Where the Blind Work
Education Careers

College Instructor-Political Science

James Fetter

What do you do on your job?

Faculty members at either a research university or a liberal arts college are expected to teach several courses a semester, usually two or three, and publish original scholarship on a regular basis. Since I am still in the process of completing my doctorate, I am currently teaching one course and working on my dissertation.

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

My blindness is congenital and is caused by optic nerve hypoplasia.

I make extensive use of a screen reader, scanner, optical character recognition (OCR) software, and a Braille embosser. Braille is particularly essential when giving presentations and reading texts in foreign languages, both of which I do in the course of teaching and conducting research.

What are the qualifications to enter this job position?

A Ph.D. is required to become a professor in most fields, including mine, but some fields do not require it.

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

Learning Braille at a very young age has been invaluable to the attainment of my professional goals. Without fluency in Braille, I would be at a significant disadvantage vis-'-vis my sighted colleagues and might be unable to do my job altogether. I received excellent instruction in Braille starting in pre-school and continuing through primary and secondary education in the public school system.

Having travel skills'I use a cane'has been helpful as well. Teaching at the collegiate level requires me to navigate a college campus, an environment in which mobility aids such as a GPS are of little help. I have had the privilege to work with an excellent mobility instructor in the area to learn the layout of my campus, and most larger universities are able to provide or contract out for orientation and mobility services.

Lastly, having parents, teachers, and other mentors who not only believed but assumed and expected that I could achieve at a high level has allowed me to focus on pursuing my professional goals and to spend less time proving to others that I as a blind person could be successful in an intellectually demanding career.

Coordinator of Disability Support Services at The Catholic University of America

Timothy J. Paulding

What do you do on your job?

I schedule and maintain a roster of sign language interpreters for special events and regular university classes. I supervise several student workers in e-text conversion and am primarily responsible for seeing that text conversion gets done efficiently and accurately. I advise the university's IT department on purchasing and upgrading assistive technology. I meet with students who have varying disabilities to discuss alternative techniques for studying and the assistive technology that is available to them. I usually screen a large variety of phone calls, mostly from concerned parents, and answer general questions about the disability services offered at our institution. I also implement, three times per year, program evaluation and assessment measures.

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

I am blind. I do have some usable vision in one eye, although very limited.

I use JAWS when accessing the computers on campus and in my office. I also use a BrailleNote PK to take notes during meetings and on phone calls, maintain a database of contacts, and perform other general computer/note-taker functions. I use our high powered scanners to scan reading materials from time to time. I also use a CCTV when needing to sign a document or fill out a form that must be in print.

What are the qualifications to enter this job position?

I have a Bachelor's Degree in Psychology from the University of Michigan. Although a Master's degree is preferred for the position I currently hold, I have had a good deal of relevant experience that helped my qualifications. A great deal of that experience came to me after I joined the National Federation of the Blind. I sat on a committee that influenced policy for our state's department for the blind. I have mentored youth as president of the Michigan Association of Blind Students as well. I was also very involved with extra-curricular research activities at the University of Michigan during my college years and also headed up a community awareness campaign for certain initiatives that appeared on voting ballots in 2004. I also developed and implemented an educational research project at Camp Tuhsmeheta, a camp for blind children and youth in Michigan.

From here, I will pursue a Master's degree in social work, Ed psych, or something along those lines.

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

I have gained a great deal from my membership in the National Federation of the Blind. I have met dozens of blind, successful professionals of whom I could ask just about anything. They taught me a lot about how to be successful in my life as a blind person. I also attended the Louisiana Center for the Blind where I was challenged to think differently about my blindness and given specific skills and techniques to travel, read, cook, and use a computer completely independently. The NFB and the Louisiana Center for the Blind were really my steppingstones to becoming fully aware of what my blindness is and what it is not. I now hold a very respectable job and know I will go far in my life.

Director, Professional Development and Research Institute on Blindness

Edward C. Bell, Ph.D., CRC, NOMC

What do you do on your job?

The primary job duties include: 

  • Directly relating to teaching: developing curricula, scheduling university courses, preparing lectures, lecturing to classes, assigning coursework, and grading said coursework.
  • Outside of the classroom: writing grants, conducting original research, and writing research manuscripts. Also, at times planning, developing, and hosting conferences.
  • Duties as assigned: a variety of unexpected assignments that can come from the university.

