Blinded by Disability

by Chris D. Gray

On a snowy March morning as the gray sky shook out its last flurries, I set aside my work at Paxton Street Home to join the more adventurous residents and staff in an impromptu snowball fight. The snow was wet, the stuff snowmen are made of, and it left us no shortage of ammunition.

Ducking and dodging the barrage coming from every direction, I took aim at the swirl of targets moving around me and fired at will. I had never pitched a baseball game or quarterbacked a football team, so naturally my strikes did not always hit their marks. Even so, I gave enough people good reason to either retaliate or run for cover. In the heat of battle no one seemed to remember I was legally blind.

The embattled staff eventually called a truce, more out of exhaustion than duty. Cold and wet, brushing the white dust off our coats and pulling frozen chunks of snow from our hair, we retreated to the safe havens of our offices and work areas. I resumed my responsibility maintaining the cleanliness of the building and directing the housekeeping department. In this, too, my impairment was hardly noticeable.

Of course, my disability did have its limitations. Some I was able to overcome with the aid of adaptive equipment, a closed circuit TV system for reading and a larger than average monitor for computer work. Others like inability to drive were obstacles I just learned to live with.

Having graduated in 1992 from Messiah College, I expected my bachelor's degree in business administration to guarantee a high-level profession. Lack of experience, however, closed the door on my ambitions. And the stigma attached to the label "blindness" locked that door.

I eventually took a housekeeping job at Paxton Street Home. It wasn't long before the administration realized my potential and moved me into the development office. Two years later I became director of the housekeeping department where I served another four productive years.

In 1999 I decided to strike out into the job market once again. Employers were vying for skilled workers like never before, and the demand for experience had faded significantly. My prospects couldn't have been better, or so I thought.

Unfortunately my disability was a stumbling block perspective employers were not able to negotiate. They had not seen how I compensate for my impairment, and because they could not visualize it, they dismissed it as unrealistic. Their corporate structures were not flexible enough to integrate the technology I needed to be successful. Placement agencies were unwilling to recommend me to their clients because they were not certain of my capabilities. It was frustrating. If only someone would give me a chance to fail. But no one did.

Throughout the years friends and family, coworkers and teachers have all looked beyond my blindness to see not a disability, but a disabled person. A "blind person" can serve a vital role for his company, his community, and for society. "Blindness," on the other hand, especially eyes blinded by disability benefits no one.

Writer's Note (Sept 2005):

I am currently employed at the York County Blind Center in York, Pennsylvania. My position is Scanning Supervisor in a new and booming Electronic Document Management Services (EDMS) department.

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