Paying It Forward as a Visually Impaired Mentor

Have you heard this before? You can’t change the world, but you can change one person at a time!

As I reflect on my challenges and accomplishments as a person who is blind, two visually impaired people come to mind. They helped me understand what is possible, and their advice changed my outlook about living with vision loss and starting a career.

My First Mentor

The first one, I’ll call him Darren, was someone I had never encountered previously. My father learned about him through a newspaper article and thought I should read it too. It featured a story about Darren. It highlighted the fact that he was a blind business owner. He ran a karate studio and was its primary black belt instructor. His studio was only two blocks from my home. My dad suggested I call him up and ask him for a meeting. Request a little time to ask him some questions about living with vision impairment.

Of course, as you might imagine, I was reluctant. But I called him and made an appointment in spite of my apprehension.

I arrived a little early the day of the meeting. Good timing though. I observed him leading a karate class. When it was over, he sat down with me, and we had a long talk about living with vision loss, career, and family.

Although our visit was brief, it was inspiring. Darren made a lasting impression on me. Not only was he a visually impaired business owner, but he had a wife, a baby, and a sleeping dog guide in the corner of his office. Call it one day mentoring, but it was effective. I left his office feeling like there was a silver lining in my dark cloud.

In a serendipitous twist, Darren and I reconnected about ten years later. Our wives are teachers at the same school.

My Second Mentor

The other person who made a difference in my career is my dear friend whom I will call Chris. He had lost quite a bit of his vision when I met him in 2003. He was an outstanding salesman and a real go-getter despite the vision loss. When we met, he was assisting his wife with sales of low vision equipment throughout Texas.

We struck up a friendship. I found myself relentlessly asking him questions as our relationship strengthened. I’d ask him about living with vision loss, how he worked with it, how he got his guide dog, and so on. He gave me business and sales advice, and he connected me to important contacts too.

Chris has been a good friend for almost 15 years now. We talk at least once a week. I still seek his advice, and he gladly gives it. I appreciate him because he’s been like a big brother to me.

Making a Difference as a Mentor

Vision loss has been a blessing and a curse. A curse for obvious reasons, but a blessing due to the lessons learned and the relationships formed like the ones I mentioned.

Darren and Chris were willing and kind enough to help me so many years ago. I’ve made it a point to repay them by helping other blind and visually impaired children and adults.

Quite often I am invited to speak at schools and community group meetings. I talk about the ordeal of losing my vision and coping with the emotional rollercoaster. More importantly, is talking about rehabilitation services, and that life and career can go on despite blindness or vision impairment and that they can both be good and fulfilling.

Now, that brings me to this situation.

Recently, my wife and I were talking about some students at her school. She told me a fellow teacher approached her about one in particular. This student had been diagnosed with a form of retinal degeneration. Basically, the condition is claiming his vision and zapping his academic drive.

By now, most of my wife’s coworkers know I’m blind. I’ve given presentations to all grade levels at her school. It was no surprise when the student’s teacher asked my wife if I would be willing to volunteer as a mentor.

It is quite an honor to be asked to do that. Of course, I gladly accepted. I received word my volunteer registration was approved the other day. Now, it’s time for me to be a Darren or a Chris to someone else.

Here’s my request to those of you who have transitioned from school to work successfully: Be a shining example for someone else to understand quality of life can be good despite vision loss.

Become a mentor or a volunteer. There are so many blind and visually impaired people who need to meet role models and to hear success stories, especially young people and their parents.

It’s hard to change the world, but we can start by changing one person at a time!

Related Resources

Six Guidelines for Establishing an Effective, Healthy Mentorship

Qualities to Look for in an Inspirational Role Model as an Individual Who Is Blind or Visually Impaired

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