Referred to in my new book When You Can’t Believe Your Eyes: Vision Loss and Personal Recovery, Chapter 12, “Continuing at Your Work.” There is more expert thinking from Joe in Chapter 1, “What About Your Job?” and Chapter 12, “Can You Keep Your Job?”
Background with photo
An Interview with Joe Buizon, Employment Services Supervisor, Massachusetts Commission for the Blind
Joe comes from a Pilipino family and grew up in Somerville Massachusetts. At 16 he went to an optometrist to get contact lenses to change his eye color! He found he couldn’t see the biggest letter on the eye chart. For a while he didn’t do anything. Finally he got a diagnosis: Mitochondrial Disease. He was declared legally blind. He came to the summer program at the Carroll Center for the Blind were I was a teacher in 2000 before his junior year.
Hannah: How does someone who lives with vision loss or blindness work towards suitable employment?
Joe: Even at the Carroll Center I was still in denial. Going to the prom was traumatic! Luckily I joined the Renegades Beep ball team and found friendships and advice from other young adults who lived with blindness or vision impairment. They were my cohort.
Hannah: That’s quite a surprise! Does everyone who wants a job need a cohort or group who also live with sight loss?
Joe: I advise any blind or low vision person to ask himself ‘Can I network in a useful way?’ Try out career ideas on a cohort.
Hannah: With advice from his Beep Ball team Joe attended Bridgewater State College and got a degree in social work with a minor in psychology. His boyhood dream had been to become a cop!
Joe: I wanted a job where I could contribute my life experience. I began to consider employment with non-profit institutions – (dot orgs), and state employment.
Hannah: I know that non-profits, colleges, and state government are all good places to search for employment as a blind or low vision person. What are other considerations besides networking, and being able to contribute life experience?
Joe: Tease out public transport. What is surrounding the company? Does the company have an ADA, American’s with Disabilities Act, coordinator?
Hannah: Of course! The first thing is ‘Can you get there?’ Then you have to think whether the company cares about employing people with disabilities?
Joe: You have to change the dynamic. Even if you are older, if transportation is an issue apply anyway! Why aren’t you applying? Never turn anything down. It all takes an effort! Our motto is “do one more thing!”
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Hannah: It’s a lot of work, but you do learn something each time.
Joe: If you get a call and an interview you will get more clues. Hannah: Can someone come to the Carroll Center for rehab training from another state?
Joe: Yes, it will be a shared cost for that person. We also sponsor people from Massachusetts to go to NFB, National Federation for the Blind, training centers in Denver Colorado and Baltimore Maryland.
Hannah: What kinds of degree are most useful?
Joe: Social work, psychology speech pathology. There are always a lot of barriers. Be creative and innovative! Get good at dealing with the barriers. Also think hard before going for an MBA, Master’s in Business Administration. There are not a lot of blind people in the business world. They more often work in human services. Business software is often proprietary and not accessible with text to speech programs.
You want to work somewhere where you can make a difference. Disability can be an asset!
If you can move from denial to belief in yourself, to feeling good about all your achievements, that’s your most important asset!
MCB, Massachusetts Commission for the Blind has a job search program called Employment now. Before the pandemic.7 people completed the program and all 7 got jobs. Even with the pandemic 40 interns have been placed this summer.
Job Opportunities with the IRS