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DIANE MAKAR MURPHY With help, blind workers open employers' eyes



Published: Thu, July 19, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



Before I put on my glasses, my vision is 20/200. The world is an impressionist painting.

Karen Black sees the same world AFTER she puts on her glasses. It's the best correction available to her. Black is legally blind.

It might surprise you to hear the 25-year-old Jackson Center woman works as a graphic artist.

"I never had a problem with skills," Black said, "just people's misconception of blindness. People hear you're legally blind, and they shout at you or talk to you like you're stupid."

Black grew up blind, but "my family forgot I had a vision problem," she said. In school, she sat near the blackboard or got notes from friends. She read books held closely and leaned forward to view a computer terminal. After high school, she studied graphic arts at the Bradford School in Pittsburgh.

KBA: Black is one of many individuals exploding misconceptions about visual impairments. Keystone Blind Association of Sharon, where Black works, seeks to do the same, along with providing training, advocacy and employment opportunities for the visually impaired.

Karen met with me in KBA's computer lab, where Mike Nicol, assistive and information technologies manager for KBA, made plans to educate ME. For KBA, Black creates brochures, business cards, form layouts and logos and works on the KBA newsletter.

"My advice to [visually impaired job seekers] is sell yourself," Black said. "Blindness is part of yourself, but it's not you. Let [prospective employers] know you are blind. Anyone with a disability knows you'll get feedback, good or bad. Expect questions and be prepared."

According to Black, some interviewers are afraid to ask questions, while others are downright rude. She said, "One asked if I could read," questioning her intelligence along with her vision. "People need to learn, it's only vision. The only real obstacle I have is making sure I have a ride to work every day."

College worker: Jim Richardson, 34, has that difficulty and a few others. "My job is sports equipment manager for Grove City College," he said. "I do all the laundry for the sports teams, repair all equipment, helmets, shoulder pads and maintain equipment."

In October, he will have worked for the college four years, a little more than two years of that time in darkness. Richardson's blindness resulted from diabetes.

"I knew I was having eye trouble for about a year, and I knew blindness was a possibility," he said. He worried he would be unable to continue a side business he had -- photography and video production. He also feared losing his job at the college.

"But my boss thought enough of me to find ways to keep me. While I could still see a little, we made plans," Richardson said. Before going blind, he worked 60 to 65 hours per week. After, Richardson put in about 29 hours. The savings allowed Grove City College to hire a second person full time, Larry Freedman, who works alongside Richardson to "take up the slack."

Blindness and Visual Services of Erie got Richardson a computer, and Nicol taught him to use it. He now types inventories while Freedman reads him the inventory lists.

Other revisions were made in procedures. Uniforms are sorted before they come to Richardson so he need only throw bags of laundry into washers and dryers. Repairs are identified for Richardson, then he tackles them on his own. "It takes me 12 minutes to change a face mask out," he said.

Not being able to drive or do photography and videography have hit Richardson hard. But, aside from the reduction in hours and benefits, Richardson is pleased about his work. "I think the whole athletic department was very supportive," he said.

Not everyone is supportive of the visually impaired, however. Nicol shares his experiences in Tuesday's column.

murphy@vindy.com




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