Where the Blind Work
Computer Specialists

Assistant IT (Information Technology) Compliance Analyst

Patrick A. Barrett

What do you do on your job?

We build and maintain all of our company data-gathering, storing, and processing systems. All IT personnel in our shop need to know how to use the following applications: Microsoft Office products such as Word, Excel, Access, and Outlook. We also use Remedy application, company intranet, and SharePoint applications.

Some of the specific duties are to maintain databases and design monthly reports from Crystal application.  As we perform our creations we must be cognizant to adherence to information security policies and system change policies.

To what extent are you blind and what special adaptations do you use on the job?

My blindness is due to congenital cataracts. My remaining vision is rated at 20/400.

The access technology that I use on my job are JAWS for computer output to access most online documentation at work, closed-circuit TV (CCTV) to view document checklists and PowerPoint presentations, most graphs, and flow charts. I will also use Braille to take notes on daily system changes that need audit review, and a Braille rolodex for contacts and folder pathnames.

What are the qualifications to enter this job position?

Some companies require a two-year degree in IT-related courses and some a four-year degree. Continuing education is a must; I have just completed a course in Fundamentals of IT Compliance and Audit, and will be taking a similar course in the first quarter of 2010.

Experience in system-change management is advisable, but not required. Customer service experience is also a plus.

Some required personal skills are attention to detail and thoroughness in documentation. Also, good writing skills are important because there is a lot of communication through e-mails.

What influences did you have along the way which aided you to be successful?

First, to get me on top of my blindness game, I had nine months of training in alternatives of blindness at the NFB training center in Minnesota, Blindness Learning In New Dimensions (BLIND, Inc.). Also, I had previous customer service experience with holding down a seven-year paper route and experience working at three different agencies serving the blind. I'm still continuing to improve my Braille reading skills.

Computer Programmer Analyst-Expert

Gary Wunder

What do you do on your job?


I write programs for the university hospitals and clinics. I've written everything from reports of overdue bills to the length of time specimens have aged before we can harvest results. I write interfaces that make programs talk with one another that were never intended to do so. Some of the programs I write execute on a schedule without the need for someone to request or run them. Others are online applications which help the customer phrase the question they want asked and then deliver the answer either to their screen or to the Worldwide Web so others may access them.

As our industry changes, there is less emphasis on each institution writing their own in-house programs and more emphasis on finding companies that will write programs which meet needs common to all hospitals. Bills are bills, Medicare regulations are applied across the board, and as we all strive toward the goal of an electronic medical record that can follow the patient wherever they go, the need for consistency trumps the desire to have programs individually customized to meet the needs of healthcare institutions. Where once my job was to say "I now understand your unique process and will build programs around it," it has now changed so I'm an active partner in helping to change the process so it conforms closely to those used in other institutions.

Much of my work now is to figure out what programs exist in various medical disciplines, to see what they cost, to define our needs, and to bring about a match between what's there and what we want for the lowest cost. I then work out training and ongoing support.

To what extent are you blind and what special adaptations do you use on the job?

I am totally blind due to premature birth and high levels of oxygen.

I use screen reading software which generates speech and Braille using several Braille displays. I read printed documents with the Kurzweil-National Federation of the Blind Reader and the K1000 PC based reader. A BrailleNote is my PDA for notes and offsite composition and the review of documents.

What are the qualifications to enter this job position?

This job usually requires a degree in Computer Science. This was not so at the time I entered the field, so I got away with a minor in programming and a major in Electronics Technology. Later, I picked up ten months of additional course work in computer programming with the extension division of my university.

If I were entering the field today, I would be expected to have at least a BS in this field and a Master's degree would be preferred.

What influences did you have along the way which aided you to be successful?

First and foremost, I was raised to believe I had an obligation to work and that nothing was more detestable than a lazy person who thought the world owed him a living. My family certainly made allowances for the old and the very disabled; but if I had a mind, I should have a job, and that was that.

Second, I was convinced by the National Federation of the Blind that I could actually take a normal job and that my making a living didn't depend on having some special talent in music or a calling for the ministry.

Third, I had friends who were amateur radio operators who convinced me I could learn anything that I set my mind to learn if I'd only get a book, create a schedule which relied on my own discipline and not on what someone told me I had to do, and then applied myself to the task of extracting the magic principles in the book until I really understood them. This not only got me a radio license, which was my immediate goal, but it taught me a great deal about myself and about the possibilities the world offered if I would but take them.

Informatics Core Manager

Daniel R. Flasar

What do you do on your job?

This position is under General Clinical Research Center, Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, Missouri, and exists within the National Institute of Health's (NIH) General Clinical Research Center nationwide units. My duties include: maintaining file and web servers; identifying the shared computer and software needs of our clinical researchers and staff and making them available either in the computer room or on their desktop via our server offerings; ordering, installing, and maintaining specialized research applications such as MRI image processing programs; dietary planning and analysis software and statistical analysis systems; contracting with in-university resources and outside vendors to evaluate and maintain hardware and software contracts; keeping up with clinical research developments and technologies and plans for future implementation; maintaining university computing and network as well as HIPAA policies and procedures for informatics core; performing specialized statistical and reporting programming for researchers; helping researchers identify database and software needs for their protocols and guiding them to the appropriate resources; maintaining records of informatics core usage and activities for annual NIH reporting. Also, I maintain archives of completed study data, perform specialized data format imports and exports, act as translator between researchers and statisticians, and more.

To what extent are you blind and what special adaptations do you use on the job?

I experienced a loss of central vision 6 years after I gained this position. I don't have a diagnosis but essentially I can't read print with any efficiency.

I can use a mouse and have no mobility issues. I use a screen reader for essentially all my reading as well as the scanning software, Kurzweil 1000 to access printed or non-text based material. I have used Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic for some technical resources, as well as BookShare and a BookPort.

