Where the Blind Work
Government Careers

Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) Coordinator

Dr. Donald H. Shepherd

What do you do on your job?

I coordinate the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System for the state of Iowa. The BRFSS is a joint venture between the Iowa State Department of Public Health and the federal Center for Disease Control (CDC). I ensure data is properly collected, analyze the data, report the data to constituents, produce an annual report, help formulate the next year's survey, publicize the findings and potential of the survey, and prepare necessary budgets and contracts.

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

I have 20/400 vision in the left eye and none in the right as a result of congenital cataracts.

I use the computer a lot with speech and magnification. I travel to national meetings about twice a year and to the data collection contractor about once a year. I use public transportation or a driver for these. I use a white cane in large airports.

What are the qualifications to enter this job position?

It is necessary to have a background in statistics. I have an advanced degree in experimental psychology, though it is more common for people in the job to have a degree in epidemiology or statistics.

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

Parental support stressing the value of education and a lot of persistence. My career path took several twists and turns with a few interruptions, but I finally got to where I wanted to be. 

Civil Engineer

Nathanael T. Wales, P.E.

What do you do on your job?

I conduct civil engineering planning work on flood control, coastal storm damage reduction, and environmental clean-up/restoration projects. This entails preparing planning reports with technical engineering, environmental resources, cultural resources, and socioeconomic input, while applying federal planning policies and procedures. Additionally, I may take the lead or assist in managing projects (including funding and interaction with legislators).

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

The cause of my blindness is congenital cataracts, congenital glaucoma, and their complications.

I use Braille as an alternative reading method (including for math and engineering work). I also make use of access software to produce voice and Braille output to access computer systems and the Internet.

What are the qualifications to enter this job position?

A bachelor's degree in civil and/or environmental engineering, or very similar experience is required. A Professional Engineer's license is useful but not required.

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

Networking is always important, as is finding mentors (including other successful blind engineers and scientists). I would also stress that work experience in college aided me in being successful.

Grants Clerk

Theresa Lynn Powers

What do you do on your job?

At the National Cancer Institute which is a part of the National Institute Of Health In Maryland, my position is secretarial in nature. My major duties are phones, Xeroxing, shredding, recycling, escorting, and some faxing.

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

I have optic atrophy. When I was an infant I had a blood clot that damaged both optic nerves. I have tunnel vision which means my field of vision is very limited. My sight is rated at 20/400.

In the office, I have a desktop computer with JAWS and a Braille display. I also use an mPower notetaker and a Perkins Braille writer. My folders are in Braille for me and in print for the staff. I even did filing for five years by using jumbo print cover sheets, where employees could check off information, write a statement, or request as to what kind of document to be filed. I also make deliveries on and off campus. To get to campus, I use my cane and take a shuttle bus. Since I have a hearing problem, I have an amplifier on my phone and use a headset to connect my phone and computer into one. It has a microphone so I can type while being on the phone.

Another handy tool, which I personally created, was a handbook with reference material about all our employees. In it, I have phone numbers, degrees, titles, e-mail addresses, and more. This gives me the ability to answer simple calls like, "What is Dr. Smith's title?" So I can look it up, and the scientific staff does not have to be bothered with it.

What are the qualifications to enter this job position?

To be hired into a secretarial position you can have either relevant job experience or some kind of office technician degree from a two-year trade school. When I started 20 years ago, I came aboard as part of the federal Schedule A Program which was designed to bring in disabled people into government employment.

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

When I first started working, an employee named Carlos took me under his wing and taught me how to use the computer system. With my ambition to work and his support, I slowly progressed. The branch chief observed my success and my willingness to work. After two years and a lot of hard work from the branch, a position was created for me. The National Federation of the Blind is my other big support and I am a promoter of Braille.

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.

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.

Public Relations Coordinator

Lydia H. Markley

What do you do on your job?

I coordinate public relations for the Florida Division of Blind Services (DBS): 12 districts throughout the state; produce a monthly e-zine EYE on DBS for staff and clients; coordinate with districts and a variety of news media to gather articles for monthly e-zine, sent to clients, staff, and a variety of businesses and service providers throughout the state, nation, and internationally; plan and coordinate various events with DBS staff and clients for the purpose of education and community outreach; solicit donations from businesses to fund events; write press releases, public service announcements and other documents and publications as needed; design brochures, annual reports, and other publications; prepare signs and other materials for legislative information tables and other community events; manage information booths at various events; and develop yearly public relations plan, budget, and calendar.

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

I am legally blind due to closed angle glaucoma.

My position requires me to use the computer extensively. To do so, I use a combination of JAWS (speech output) and MAGic (screen enlargement). Also, for reading hardcopy materials I use a CCTV while at my desk, and as a portable unit I use a Pocket Viewer.

What are the qualifications to enter this job position?

To enter this type of position, a person must have a bachelor's degree in public relations or five to six years equivalent experience.

At the present time, I plan to stay with the Division of Blind Services. It will take several years before the program will meet all of its goals. After that time, I may stay at the division, do PR consulting work, or both.

