Where the Blind Work
Law Enforcement and Legal Careers

Attorneys

Kathleen Hagen

What do you do on your job?

I am a staff attorney employed with the Minnesota Disability Law Center. My job is to work with clients with disabilities who have had trouble getting services from vocational rehabilitation. This may involve letters, calls, meetings between the client and vocational rehabilitation, which I attend with the client, mediations, and occasionally administrative hearings if a client appeals a decision.

I also work with the program for social security beneficiaries paid for by Social Security. This program is aimed specifically toward people with disabilities who are on SSDI or SSI and who want to return to work or obtain a job for the first time, and who are assigned a "Ticket to Work." This program provides funding to agencies and schools to help clients get training and job placement activities. My job is to help people along the way who, in trying to access these services, face barriers to employment. The major part of my case load in this area is appealing overpayment cases to Social Security. This involves getting and reviewing the file and putting together documents to show that the person either is not at fault or cannot repay the overpayment. It also can involve filing briefs at different administrative levels and sometimes hearings before a Social Security administrative law judge or helping clients put together a payment plan to give them the time needed to pay back the overpayment.

I am also sometimes involved in an employment situation where a disabled person needs to try to find a reasonable accommodation to retain their job.  Additionally, I help clients file administrative complaints if they feel they have been discriminated against while employed or during the hiring stage.

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

I am totally blind and have been throughout my life.

I have read Braille since I was five years old, so I read it fluently. I use Braille to take notes and prefer getting information in Braille, although I have learned to deal with not having it in Braille.  I try to get training materials electronically via e-mail or sent on CD roms to lessen the time needed for a reader.  I have JAWS speech software on my computer, and I am in the process of getting scanning equipment.  I have a reader a few hours a week. I also have a reader go with me to court, administrative hearings, or to review records.

I use a white cane in the office and elsewhere. I use cabs within the twin cities. If my work takes me to other parts of the state I either pay my reader, if she/he can drive and has a license or I get one of the law students working in our office to drive; if they have the time, they're usually willing to do that because it gives them some needed experience.

What are the qualifications to enter this job position?

To enter this job you need a J.D. degree and you need to have passed the Minnesota State Bar. I have been involved in federal litigation, which also required me to register with the District of Minnesota Federal Bar.

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

I always wanted to work in the area of civil rights. I was hired in 1981 to work as an investigator at the Minnesota State Department of Human Rights where I worked all the way through law school and until I got my current job in 1994. While working with the human rights department I had to hold fact-finding conferences, which were used to try to settle charges before we spent too much time investigating. I came to the conclusion that if some of the lawyers I was seeing come into the fact-finding conference could be lawyers, well there was no reason why I couldn't be a lawyer. I have not had much mentoring from blind or sighted people regarding law-related activities, and missed I that contact along the way. I have known blind and disabled people in other professions that I greatly respect for their abilities and skills. I also went to elementary and high school at a school for the blind and got a very good education. I also had a chance to see other blind people, including some of the teachers who I felt were very successful.

Patti S. Gregory-Chang

What do you do on your job?

I am a senior counsel, supervising attorneys who handle prosecution matters of administrative law involving building and land use issues. I serve on task-forces designed to develop protocols and draft ordinances.

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

My acuity is 20/2500.  I use Braille, a white cane, and jaws.  I often have new employees serve as readers when I pre-try cases, as this provides them with excellent training as well as providing me with a reader.

What are the qualifications to enter this job position?

I attended University of Chicago Law School after obtaining a BA from Michigan State University. For my present job, I needed at least three years experience as a prosecutor and an Illinois Law License. There are opportunities for advancement to a higher administrative level.

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

Lots of people influenced me. My parents, teachers, and others of course. But, the biggest influences came from other blind people. Other blind people in NFB have pushed me all the way. I have been blessed with people in my life who had high expectations for me.

Richard Chen

What do you do on your job?

I am an attoney associate and I advise hedge funds and private equity funds on operational and regulatory matters. This requires research, writing, and communicating with clients.

I do most of my research online through the World Wide Web or through databases, so, I need to have good computer skills.

I do not solicit clients, as the partners assign me work. In some offices, a person in my position might be asked to help build the customer base by finding new customers.

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

My blindness has been with me all my life and was caused by microphthalmia and glaucoma.

I use a computer with Jaws for Windows for typing and reading. I also use a Voyager CCTV reader, which enlarges print numerous times. Also, for mobility, I use a cane.

What are the qualifications to enter this job position?

An undergraduate degree and a Juris Doctoris is required. No prior experience is required for entering into this profession.

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

God, my family, and friends.

Civil Rights Specialist/Mediator

Diane Graves

What do you do on your job?

