For This APH Executive, Taking Chances Led to Career Success 

Photo of Paul Schroeder
Photo of Paul Schroeder

Paul Schroeder has always been a bit of a risk-taker. Despite losing both his eyes to retinoblastoma – cancer of the retina – by the time he was about two years old, Paul’s parents encouraged him to engage in the same activities his older brothers did. That included riding his bike in the street, climbing trees, and everything else an energetic kid might do.  

Paul started his education at the New York State School for the Blind (now called the New York Institute for Special Education), which he says prepared him well for public high school, where he was class valedictorian. He then studied Political Science and International Studies at American University in Washington, D.C., which inspired his career in disability advocacy.  

Today, Paul is Vice President of Government and Community Affairs at APH, but like most people, he didn’t have an easy climb up the ladder.  

“American University is well-regarded in Washington,” he says. “I really wanted to work on Capitol Hill, but coming out of American U with a relatively high GPA will only get you a low-level position, if anything.” 

Not having any luck finding a job, Paul moved to Ohio, where the woman who was his girlfriend who is now his wife was living. Paul recalled it was also less expensive to live and learn how to network in city and state government.  

Paul developed some connections in the Governor’s Office of Advocacy for People with Disabilities, a new office that was just staffing up. So he went to apply – and wound up taking one of many “risks,” or leaps of faith, that have served him well in his career. 

Getting in the door 

When Paul went in to speak with the man who might hire him, it turned out he was in the hospital with a condition that wasn’t terribly serious. In fact, the office assistant told Paul to go ahead and visit him in the hospital. 

“She or someone else in the office said, ‘It’s not like he can get away from you – he’s kind of a captive audience,” Paul says. “I don’t know if it was my audacity of visiting him there or whether he thought I had something to offer, but he said ‘Let’s see what this kid’s got.’ I had learned from my time on Capitol Hill that I’d have to up my game to get a job, so I did.” 

At age 22, Paul had landed his first job working in disability advocacy. He says the late 1980s was a really interesting time to be working in this arena, given the passage of what is now known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). There was also the run-up to the passage of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) that was eventually passed in 1990.  

“I got to do political work in Ohio on disability issues and getting support from Ohio members of Congress for the ADA – and then, helping explain what was in the ADA to constituents around Ohio in the disability community,” Paul says. “I loved it.” 

After six years with the governor’s office, Paul went on to work with the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) and the American Council of the Blind (ACB). Through working with ACB, he learned they were looking for someone to run governmental affairs, so Paul decided to return to Washington, D.C., where he stayed for three years. His work largely focused on the regulatory aspects of implementing the ADA across various Federal agencies – from detectable warning surfaces to stop-calling on mainstream buses and subways, and everything in between. 

“I had great mentors and learned a lot, such as addressing the needs of other disability advocates who were concerned about things like detectable warning surfaces being a disruption to people who use canes or wheelchairs,” Paul says. “You don’t want to hinder someone else’s accessibility.” 

Maintaining the momentum 

By 1994, Paul and his wife had a young family and decided to move back to the Midwest. After settling in Chicago, he began working for American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) in various capacities until 2016, at which point he was Vice President of Programs and Policy. 

Paul then went on to do some policy work for AIRA, a technology company whose work includes innovative assistive technology, and then spent four years as an independent technology accessibility and disability consultant. 

Then, in December 2020, he joined APH, where one of his chief responsibilities is making sure Congress understands and is fully engaged in supporting the government appropriation that enables APH to provide educational books and services.  

“It’s about educating Congress and other policymakers about why this appropriation is here and what it does, as well as the work APH does, including demonstrating our products,” Paul says.  

He also oversees APH’s museum, the National Instructional Material Accessibility Center (NIMAC), and APH ConnectCenter – whose programs he helped develop at AFB before APH took over their stewardship.  

Throughout his career, Paul has been unafraid to take risks, which has clearly paid off. He credits his parents and brothers for encouraging him to test his limits from a young age. 

“A friend of mine who worked for AFB told me that was just what kids like me needed: take those chances, take those risks, learn how to be your own person and also interact with others as an equal participant,” Paul says. “And life is a joy.” 

February 28th is Rare Disease Day, which raises awareness of low-incidence conditions, including eye diseases such as retinoblastoma.