Happenings at CLB

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Getting Back Out There After Vision Loss

A woman who is visually impaired shaking the hand of her interviewer

by Danyel Goldsmith

Ask anyone who knew me before this thing called blindness and some of the adjectives they would use include fun, fearless, fiercely independent, confident, goofy, silly, well-traveled, and someone who has a never-ending bucket list. Professionally, those same people would say successful, ambitious, driven and workaholic. I might include intelligent, creative and a cool chic who saw the world in a slightly off-center kind-of-way. Now in this new dark world, I have only noticed a glimmer of the me that I was. I have been focusing on mobility, the screen reader JAWS, and all the devices and gadgets that are out there to make life have some semblance of what it was like when I could see. Let’s also call it what it is. I have been absolutely scared to death to venture out into anything unknown and it is all unknown unless I am oriented to a place a couple of times.

Often, it is hard to notice the progress of a mobility lesson until weeks or months later when walking to the food court to get lunch is not a big deal. Or it may be that I do not notice as much that I ride in a cab every day to get to work. Oh yea, I haven’t walked into a wall or bumped a body part in a while. I do notice and then with a shrug, I am off to something else. But, wait, where are the celebrations? Why not jump up and down and grab that bullhorn and tell the world that I just accomplished something super hard? Well, that is simple. Until now, I haven’t done anything so spectacular that I thought it warranted a high – five and doing my happy dance. That is until now! Yes, this month, I am celebrating not one, but two successes. And even better, they happened three days apart. So there!

The first awesome thing is that I crossed an intersection with a signal for the first time. Actually I did it 4 times, with two of them being perfect! The first time I veered right (no shock there) and with a small push on the shoulder by my mobility instructor to get me straight again. The third time I felt myself veering right again and corrected alone. YAY, me! I even sang the Zip-a-dee -do-da song as I did it. You know the song. Zip-a-dee-do-da Zip-a-dee-do-a, my oh my, what a wonderful day. Mr bluebird on my shoulder Zip-a-dee-do-da Zip-a-dee-do-a! Ok, ok, those are not all the words, but that is what came into my head and besides, it was a short intersection. I did my happy dance, did a high five (and connected) and felt like Daredevil’s little sister!

Now, let me tell you what led up to the success. Months ago I began crossing residential streets and while at Blind Rehab, I focused mobility on crossing streets with stop signs. I have a naturally horrible right veer. So, much time was spent on trying to correct that and make adjustments when I overshoot the target. I have to say that it is a sinking feeling of failure when I overshot the corner and had to find it again. I have always been a quick study and anything less than an “A” after the second try, is failure. So, imagine how I felt about myself when it has taken months to figure something out. What helped was that I realized that my left foot naturally faces inward and it is my dominate leg. So of course I veer right. When I focused on keeping that foot straight, guess what? Better success!!! Such a little thing, but, so huge. It was then that I knew I had a chance.

So back to the Zip-a-dee-do-da-day. Don’t think for a second it was just a quick walk across the street. We did traffic analysis for close to an hour before I stepped out. As a sighted person it is very easy to assess how many lanes of traffic each way there are. Look at the signal and the street to know if there is a left arrow to turn on. Right on red? Yep, unless the sign over the signal specifically says differently, and then even sometimes, if there are no cops, it is still a go. The type of intersection takes 2.2 seconds to know and the number of lanes each way really does not matter. And really, who cares which way is the primary road? That is, unless you are on the secondary one and the signal takes forever. Then all you do is throw the car in reverse, back-up a bit to trip the light. All this takes maybe 30 seconds as the driver. But as a blind pedestrian, it took an hour. Then we had to make sure that I was facing straight, otherwise it would be right into the intersection for me. Feet on the edge of the curb? Check. Cane in the ready position after doing a wide sweep to make sure there isn’t anything in my way? Check. Parallel cars starting to go? Check, and off I went. No hesitation. I was ready. And I did it. Me and my Zip-a-dee-do-da self!

That was on a Friday. What could top that? Well, this isn’t a competition, but the fact that I went on a job interview is equally awesome! No, it wasn’t the fact that I got called for the interview it was everything else involved. I know my resume, qualifications, and accomplishments are stellar. It is the fact that this would be the first interview as a blind woman. Yikes! I was going to a new place alone. Uh-oh, first stress point. How would I address the pink elephant in the room? How would I know if I was talking way past the comfortable point of answering their questions? After all, non-verbal communication is non-existent. How was I going to convince them to hire me, someone who needed the accommodation, over someone else who did not? A better question was this: Was I going to convey that?

So on the big day I was all ready. I took extra care in making sure that I did not have cat hair on my black suit and practiced all the answers to the questions that I had been through on interviews of past. I had both the phone number and address memorized. I was ready! The cab showed up on time, but he was clueless as to where we were going. Good thing I left time for that because it took an extra 30 minutes to go 2 miles. But I arrived in time and my point of contact came out to meet me just as I was getting out of the cab. I asked orienting questions as we walked to her office, just in case I needed to know later what floor I was going to be working on. And it is important to know how many elevators are on each side. I outstretched my hand to shake each panel member’s hand and waited for them to reach my hand I had made the mistake of trying to find someone’s hand by moving mine to where I thought it should to only find air when I met the new 3-Star General. Oops! They began the interview by explaining that it would be scenario-based. And if I needed them to repeat a question, to feel free. Wow! These scenarios were complex, with compound sentences and 3-4 questions rolled into one. It is a good thing I am an experienced interviewer and am comfortable with that environment. Others’ would have cried. But I felt great. I was on my game. I even though there was some pressure, I was exhilarated. I felt the most worthy and valuable as I had been since becoming blind.

Think about the levity of that. Here I was with 3 strangers, interviewing for a job that I wanted, and that was the best I felt about myself professionally in more than 15 months? Any question why I was interviewing and looking for another job? I think not.

So the obligatory question of why do you want this job was asked, just in a slightly different form. It was asked what makes you uniquely qualified? I went through a few items and then I told them this: You may think that there may be some accommodations that you will have to make if you hire me, and yes it is true. There will also be an adjustment period for all of us. The advantage is that I have already gone through that once. Here is another advantage that I have. After the brain surgery, I came out blind. Just 68 days later, I returned to work. I do not say that to get a high five, but to tell you of my character. Now, 15 months later, I am still doing it. And I sit before you too.”

At the end of the interview, as I was thanking them for the time, I closed by telling them that I really do want the job. I continued by telling them that if they do not choose me then yes, I would be disappointed, but the fact that I was there made me feel more like the Danyel of old more than I had felt in the last 15 months and that made me feel amazing, so thank you for the opportunity! That was not just rhetoric, it was the truth. They will never know the fear that I had in getting in the cab and going to a new place alone, trusting strangers to keep me safe and not make a fool out of me, represent myself well enough to have them even try to look past my blindness and then reverse the process to get home. Even as I write this, I swell a bit because I am proud of myself. It is too soon to hear back whether I got the job, but I am still hopeful. If I do not get it, it will only be because the other person had more technical expertise than me, than the stuff that I far surpass them in. And for that, I have no regrets.

I may not have celebrated these two huge milestones loudly, but even better, people have noticed the smile on my face and the lighter mood this week. I feel great and my confidence is soaring. I only have this question: what is next?