All of this requires accessing MS Word, Excel, PowerPoint, e-mail and various Web-based applications.

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

My blindness was caused by traumatic accident. More specifically, a 12-gauge-shotgun-blast to the face'both optic nerves were destroyed, resulting in total blindness.

The blindness techniques I use include: the long white cane, Braille, and JAWS for computer access. Also key are general problem solving techniques for diverse work-related challenges, which will occasionally include the use of a live note-taker.

What are the qualifications to enter this job position?

This job requires a Ph.D. or other earned doctorate. In addition, my specific job duties require National Orientation and Mobility Certification (NOMC), as well as Certified Rehabilitation Counselor (CRC) status.

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

First, strong family values and an equally strong work ethic. However, after blindness occurred, the members of the NFB made the difference'specifically a handful of mentors, role models, and advisors who pushed me to achieve beyond my own belief.

Itinerant Teacher of Blind Children

Kathy (Kat) Millhoff

What do you do on your job?

I am advisor to the Special Education Division, Guam Public School System on matters concerning education and programs for blind children. Besides teaching blind children Braille and other related aspects in the "Expanded Core Curriculum," I work with school administrators to ensure appropriate accommodations are in place. I also work with the Early Intervention Program, consult with parents, and spend inordinate amounts of time in research and reading on disabilities related materials, blindness and vision impairment, and educational practices.

My job requires traveling between schools, making stops at other types of facilities for meetings, and making home visits. These locations are not all in the same town.

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

I am totally blind due to retinopathy of prematurity; I had some vision until I was 4 years old.

I use Braille and keep notes on daily activities, reports, and files on a Braille notetaker. I use a desktop computer with a refreshable Braille display and synthesized speech. I also have Kurzweil 1000 scanning software installed in order to read print materials, though there are many people here to read materials as well. There are so many forms to complete, I've found it easiest to work with a reader on documentation. I have Internet access at work which has allowed for acquisition of much information.

For travel, I have a government supplied vehicle and driver, since I travel throughout the island visiting homes, schools, agencies, and all related facilities. I travel by use of a long cane and am able to use para-transit to get to work and to do errands.

What are the qualifications to enter this job position?

In the U.S., a degree in teaching blind and vision impaired children would be required. That will no doubt be the case here soon, as we have to come into compliance with U.S. regulations; but at this point I have a master's degree in language and literacy and an undergrad degree in English. I'm a certified teacher at the secondary level, and have several publications to my credit. However, I've had to continue to learn and read and train over the years; I've been to conferences and have also received training that we were funded to provide here. I think a lot of this has been possible due to living here in an unincorporated territory of the U.S. I'd advise anyone wishing to do this work to get the appropriate degree in place first.

I'm fairly certain that I was hired to do this job, which was no more than a result of making a lateral transfer from my classroom teaching job, because I had, as a blind person, the means to read and write Braille and use access technology. Since that time, I've taught Braille to several para-professionals who make it possible to spend less of my time with that aspect of work. This includes Braille transcription of textbooks as well.

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

I can't think of a mentor, but I always aspired to be a writer and just felt as though I was teaching to pay the bills. As an English teacher, I loved getting kids to enjoy literature; I didn't worry about teaching certain aspects of grammar too much as long as they could love some aspect of literature'music,  poetry, plays, puppetry, stories, storytelling, etc. My master's thesis and project was concerned with affect in school. I've learned to love teaching blind children and working for their full access in school and their environment. But it was not my first choice for a profession.

If I wanted to politic for it, I could move into supervisory jobs here, but I don't want to give up time with students, and I want free time at the end of the day to read and write, which administrative people don't get.

Music Teacher, Choir Director

Linda Mentink

What do you do on your job?

I teach students how to sing properly and I also sing parts for ministry during the church services and for the Christmas program.

I play the organ for daily chapel time. I also play piano for my individual music classes.

I direct men's choir during practices for services. I also sing in, and help with, mixed choir. In doing so, I encourage them to use good singing technique. And from time to time I will sing solos.

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

My blindness is due to RLF (now called ROP).

