Main content

Alert message

Spring/ Summer 2008 Table of Contents
Versión Español de este artículo (Spanish Version)

By Ann Edie, Teacher of the Visually Impaired, Albany, NY

Abstract: A teacher of the visually impaired gives her views on career options for people with visual impairments. She tells how she and others with visual impairments did not let well-meaning counselors keep them from following their passions, and reminds us all to keep a “can do” philosophy.

Keywords: Family Wisdom, low vision, blind, visual impairment, career options, vocational rehabilitation

Editor’s Note: The following article originally came as a response to a query on AERnet about whether a person with low vision should even contemplate a career as a pharmacist. Often families are not sure how to think about their child’s future, as it can be hard to envision a future career in some fields if there are not many role models available. We hope that this article provides one framework for future planning.

I am by no means an expert on the subject of a pharmacist’s duties or working conditions, but it is my understanding that more and more prescriptions, especially in a hospital setting, are done on computer networks rather than in doctors’ chicken scratching. So a blind person would have access to accurate information about the medications and dosages needed through the use of a screen reader or screen enlargement program, just as we have access to information needed to perform other jobs. I wouldn’t eliminate this career out of hand, just because it has historically involved trying to make sense out of illegible handwriting.

Besides, sighted people also have great difficulty deciphering doctors’ handwriting, and many mistakes are made in filling prescriptions by fully-sighted pharmacists for this reason, as well as for other reasons. There must always be quality control and checks to ensure the accuracy of medical procedures. And it is partly because doctors’ handwriting has always had the reputation of being so bad, that other methods of communicating this important information to the dispensing pharmacist are being developed and implemented nowadays. So perhaps visually impaired people who wish to enter the pharmacist career will benefit from these changes, which are being made to improve the quality of the services provided by sighted pharmacists to healthcare customers.

In fact, I am acquainted through the Internet with a person who is currently a pharmacist and who is severely visually impaired, and that person has agreed to consult with the aspiring pharmacist. I don’t know just how she does her job, but who am I to say that she, or another visually impaired person, cannot do it well and safely? So, I, for one, will let those with personal experience advise one with the desire to follow the pharmacist career path, rather than dismissing the plan out of hand, simply because I lack the “vision” to “see” how it can be done safely and efficiently nonvisually.

I think we who work with young blind and visually impaired people, whether we ourselves are blind or sighted, are too quick sometimes to limit the career choices of our students based on what we think or feel is possible or practical, or on what we feel we ourselves would be able to do successfully without sight. But I grew up knowing a totally blind boy who as a teenager wanted to become a mollusk biologist. He was told by some authorities that there was no way that he could do the shipboard ocean research required, and many obstacles were placed in his path. But he had the will and the passion within himself which could not be denied, and he got his Ph.D. in record time and has gone on to become an authority in evolution studies, written important books in his field, and won the MacArthur “genius” award. And he found ways to do the ocean-based research as well as everything else that the educational program and the job required. The field would have been poorer if he had heeded the warnings of rehab counselors and other “experts”.

When I was in college I was interested in studying the Chinese language. I too was told that this field was “too visual”—how was I going to read all those thousands of tiny Chinese characters? But I was fascinated by the language, and so I ignored the obstacles and thought, well, I’ll just give it a try and see what I can do. And I went on to get my Masters Degree in Chinese language and Asian Studies and enjoyed living for 5 years in Asia and teaching Chinese language at the college level when I came back to the U.S.

This doesn’t mean that any young blind person can succeed in any career just because he/she has the desire to do so. But, I think the question we should ask is, if this student were fully sighted, would he/she have what it takes to successfully pursue this career? If so, then I would not want to capitulate to blindness as the limiting factor in a career choice. If the person has the intelligence, interest, drive, creativity, and whatever other qualities are possessed by non-disabled members of the profession, then I will bet that that person will find a way to reach her/his goal and follow her/his passion.

Sometimes realism is just another word for handicapping our blind young people more than their lack of eyesight does.