by Sylvia Stinson-Perez
Wanted: Passionate, creative, adaptable problem-solvers to teach and inspire others to reach their potential.
Does this sound like something that you would be interested in? What would you think if I said I know of an amazing career opportunity that would be perfect for you? Yes, there is absolutely no one who would be better for this job or career. And I can tell you this from personal experience. Yes, I have enjoyed this career immensely for over 25 years. I’ve had great success, I’ve felt great about my ability to contribute, and I’ve made a very good living. And so have many others who are just like you.
I am talking about working in the field of blindness. We need you. I know, there are some who think that working in the field of blindness and vision rehabilitation is not a real career, that it is choosing this field because you could not find anything else, or that working in the sighted mainstream world of work is more respectable. But this is a big error in thinking. There is nothing wrong with working in other fields. We need people who do all kinds of work, and the more people we have doing all kinds of jobs, the better for us all, as this demonstrates our capabilities. However, we also really need people to teach, counsel, and run organizations and agencies in blindness. So, if you are looking for a job or an amazing career, I want to ask you to consider the difference you could make — and, of course, the money you could make.
I grew up with a visual impairment, but did not even know there were agencies that provided training to help people learn to adapt and cope with visual impairment. I knew about teachers of the visually impaired because I had one. But I was not even sure how you became one. I used some state vocational rehabilitation services in my college years to help me with some things, and I used the university’s disability service center to help me get a few accommodations, but still I did not fully understand the full scope of the services available and all of the people who were working to help make the lives of people with visual impairments better. But then I got out of college and started looking for a job. All of a sudden, I had some challenges seeing the computer screen. So, I contacted my state agency for the blind, who referred me to an agency to teach me to use assistive technology. And I found a whole world of exciting career opportunities. But I was still not convinced. I still thought I should find a job as a social worker in the real world. I decided that while I looked for a job in the mainstream, I could spend time volunteering at the Lighthouse. Well, the more I volunteered, the more I felt good about the difference I was making. Then I was offered a job there. I actually left it after 3 years to take a mainstream job, but the pull was there, and I found myself accepting another position 5 years later. In my over 25-year career in the field of blindness I’ve worked as a volunteer coordinator, social worker, adaptive skills and braille instructor, program manager, pre-employment transition instructor, early intervention teacher, job readiness teacher, executive director, and technical assistance center director at a university. I pursued two additional master’s degrees that helped me advance in my career while working.
I’ve helped many people learn to adapt and cope with their vision loss. I’ve mentored and supervised many people. I’ve advocated and inspired. I’ve built innovative programs. I’ve built buildings. I’ve traveled extensively, and most of all I’ve learned to be very creative and to always seek more knowledge. I would not say it has been easy. I’ve had to work really hard. I’ve had to be a real problem-solver. I’ve had to get out of my comfort zone and be courageous many times. I’ve had to get additional education. I’ve had to seek out and work with good mentors. But it has been an exciting challenge.
As I travel across the country attending conferences or helping agencies and organizations, I find a very disturbing trend. I am meeting fewer and fewer people who are visually impaired working in this field. And we have a significant shortage of professionals in the field. We still have an unacceptably high unemployment rate of people who are blind. So why are people with visual impairments not seeking out a career in the field of blindness? I don’t know. I hope it is not because they do not believe it is a good career, that it means they would have to “settle,” or that they do not feel wanted. I can tell you I have heard sighted people be told many times what an honorable job they have because they work in our field, so why don’t those who are visually impaired hold this same belief? People who are sighted are proud of the contribution they make to making a positive difference in the lives of people who are blind, so why don’t people who are visually impaired feel they too would be proud to make an impact? Why would someone who is visually impaired feel they would be “settling” by working in a career in which they could use their knowledge, skills, and personal experience to inspire, teach, and make a positive change in the lives of others with vision loss? Why would someone give up an opportunity to earn a good living with good compensation and benefits to avoid a career working with others who are blind or visually impaired? Why would someone choose not to work rather than to try to find a rewarding opportunity in the field of blindness? I can only say that I am so glad I did not miss out on this journey. And I hope many of you will hear my call to join me.
Personal experience is not enough. You will probably need to get some additional education and experience. You will likely need to take some courses or get a college degree. You will probably need to volunteer and do internships, or work for no money until you get a job. You will have to be willing to give up government benefits. But I promise there are opportunities. There are positions in clerical and administration, teaching positions such as adaptive skills instructors or vision rehabilitation therapists, assistive technology instructors, orientation and mobility specialists, social workers and counselors, and even agency directors.
Now, if you are not interested in a career, but are looking for a way to make a positive difference — as a volunteer, you are still in high demand. We need people who will develop and run peer support groups, provide community outreach about services and training to newly visually impaired people, advocates, fund-raisers, and all types of other things that help people and agencies make a positive difference in the lives of people who are blind and visually impaired.
To learn more, contact your local blindness agency, your local, state or national ACB chapter, or contact me directly at [email protected].