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Tuesday, April 23, 2024

National Disability Employment Awareness Month: An opportunity to recognize those with vision loss

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When I was growing up, army fatigues, tents and helmets nearly filled the basement of my childhood home. As someone born with a creative imagination, finding military gear around the house led to hours of fun for me. While, at that age, I was unaware of the sacrifices people in the military made for their families and country, I knew I wanted to follow in my father’s footsteps and serve my country.

When I was young, my father was called to fight in Desert Storm after already serving in Vietnam and Bosnia. I remember watching the 24-hour news coverage of the war and worrying if he would ever return. I wanted desperately to serve like he did.

Unfortunately, I was never able to follow the path of my father. In 1997, I lost my vision in a random shooting when I was stopped at a railroad crossing. In an instant, my life was permanently changed. I had so many questions: Would I be able to live independently? How would I earn a living?

Seventy percent of people who are blind or visually impaired are not employed, a reality I learned while struggling to find work after losing my vision. Rehabilitation services taught me how to walk with a cane, read Braille and use a computer so I could live independently. It was difficult to find a job. I quickly became depressed and was looking for purpose and direction.

After moving to Indianapolis, it didn’t take long for me to find direction through help from Bosma and my wife. Although at the time I’d never heard of Bosma, my vocational rehabilitation counselor informed me the organization not only provides rehabilitation services similar to those I received in my hometown, but Bosma is the state’s largest employer of people who are blind or visually impaired.

I applied for and was offered a job working on Bosma Enterprises’ glove packing line. Since then, I’ve been fortunate enough to steadily advance through the ranks, serving as a marketing activity associate, service support associate and, now, as volunteer and outreach coordinator.

Reminiscing on my story brings to light that, even though I was unable to fulfill the dreams I had for myself growing up, I grew into a person I am proud of. Battling obstacles I never dreamed of having to face, I’ve become someone I hope others with disabilities look to as an example of our capabilities.

As someone who is blind, I view October as a time of empowerment. This month celebrates National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) and, on Oct. 15, White Cane Safety Day.

NDEAM celebrates the contributions of America’s workers with disabilities, past and present. I have been fortunate to overcome the staggering unemployment rate people with vision loss face, but many others have not. There are many people who are blind or visually impaired that are too scared to seek employment for fear of judgment or lack of acceptance from their peers.

I encourage employers in Indianapolis to lean on Bosma for hard-working future employees. People with vision loss are just as capable workers as those who are fully sighted.

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