If you’ve picked up this book, you are most likely a blind or visually impaired person who would like to find a job or improve your current employment situation, or you are an employer who would like to learn more about how to hire and support blind and low-vision workers in your business. We are excited about the possibilities of what can be created in bringing these two groups together and we are eager to share resources and encouragement with you to help facilitate that.
You may have come across the often-quoted statistic that 75-80% of blind or low-vision people are unemployed. In truth, it’s difficult to arrive at a conclusive number because we aren’t certain how many blind people are seeking employment at any given time. But from whatever angle we approach the statistics, it’s clear that there is a problem. Many blind and low vision people who would like to enter the work force have encountered significant and sometimes debilitating barriers that prevent them from doing so. The barriers range from well-meaning discouragement from those who suggest “getting by” on social security, to discrimination on the part of employers, to personal fears about mobility, technology, and competence.
The world of money and work can seem frustratingly distant from blind and low-vision people. As many people note, it’s not the visual impairment that’s the disability; it’s the inaccessibility that’s the disability. Improving access is vitally important – not only for blind and low-vision people but for the society which misses out on the contributions they are capable of making.
Our book aims to provide maps to greater access for both potential workers and prospective employers through a combination of inspiration and practical help. Here you will find profiles of successful blind and low-vision workers in several fields (music, teaching, politics, advocacy, library management) who embody excellence, resiliency, creativity, and courage. This is the heart of the book and features eight mentors who have navigated these seas ahead of you and surmounted the same challenges you may currently face. These remarkable people tell us not only how to surmount those challenges; they remind us why it’s worth doing so.
We consider the difficult question of disclosure – when and how to let a prospective employer know about a disability – and offer some suggestions for handling this stage of the hiring process. The question of disclosure quite naturally touches on the issue of how to address a potential employer’s fears about the cost of adaptive technology; we cover that, too.
You’ll also find scripts for answering commonly asked questions, a technology resources list with tips for easing into learning and using these tools, and more philosophical sections that consider why we work and, for employers and coworkers, a section on how to be helpful in ways that actually help.
Ultimately, this book is about mobilizing personal power and remembering that you are not alone. Your work and your contribution matter. You have unique gifts to give and the world will be enriched immeasurably if you give them. Helping you to do so is our North Star and why we have created this book.
We are excited to think of all you will accomplish. We believe in you!
About this version of the book
This book is the first iteration of Sailing Further Than the Eye Can See. Our team worked together for four months to create it, and a new team will take over the work next year, and another team the next year after that. We envision a resource that grows more insightful, helpful, and encouraging with every passing year. If you’d like to learn more about the Trades Win project (including the associated podcast and videography), please visit our Trades Win page!
Read about what inspires our writing team!
Profiles of Blind and Visually Impaired People
The Trades Win team carried out verbal interviews with a number of blind and visually impaired people working in different industries, and the profiles that follow are the result of those interviews. We’ve sought to discover the overarching theme of each interview and to present an angle on each person’s working life that will be instructive, inspiring, and encouraging to our readers.
For this iteration of the book, we found it easiest to arrange interviews with people “close to home,” so to speak, and so the people profiled include not only friends of the team but also two of its closest and dearest mentors, Josh Pearson and Rick Ely. You’ll also notice that we approached a couple of the interviews from two different angles to allow our writers to focus on what most interested them.
In future versions of this book, we plan to cast the net wider and venture further afield. Still, we feel that what we gleaned from these interviews and from the process of thinking about them to create these profiles is pure gold. Here you will find practical approaches to commonly encountered problems. You will find wisdom. You will certainly find camaraderie and a sense that you are in good company in wishing to use and develop your gifts and to be paid and included in the working world.
Tim’s interview offers us wisdom and practical inspiration on two themes: the importance of relationships and the evolution of technology and its many uses for blind and visually impaired people.
After graduating from college, Tim faced obstacles in finding employment. He dealt with employers’ preconceptions about him as a blind job applicant and found it frustrating. Despite this, he persisted. After 75 job interviews, he found his current job at Eversource Energy, a utility company, where he trains customer service representatives and de-escalates dilemmas with customers. At Eversource, Tim has made friendships with his fellow workers. He enjoys spending time with them outside of work, going out to eat and attending concerts. His social skills are also important to his job. If the original customer service representative can’t solve a customer’s issue, Tim takes over, working collaboratively to find a solution that is good for both the customer and the company.
