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Going Beyond Your Comfort Zone
by Jeremiah Taylor
Yorktown Heights, New York
I was 52 years old, married one year and the vice president of sales for an engineering firm when, due to complications during back surgery, I lost my sight. My first thoughts were to do whatever was necessary to recapture the wonderful life I had. It is hard to explain how I adjusted to my vision loss, but I was able to accept it almost immediately. It seems like my "business" side kicked in. I did not view myself as a sighted person who is now blind. I decided I was a blind person and had to make the best of it, not allow this situation to impact my marriage, career or my enjoyment of life.
I went to the Lighthouse for mobility training and learned to type and use JAWS. JAWS is a screen reader, and for me, it was very difficult to learn; however, I decided to return to work before I was able to effectively use the computer. I returned to work within five months after losing my sight. If I waited until I felt confident with using a computer, it would have been twice as long.
A priority was getting back to work. Although I was concerned about my ability to do everyday routine activities such as traveling or finding the restroom, I was confident I could perform the most important aspects of my job. Being blind was my problem, and I appreciated employers not wanting to make it "their problem." Realistically, I knew an employer would be concerned over the legalities of terminating a person with a disability. So, I returned as an unpaid volunteer for the first month. This status gave them an "out" if they felt I could not perform. My offer removed their fears and allowed me an opportunity to show them I could perform. It also gave me an opportunity to prove to myself I could function as a blind person in the work environment. I got an intern to assist me at work by reading files, making notes and helping me get around. My job was speaking to clients, arranging meetings and putting deals together. I did not need any technology for that.
I went back on the payroll, but unfortunately, the location of the office made traveling difficult. The reality is learning to walk with a cane and gaining the confidence to travel is what got me back to work, not technology. But the technology certainly allowed me to work independently so I decided to seek work closer to home. Traveling was the most difficult, stressful and time-consuming part of my day, and I wanted something better. I decided to find other employment six months after returning on the job.
The first step was networking. Regardless of a disability, networking is the most effective way to find employment. I spoke to everyone I knew. I alerted my friends, relatives and especially former employers and coworkers.
I was offered a telephone sales position. The hourly rate was very low, $6.30 per hour plus commission. This salary was less than my disability income, but my focus was working full-time, maximizing my income and establishing a new career. My first objective was to "get my foot in the door."
The first year, I earned five times the base salary. I was promoted to a sales trainer and later became the regional recruiter. The promotions came to me as they would to a sighted person; I worked hard, did my job and "asked" for a better opportunity. In 2004, I started my own business, ProActive Sales, Inc. ProActive Sales is a recruiting and sales training company with a focus on "going beyond your comfort zone." The hardest part of working for yourself is having the motivation and discipline to work without anyone pushing you. I wanted to have more freedom and earn a better income.
In life as in sales, you need to push yourself to be successful and gain financial independence. When seeking employment, you need to do "all the right things" and more. Having a disability certainly makes the process more difficult, but there is nothing you can do to change that reality.
To be successful, make sure your resume is perfect, dress for success, practice your presentation and take charge of the interview. The more an interviewer gets to know and like you, the less your disability will be a factor. Don't dwell on your disability. Be strong and reassure interviewers you have the ability to perform. Let interviewers know you appreciate their concerns and understand their reluctance. Express confidence and "ask for the job." Being friendly, outgoing and assertive as well as maintaining eye contact goes a very long way.
In addition, don't assume you can't get the job. Today, most people aren't assertive. Make the follow-up telephone call, and if necessary, make a second follow-up call. Just because you didn't hear back from a resume or job interview doesn't mean employers aren't hiring or don't want you onboard. It could simply mean they are busy. So, contact them. By following up you express interest and show them you have what it takes to get the job done.
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