For adaptive equipment and techniques, I use a notetaker with a refreshable Braille display for words and music, and memorize what I need to play.

What are the qualifications to enter this job position?

Since it is a Christian school, and is considered home schooling in Nebraska, no degree, license, or previous experience is required. However, I hold a bachelor's degree, I taught at the Wisconsin School for the Visually Handicapped for one year, and have given private lessons in my home since graduating from college.

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

During a visit to a friend in Nebraska, a pastor who is in charge of music ministry heard me sing and promptly asked me to come work for his church. This employment is part time, but they pay me well because they invited me to come!

Orientation and Mobility Instructor

Jane Lansaw

What do you do on your job?

I teach independent travel and the use of the long, white cane to blind adults. I teach basic cane technique, orientation skills indoors and outdoors, teach understanding of environmental cues, traffic patterns, address location, use of mass transit, appropriate interaction with the public, and problem solving skills. My goal is to help my students become independent travelers; able to move through whatever environment they may find themselves as they go through life. I teach nonvisual techniques using Structured Discovery philosophy. If I do my job well and if my students practice the skills they have learned, they should never need another O&M instructor's assistance no matter where they go. I am part of an overall rehabilitation team. I must keep records of my teaching and at times conduct research on the Net.

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

I am legally blind with vision which changes with age and lighting. The cause is unknown.

My only accommodating device is my long, white cane. Occasionally, I obtain assistance from another instructor or support staff to drive students to distant locations or to drop off advanced students for their final challenges before completing the course.

I rely on nonvisual monitoring skills to keep track of students whose location and performance need to be monitored. I communicate with my students as needed and listen to the sound of their cane to determine location and width of arc.

I position myself ahead of a student who may have a problem with a certain type of obstacle. For example, I may stand just off of curb if I think older students are unsteady enough to fall if they come off of a curb sideways. This isn't necessary if students are steady enough to catch themselves as anyone else would do. I keep beginning students in relatively familiar areas where I can keep tabs on the changes in the environment and save unfamiliar areas for intermediate students who have begun to acquire the skills to handle any complications which may arise. I stand behind a student and ask to put my hands on shoulders to measure their ability to align their body with traffic sounds. I may probe for a student's foot with my cane to see how far back from the curb they are standing, while advising them of what I am doing. I walk between new students and traffic so they will run into me before stepping into the stream of traffic. I walk in traffic with intermediate students so I can make sure they are safe as they learn to deal with such veering errors.

I use JAWS on the computer to get speech output. I also use a portable notetaker. And I sometimes use a magnifying device to spot-read print.

What are the qualifications to enter this job position?

The first qualification is to be a very good nonvisual traveler. Blind or sighted, you will do much better if you can wear sleep shades and travel efficiently and effectively with your students. The second most important tool is aptitude for teaching. I recommend an undergraduate degree in education for those just starting with an eye toward becoming O&M instructors. Anyone who can teach and who can travel will probably be a good travel teacher.

Employability is a different story. Many employers prefer O&M instructors who hold one of the two existing certifications. I hold the National Orientation and Mobility Certification (NOMC) from the National Blindness Professional Certification board. Others hold certification from the Academy for Certification of Vision Rehabilitation and Education Professionals (ACVREP). I recommend my certification, as it focuses more on nonvisual training and higher expectations for blind people. Warning'the public school system nationwide doesn't recognize the NOMC certification yet. That doesn't mean it will continue to be that way, but right now they won't hire us. You can obtain my certification through the graduate program at Louisiana Tech University and passing the certification test at the end of the program or by receiving training at an agency from an approved instructor and passing the certification test. Many agencies prefer the Master's degree. This commands higher salaries. Some agencies will hire certified instructors with no degree, but they can often train their own and don't need to search the field to fill positions.

There is a severe shortage of O&M instructors in this country. If you obtain the degree and the certification, the jobs will come. Some of us work in orientation centers as I do now. Others work in the field, and I have done that in the past. Still others are contract vendors who are not direct employees of the agencies who contract with them.

Driving a car may seem like an advantage but only on the surface. The advantage of being a full time practitioner of the skills you teach is immeasurable. I put my own blindness and my blindness skills training on my r'sum'. I advertise that I can read Braille and use a speech output program on a computer. Blindness is a definite advantage in this profession.