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

Soon after I was declared legally blind, I met some members of the National Federation of the Blind at community college, and we started the Greater Tallahassee Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind in Florida. My involvement with the NFB, helping with projects, and being supported in return has given me the tools and confidence to accomplish what I am doing today.

Teleservice Representative for the Social Security Administration

Susan Jones

What do you do on your job?

I answer callers' general and specific questions regarding Social Security, Supplemental Security Income, and Medicare entitlement and give referral information to other agencies. I also process actions on behalf of callers who need to report changes to their personal information that may affect their benefits, such as changes of address, direct deposit changes, non-receipt of benefit payments, changes in work status, death, marriage, divorce, etc.

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

I am almost totally blind due to gestational rubella (German measles).

I use Braille, a talking calculator, a computer adapted with JAWS, and a Braille display.

What are the qualifications to enter this job position?

Applicants must have at least two years of college, good interviewing skills, and know how to use a computer to access and input information. Comprehensive training is provided, but the applicant is expected to have good learning skills, as the training moves quickly and the expectations are high.

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

I could not have obtained or persevered in doing this job without the encouragement and information I received from the National Federation of the Blind and my other blind friends. In addition, for ongoing support, there is an employees with disability listserv especially devoted to staff who use adaptive software for the blind and visually impaired. There is also a regional group which meets annually or every two years. I learn and practice new techniques to keep up with the ever-changing landscape of Social Security's computer network.

Veterans Benefits Counselor (Retired)

Richard Gaffney

What did you do on your job?

I advised veterans of the benefits available from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. I answered phone calls as well as interviewed clients at my desk. I also filled out forms on the computer.

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

I was born with congenital cataracts. I have minimal vision in one eye and none in the other.

I used JAWS software for the computer, a close circuit TV for reading, and a talking calculator.

What are the qualifications to enter this job position?

This was a general service level 5-9 position. Therefore, you must be at level 3 to qualify or have a BA degree. My hiring was through what is called a Schedule A appointment. I was a Vocational Rehabilitation client, and if you meet the minimal qualifications and have a letter of recommendation from your VR counselor, you can be considered for a short-term trial which later is rolled over into a permanent position. I worked 6 months under this program with the understanding that I would be considered for a position when one came available. After six months I was hired. There also is the regular competitive route to getting hired. Advancement is possible with the right qualification.

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

A friend told me about Schedule A appointments with the federal government.

Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor

Robert Leslie Newman

What do you do on your job?

I assist consumers in successfully completing their Individualized Plan for Employment. Toward that end, I either directly provide or arrange for the following services: adjustment counseling, peer counseling from other blind people, vocational counseling and refer them to a rehab teacher to learn needed blindness skills.

If education is needed to reach their goal, I assist them in the choice of a school and then make sure they know the alternatives for functioning in the educational setting. Job development and placement-meeting with employers is a large part of the job; educating them, developing a working relationship, etc. Also finding job openings, assisting in filling out applications and/or writing resumes, etc. Public speaking'giving talks about blindness and/or the agency's services to such places as schools, in-services to businesses, etc. Record keeping'setting up and maintaining consumer files, writing letters, etc; good writing skills are a must. Community involvement'serving on various community based boards and/or committees is common. Travel'some consumers come to you, mostly you go to them. Some travel can be out of town or state and can be overnight. Team work'you work with other counselors and teachers. On a more personal level, be a good listener, communicate well, have good problem solving skills, being able to multi-task, know your communities services and more. You have to be a self-starter.

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

I am totally blind as a result of a car accident at age fifteen.

I use a long white cane for travel. For personal reading and writing, I use Braille. For the computer, I use JAWS and a 40-cell Power Braille. For notetaking, I use a PAC Mate with Braille display. For reading print materials, I use Openbook or a reader. For travel, I use the bus or a state car and driver.

What are the qualifications to enter this job position?

The educational requirement for a vocational rehabilitation counselor in the average state or private rehabilitation service agency for the blind is a Master's degree. The graduate degree can vary, from rehabilitation of the blind, to some type of human services degree. It is also possible, in some instances, to meet the employment criteria with just an undergraduate degree. Finally, the largest contributing positive to your employment potential is any prior experience you may have in working with the blind and knowing something of the special adaptive alternatives used by the blind. Lastly, continued employment may require updating of skills through the periodic taking of specialized workshops and/or classes.

As for advancement, you can become a supervisor or some type of program administrator, then move on to higher level administration jobs within the rehab setting'assistant director or executive director.

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

As I believe will be seen in many of these employment descriptions, it was the influence of other blind people that was the most value to me. Seeing that others were being successful sparked not only my interest, but also my competitiveness. As they say, and it's true for blind folks too, "Seeing is believing." In addition, joining a consumer group of the blind, the National Federation of the Blind in my case, was one of the best moves I have ever made. There I found numerous well adjusted, employed and successful blind people. The NFB has a vast library of material to be read and many services to be tapped into when needed.

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