Read Tim Vernon's full interview here!
Inspired by the pioneering blind bluesmen of the early 20th century, American singer songwriter Josh Pearson carries on their tradition, releasing poignant folk songs under the moniker Ramblin’ Blind Josh.
Josh has worked in a number of jobs including the role of Accessibility Consultant at the University of Massachusetts in the Assistive Technology Center. He helped other blind and visually impaired people learn to use screen readers like JAWS and NVDA, as well as how to use the Google suites software. Presently he works as a Program Coordinator for the Polus Center for Social and Economic Development where he is heading up the Trades Win project.
Read Joshua Pearson's full interview here!
Rick earned a BA in English at Hiram College, then went on to do a master’s degree in English at Kent State University, all the while teaching at a private school. His interests include film and video, and he went on to complete a Certificate in Advanced Studies in Film and Video at Wesleyan University. As he became very interested in vision loss, Rick attended Harvard School of Education where he earned his doctorate in education, a degree that helped him understand all kinds of disabilities and how to adjust and thrive at different ages and stages. Finally, he attended Boston College, where he was certified as a TVI in a program founded by Dr. Richard Jackson, a fellow blind man for whom he has great respect.
His work has taken him to schools and institutions across the country. “I worked for Perkins for a number of years, and then I worked at the Carroll Center.” Both in person and remotely, he has been able to work with many students over his lifetime, both in schools and one-on-one as private students. He currently works with young people for the Polus Center, a job he describes as “way too much fun.”
Read Rick Ely's full interview here!
Kane Brolin is a business owner and certified financial planner practitioner who recommends investments and insurance policy to his clients. Kane was originally in the broadcasting industry in the late 1980s and early 90s while studying tele-communicative arts. After foregoing a career in broadcasting, he received his master’s degree in business and then entered the field of financial planning.
Kane’s story is a testament to all that blind and visually impaired people have to offer to the working world. At the same time, he says that navigating a sighted world as a blind or visually impaired person isn’t always easy and that’s OK. He says, “It’s a journey and even at age 56 I am still trying to figure it out and I still make mistakes and misunderstandings continue to happen. As long as life happens, the journey is ongoing. It’s a process.”
Read Kane Brolin's full interview here!
Carl Richardson, ADA Coordinator at the State House in Boston, MA loves his work. “My favorite part,” he says, “is having an impact on the lives of people with disabilities.” Carl is passionate about putting people in touch with the resources and services they need so that they can not only live fully, but also so that they can take equal part in society and make a difference of their own: “I want to work in access for the rest of my life” because when people have “full and equal access” they are empowered and “they have a voice.”
Carl identifies as DeafBlind. He was born with Usher Syndrome which affects both sight and hearing, and over time he was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa. As a boy, he attended Boston School for the Deaf where he learned how to speak. At present, he uses two hearing aids and makes use of a cane and a guide dog.
Read Carl Richardson's full interview here!
Kim Charleson’s successful career as a library director and advocate is testament to the power of asking the right question at the right time. “What would I have to do to run a library?” she asked herself two decades ago. “At that time, there were no blind people anywhere in the country who were the heads of Braille and talking book libraries, and I thought, that needs to change.” That fruitful question has led Kim to become the executive director of the Perkins Braille and Talking Book Library in Watertown, Massachusetts, a position that she has held for 21 years.
Read Kim Charleson's full interview here!
When Will McNamara suffered a catastrophic mountain biking accident at age 26 that left him unable to see or to walk, two guiding stars helped him to heal and to become the mentor, advocate, and marathon runner he is today: his love of people and a deep sense of personal responsibility to make a difference in the lives of others. “It's always tough to lose something,” he says, “but you can share that loss and grow and find somewhere to place that energy so that others might have a little bit easier time.”
Will shares the benefit of his experience and perspective with other blind and visually impaired people in his work as a job coach and mentor with the POLUS Center and with the Employment Now Initiative at Mass Eye and Ear, a program that helps visually impaired adults gain the life and work skills they need to flourish.
