kind of trust with those around you. Find ways to start conversations. Be truthful and sincere with your words. Avoid the temptation to criticize others. If a coworker helps you complete a task, always express your gratitude regardless of the task’s significance. Find a way to reciprocate. Offer to help whatever way is possible.

Don’t Get on the Gossip Train

About the time you get well acquainted with coworkers, gossip is knocking at your office door. There’s nothing wrong being present when it begins. It’s a problem if you start participating in it though.

When I found myself in that kind of situation, I would politely listen for a minute or so, but I’d excuse myself with a respectable reason: bathroom stop, more coffee, or something else. Heck, if you use a dog guide like me, he makes a fantastic excuse to step away at any time.

Experience taught me that hanging around with the known gossipers would get someone labeled as one too. So judge your situation carefully.

It may be impossible to avoid office politics completely, but use these tactics to steer around it as much as possible. What ideas or advice do you have? Hit the comment button and tell me how you side-step it too!

Planning for the Future
Social Skills