Orientation and Mobility instructors are often highly paid because of the certifications and the university training. They can go on to middle and upper management positions. My current supervisor is a blind O&M instructor. One of the former Commissioner of Rehabilitation Services Administration was once a cane travel teacher at an orientation center. I have no interest in management and plan to teach cane travel until I am too old to do the job anymore.

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

My success in the field is due to several blind mentors who taught cane travel in various agencies. When rehabilitation counselors said I was being unrealistic and blind people couldn't teach cane travel, my friends in the National Federation of the Blind connected me to blind people who were doing just that. The first of these was a cane travel teacher in Missouri named Michael Floyd, who was trained in Nebraska and learned everything he knew from other blind instructors. Another was Dr. Frederick K. Schroeder, the former Commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA), who told me to never give up. I continue to rely on my blind colleagues for advice and reinforcement. I hope that I can provide the same for them.


Jennifer Bose

What do you do on your job?

I work on every stage of the research process from looking for grant proposals and other research opportunities, to brainstorming research projects and study designs with teams of coworkers, to collecting and analyzing data and writing and presenting findings. More specifically, I do many different research tasks such as look up articles, design and conduct in-person and phone interviews, administer surveys, and write and edit papers. This job requires the ability to work alone and as a team member.

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

I have no usable vision due to an underdeveloped optic nerve.

With my supervisor's help, I adapted this job so that I do not have to work with too much paper, although I do so much reading and writing. I use a computer with JAWS, a screen-reading program that works well with commonly-used programs such as the Microsoft Office Suite and programs that work with qualitative and quantitative research data. I tend to keep things in roughly the same places in my office so I can easily find them. Since my job involves working alone for part of each day and attending interviews and meetings frequently, I organize my day using Microsoft Outlook's calendar program and a paper to-do list (I feel so satisfied working my way down it and checking things off). I also use a Kurzweil-National Federation of the Blind Reader I carry with me so I can read handouts, mail I pick up in the copier room, and printouts I need to give to coworkers. I do work with a human reader from time to time who is also a general office assistant.

I work with my black Labrador guide dog, Willow, most of the time, but I always carry a cane and sometimes use it instead for shorter errands.

If I run into something I cannot do, such as drive, or can only do with difficulty, such as work with very visual research software, I do as much as I can of the challenging task and then work with my team so that a colleague can do parts of the job that are just not accessible while I might take on more of the parts I can do. Sharing responsibilities is just part of teamwork, anyway.

What are the qualifications to enter this job position?

An undergraduate degree in the social sciences is required for this position. A Master's degree, which I have, is also worth getting but is not required. Someone in this position should have strong interpersonal and writing skills and have good, strong computer skills, too. Knowledge of statistics is very helpful, although statistical programs can be tough to learn how to use with screen-reading software. Researchers should generally be interested in always learning new things, whether that means information being researched or research methods and software.

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

My parents encouraged me and made sure I worked and studied hard. I did not have a formal research mentor but was just drawn to research as I got to know professors and other people who worked in the field. After I had begun working as a researcher, I joined the National Federation of the Blind because I wanted to network with other blind people who were successful in similar jobs.

University Lecturer

Robert McCoy

What do you do on your job?

On the job, I teach students in the science of sociology. This requires that I lecture between fifty minutes and two and one-half hours. Research for course-appropriate books, news clips, videos, and other thought-stimulating materials. It is also necessary to evaluate students through quizzes, exams, and written assignments. As well, counseling students is part of the academic life.

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

I am totally blind.

I utilize a screenreader and optical character recognition (OCR) software to facilitate me in my position. I use PowerPoint when lecturing and do not accept written assignments unless electronically submitted. Tests and exams are made easy with WebCT or the use of a teaching assistant.

What are the qualifications to enter this job position?

It is necessary to have at least an MA, preferable a PhD, to gain a position as a lecturer at the university level. Upon completion of my PhD, I hope to move to assistant or associate status.

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

Involvement with Canadian National Institutes for the Blind as a volunteer has provided me a measure of confidence when speaking to groups or arguing a position with statused persons.

Where the Blind Work main