My job involves contacting individuals who have filed discrimination complaints and respondents in an effort to determine whether they might be interested in exploring settlement possibilities in their cases as opposed to going through the lengthy and often frustrating investigative and/or legal processes.

Assuming all parties are willing, we then establish a date that will work for all, and I conduct the mediation conference. This involves presenting an opening statement to put everyone at ease; letting them know that I am not on either party's side but am a neutral third-party. We then allot time for both positions to be expressed, and I attempt to facilitate discussion as to how the matter might be resolved. If we are successful, we will take a break, long enough for me to put together an agreement which all parties will sign, thus resolving the complaint. If we are unsuccessful, I will forward the case back to the respective investigator and the case will go forward from there.

There are many variations. Sometimes these mediations are conducted via telephone conference, sometimes I negotiate back and forth through a series of calls, and the parties never actually meet. All of these involve varying plans of action. However, this, in a nutshell, is what I do.

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

I am totally blind due to retinoblastoma.

I cannot stress enough how helpful and important that good Braille skills are in helping with my success in the professional arena. I use Braille DYMO Tape labels to organize my forms and case files into individual file folders so that I can access them quickly and on demand. I use Braille for taking notes in mediations and other meetings that I can refer to expeditiously as needed.

I also have a Braille embosser in place so that I can print out any computer files and office related manuals or documentation that I may need to access away from my workstation.

I use the JAWS screen reading software, and also have an ALVA Braille Terminal which aids with computer access. I also utilize a text scanner and the Kurzweil scanning software enabling me to access the printed material necessary to my job and other interoffice communications.

What are the qualifications to enter this job position?

I work for the state of Indiana, Civil Rights Commission, and all of our Civil Rights Specialists come from varying educational backgrounds. Most do have B.A. degrees, although I do not. I began my employment here 17 years ago as the frontline receptionist and have sort of migrated to this position over time. Many of our Civil Rights Specialists have degrees in English, (good writing and communication skills are a plus). Others have degrees in education, history, psychology, and varying other fields.

I am fairly certain that most states do have Civil Rights Agencies, although the agency titles may vary. Similar employment opportunities could also be found at the department(s) of Justice, or on a federal level, at the EEOC.

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

I didn't have any real notable mentors growing up, although I have always had an intense passion for Civil Rights. So, you might say that one of my mentors was Dr. Martin Luther King. After I had worked at the agency for about five years, I joined the National Federation of the Blind, and that is where the true mentorship came in. My only regret is that I didn't join the ranks years ago. It is as an active part of the NFB network that you will truly learn that your blindness does not have to define your life or stop you from being all that you can and want to be.

Field Service Supervisor

Mary Jo Partyka

What do you do on your job?

In my job, I analyze initial fair hearing decisions prepared by administrative law judges concerning the welfare, Emergency Assistance and Food Stamp programs, and either adopt the decision, amend it if the decision does not conform to federal or state regulations, or remand it if more information is needed. As part of my job, I must read through information submitted by the county welfare agencies and look up information on our computerized databases. I also have good writing ability, which is necessary in the preparation of final decisions.

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

I am totally blind.

On the job, I use Braille to label decisions and to take notes. I use the Optacon and a character-recognition scanner to read and review decisions, which come on paper (hard copy). I keep important phone numbers and addresses in my VoiceNote, and all of my decisions are prepared on the computer.

What are the qualifications to enter this job position?

I got this job through a civil service promotional opportunity. I had to pass a supervisory test called the Battery in order to qualify and had to rank high enough on the list to get interviewed. I also had to have at least 5 years of experience working in assistance programs.

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

Some of my co-workers in the division were instrumental in helping me to get where I am today; and I am a good test-taker, which helped me get promotions. I supervised our division's hotline for almost ten years, and this gave me a good background in policy and budgeting, which is needed to know how to write the decisions correctly. The Commission for the Blind helped me to obtain the equipment I needed to get my job.

Investigations Technician

Catherine Close

What do you do on your job?

I process requests to expedite the processing of background investigations for the federal government. Most of the work is on the computer, but some paperwork is on hard copy. I also answer a multiline phone system.

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

I am totally blind. Some of the special adaptations I use are: Jaws for the computer, Braille display for most reading off the computer, Braille notetaker for meetings and phone numbers, scanning software to handle hard copy paperwork, and a light probe to check status of phone lines.

What are the qualifications to enter this job position?

You need a college degree and/or experience. Since I have a law degree, I am actually underemployed. I hope to advance to higher position or return to more legal employment.

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

My participation in the NFB has been very influential in my life. I have a great family. Braille! And help from VR.

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