As National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) comes to a close, we wanted to share this story about Luis Narimatsu and his career success at Georgia Industries for the Blind. While Luis has climbed the career ladder, his journey isn’t as easy as it seems.
Originally from Panama, Luis started his career with the Department of Defense and later started his own business. He went to college and seemed to be on the path to success until everything came to a screeching halt. He was diagnosed with juvenile acute closed-angle glaucoma. Luis’ vision deteriorated. He wasn’t able to keep driving, and as a result, he lost his business. Despite all of this, Luis wanted to regain his independence. He persevered, and with the help of a few key individuals, including a vocational rehabilitation counselor, Luis was able to land a job with Georgia Industries for the Blind and work his way up the career ladder to become a co-director.
Excerpt from Luis’ Employment Story
In 1999, the United States turned over the Panama Canal to the Republic of Panama and closed all military defense sites. Luis and his wife decided to relocate to the United States for more job opportunities. “It was really tough for me to leave; everything I knew at home was coming to an end. However, for my wife, it was even more difficult, having to leave all her family behind,” he explained. Initially, they stayed in Warner Robins, Georgia, where Luis wanted to find a job. The job hunt was hard and sluggish. Luis submitted numerous applications and secured a few job interviews, but none led to a permanent full-time job. Then, after eight years of marriage, his wife became pregnant. He remembers the emotional roller coaster during that time. “Imagine no medical coverage, no money, and no work, and to top it off, we were dealing with a high-risk pregnancy,” Luis reminisced. “Yes, talk about being happy and scared at the same time.”
One day, his vocational counselor told him about an organization that provided employment opportunities for people who were blind. The organization was called Georgia Industries for the Blind (GIB) and had a plant located in a small town called Bainbridge. He jumped at the opportunity and visited the plant. He interviewed and landed a sewing machine operator position. “The only thing I knew about sewing was watching my mom sew clothes for my sisters,” he said. “Yet, the folks at GIB were confident I could be trained and that meant the world to me.”
While Luis had concerns about his lack of experience, the benefits of a stable work environment, competitive wages, medical coverage for his family, and career advancement opportunities outshined his fears. So, on a rainy Thanksgiving Day in 2000, with the assistance from two vocational rehabilitation staff members, Luis and his wife moved to Bainbridge.
Learn more about Luis and his journey to gainful employment after vision loss by reading his Our Stories article, Climbing the Career Ladder: Co-Director of Georgia Industries for the Blind, Luis Narimatsu, Shares His Employment Story.