Read Will McNamara's full interview here!
Award-winning educator Barbara Black knows a thing or two about following your nose into the right career for you. “Sometimes you may have an idea of what you want to do and you may do that, but it will change along the way. Or you may fall into something and find that you really like it, and that you didn't know you were going to like it.” That sense of openness to experiencing what’s in front of you led her into a decades-long career as an early childhood educator and later, into working in school administration. Throughout her long career, what has mattered most to her has been the chance to be helpful to people and especially to children.
Countless children and families have benefitted from her instinct to follow the thread of opportunity, to be an advocate for those who need it most, and to create warmth and community everywhere she goes.
Read Barbara Black's full interview here!
Keith Rosson is a graphic designer and writer. Looking at all that Keith has done and how successful he is you would never guess that he was an art school dropout. When he was going through school he was, “just trying to pass as a sighted person.” He felt that he should have been able to get through school like every other sighted kid and that he should not require accommodations or special treatment. Despite the obstacles, however, and although he didn’t make it through school to get a degree in Graphic Design, he was still able to find his way into the field he chose.
In Keith’s free time he likes to read, run on the treadmill, and hang out with his kids. As of right now he isn’t really doing much Graphic Design work and is more focused on his writing which has taken off as of lately.
Read Keith Rosson's full interview here!
Debbie Ralston is a talented, resilient woman who has enjoyed life, appreciated her success and triumphed in the face of loss. With glasses, she had full sight as a child. She and her sisters were raised on a large working farm in New Hampshire. There, she ran and played with livestock and pets, showed sheep for 4H and imagined working with animals when she grew up.
Debbie worked at the phone company for decades in metropolitan Boston and New Hampshire. Over the course of her career, her work transformed itself in fundamental ways, some beneficial for employees with disabilities, some adverse for that population. First hired as summer help when she was 20, she performed data entry tasks and needed no accommodations. Using her networking skills, she found the opportunity because her sister was already employed there. Her next job was customer service in which she initially used a closed-circuit TV. As her sight diminished, she learned and used Jaws. It took a year, longer than necessary, to make JAWS work with the phone company’s software. But ultimately the job was fully accessible. According to her performance appraisals she did twice the work of her sighted teammates.
Read Debbie Ralston's full interview here!
The Question of Disclosure: If, When, and How
The question of when, if, and how to disclose your disability is a very personal one and can present a challenge. Our intention here is to outline possibilities for disclosure, to offer some suggestions for how to handle this complex issue, and to provide some outside sources for you to do your own research.
Find more information about disclosure here!
Read our advice for sighted people!
Q and A with 2021 Writing Interns, Emma Rolph and Juan Figueroa
Read an interview with our 2021 interns!
Q and A with 2022 Writing Interns, Erin Williams, Emily Poole, and Ashley Fraccalossi
Read an interview with our 2022 interns!
- Don’t give up. Persevere. Sometimes you must be stubborn. Keep applying.
- If you’re explaining something or asking for accommodations and you’re not getting through, be willing to explain in a different way. Keep explaining until they get it.
- Network! Hang onto your connections. Follow up. Get in touch. Establish warm connections.
- Realize that you’re not the first person to go through this job-hunting process as a blind person. Also realize that there are supports within the blind/low-vision community available to you.
- When you get the job, remember that you earned the opportunity through hard work. Not everyone will understand your perspective as a blind person, so you may need to step up and be the educator from time to time.
- Think long-term about your goals. Where do you want to go? How does this opportunity connect with those goals? Embrace the possibility of change.
- You’re not just a blind or low-vision worker; you’re a person with talents, gifts, and strengths that are essential.
- When you struggle, remember that tomorrow can be different. Be persistent and be optimistic about things. Embrace your love of learning. Be loyal to yourself.
- When you think you know exactly what you want to do in life and it’s not happening, don’t ignore the little paths that show up. They may be tangential to what you want to do but they may get you closer. Listen to other people. Look at alternatives that may lead. Don’t be so fixed on the one thing that you ignore other ways of getting there.
- Aim yourself true. Be true to yourself and the world will respond to that.
- You’re awesome. You got this. We believe in you!