I receive all departmental and university notification via email or other electronic formats and found that I can perform my duties with minimal use of printed materials.

What are the qualifications to enter this job position?

At the time I obtained this position, I had a BS in sociology and 3 graduate years of study in statistics. In addition, I had already had 6 years at the university performing related activities in other jobs. Normally, a person expecting to enter this field would need a bachelor degree in computer science with minors in mathematics and experience working in medical research. Though there are some informatics core managers who have a Masters in Computer Science and some work experience. This is not an entry level position. I should also add that the best way to work into these kinds of positions is to find the university you want to work at, start an apprentice (i.e., low wage) position and work your way via further schooling to new jobs within the university structure.

Essential qualities: good oral and written communication skills is a must, great patience, ability to work on your own, good social skills, a strong interest in medical research, and abilities to negotiate sometimes complex bureaucratic structures.

The primary skill I absolutely feel that is essential for a position like this is a love of trouble-shooting and resolving policy differences to achieve a satisfactory outcome.

What influences did you have along the way which aided you to be successful?

My university studies in philosophy taught me logic, patience, and the necessity of how to frame the right questions to ask to get the answer I needed. Due to lifelong renal illness, I spent a lot of time in the medical environment and enjoyed lifelong mentoring by many doctors, nurses, social workers, and fellow patients. When I lost my vision, I chose the National Federation of the Blind as my source of mentoring. I am around high-functioning people at work and found them in the National Federation of the Blind as well.

IT Project Manager

Ted Shelly

What do you do on your job?

This involves working with people to understand their requirements for an information delivery system, creating the technical specifications from those requirements, planning the activities necessary to fulfill the requirements, determining what resources are needed and how much time and money is required, creating lists of tasks and schedules, finding the right people to do the tasks, purchasing products, managing the technical people such as programmers who do the work and coordinating all the communications among everyone involved. Finally, it is ensuring that everything comes together and that the original requirements are fulfilled.

To what extent are you blind and what special adaptations do you use on the job?

I have retinitis pigmentosa.

I use Zoomtext magnifier and reader on my computer (magnifier usually set at about 6-8x) and a CCTV.

What are the qualifications to enter this job position?

To be successful as a project manager, you need to have good communications skills and you need to be a problem solver. Specific technical skills are not always required, but a good broad understanding of technology can be helpful. You do have to know the tools and techniques of project management. For further information about project management, see the Project Management Institute at the following internet site http://www.pmi.org/

What influences did you have along the way which aided you to be successful?

I got some help from my state agency for the blind as my vision loss became more of a problem. I also got a lot of encouragement and inspiration from many others, including members of the NFB.

Program Specialist/Technology Services

Nancy Coffman

What do you do on your job?

I teach the use of screen readers, Braille displays, low vision programs, and scanning/reading technologies to blind individuals. I also need to know and teach other techniques such as using closed circuit televisions, note taking devices/personal data assistants, bar code readers, Daisy readers, and talking calculators. I work with government agencies and other organizations to promote accessibility of their programs. I work with employers toward the goal of placing blind people. I customize low vision and nonvisual access software to work with various programs. I manage agency inventory for a variety of technology. I also spend time on the phone with clients providing technical support.

To what extent are you blind and what special adaptations do you use on the job?

Although I have some usable vision, it is mostly color vision and shapes. Although I can see a face, I don't know what color the eyes are, whether the person is wearing lipstick, or about any fine features. I have bilateral, congenital optic atrophy which means I also have nystagmas and cannot focus easily.

Although I can see print with a fair amount of magnification, I found it fatiguing and inefficient. I use JAWS on my computer and have had some experience with Window-Eyes. I have also worked some with Zoom Text and MAGic, although I have learned them mostly for the purposes of teaching and use them very little for my personal work.

I use a driver for occasions when I am out of the office and a reader for paperwork and computer screens that are not compatible with speech.

What are the qualifications to enter this job position?

Although I have no degree in computer science, a person in this field would find it helpful to have some experience with programming, network management, and teaching. I have a Bachelor's in Human Rehabilitative Services and Psychology. These fields have served me well as some counseling is involved in the job.

Other skills needed: The ability to learn new technologies quickly and have good oral and written communication skills.

What influences did you have along the way which aided you to be successful?

I have an interest in computers and an expectation that blind people could succeed at the many jobs that are evolving and requiring computer use. I have had mentors along the way who have been willing to teach. I have also taken some classes both by self-study and in the classroom which have been beneficial to me.

Senior Systems Analyst (Retired)

Bruce Woodward

What do you do on your job?

Design, code, supervise, and maintain systems controlling casualty-property written premiums. Programming, systems analysis, and redesigning.

To what extent are you blind and what special adaptations do you use on the job?

I have retinitis pigmentosa (RP) with little vision in one eye, more vision in the other.

I used a CCTV; also enlarged image on computer screen; I.e. IBM options for those with vision loss.

What are the qualifications to enter this job position?

Extensive COBOL programming knowledge and job control language (JCL). Requirements quite different today; hopefully less stringent. I received no special training, just worked very hard. The best training was on-the-job experience.

What influences did you have along the way which aided you to be successful?

I had an excellent mentor. He was a totally blind programmer who had gone through even more primitive schooling than I had. He got me to work my tail off! I had been with the Travelers for twenty-three years as a "sighted" employee. When it became apparent that I couldn't continue my job visually, the Travelers continued my pay for a year while I went back to school. I came back as an eager but incompetent programmer; however, I learned much more on the job and enjoyed the best fifteen years of my working career.

I joined the NFB shortly before going back to school and, of course, benefited greatly from interaction with my fellow blind folks.

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