If you read Jen’s guest post yesterday, “Should I Tell My Workplace I’m Losing My Eyesight?,”  then you are probably curious HOW she did it.  Here’s her story!  

Here is a play by play of how my ‘coming out’ went. At my current school, with my current boss, I started missing handshakes, people handing me things, I couldn’t keep up with looking at kid’s data in small print….and I couldn’t come up with any more excuses as to why my dad was driving me to work at age 30!

So I started by telling the team I work directly with. I was scared so I just texted them. I am a crier and knew I would just cry, then everyone would feel bad, and I would be a charity case. I said, “I have an eye disease that affects my peripheral vision and I felt it was safer to stop driving, and it’s a disease that gets worse. Today I am ok, tomorrow I may need support. I usually miss handshakes, etc…..”
When I was truly done driving, I had to tell my boss. I sent him a text and asked if I could talk to him about my vision the next day after school. Being the great boss he is, he didn’t want me to wait all day and I chatted with him early. Of course I didn’t get more than 2 words out without sobbing. He then proceeded to tell me he worked with a teacher with Macular Degeneration and knew how to enter her room by saying his name, knew the equipment she needed and so on. I told him that I should probably just quit since it’s going to get hard finding rides to school and it’s a progressive disease. That is when he said, “I am not going to let you quit. I am not going to give you an easier position (I was asking to be an aide); I am going to give you the equipment and support you need to stay. I can find you rides. End of story.” He also told me that telling my collegues was entirely up to me but that it was part of my story and I should want to share it.
I know not all bosses are as accepting and understanding, but I was very lucky. I wanted to quit. I calculated how much I could make as a teacher’s aid or with Social Security and was ready to tell him I  wasn’t coming back.
I can’t even express in words the relief that came with telling my boss. Even if the other staff didn’t know, I knew that he did and since he was in charge of my evaluations, he needed to know.
The following day he had the tech people in to make my computer zoom in more, he asked around who lived near me for rides, he said I wouldn’t have to do outside recess duty because of UV rays, and he started enlarging everything he sent to me.

I know I may be lucky, but we need to have this response from an administrator be the norm, not the exception.

Now onto telling the rest of the staff. I was still getting annoying questions about “why is your dad picking you up?” “Didn’t you see that desk?” “Hellooo…I am handing this to you.” If you’re an RP’er, you understand these questions.

I knew I had to tell my staff. I poured over a long email that I wanted to send. I showed it to my visually impaired support group and while I got many supporters, I had many doubters that said if I sent it, it would be out and I could be moved, fired, etc… I didn’t sleep for a few days after those comments.

Deep in my heart, I knew I was someone who wanted my staff to know. I didn’t want to make a big deal (like my original 5 paragraph email) but I didn’t want to keep it simple, as this disease is not simple. I didn’t want to sweep it under the rug, because it’s progressive. The RP is not going to magically go away. This actually was the push I needed.

So instead I sent a Facebook message, very simple, to all staff I was comfortable with and instructed them to tell their team levels so that I wouldn’t have to do it.

And you know what…I got a bunch of “I am so sorry” responses, and then it turned in to, “What are you planning in math?” I loved that my staff wasn’t treating me like I had a disability. But now, in the teacher’s lounge, I can run into chairs and no one laughs, I can wait for my ride and no one questions why, I can complain about my computer not working and it gets fixed quickly.

I know this probably wasn’t the greatest, most efficient way to tell my colleagues and boss, but now it’s my story.

After going on and on, if I could offer any working RP’ers any advice, I would say DON’T QUIT. Don’t quit out of fear, don’t quit because you think you can’t do it, don’t quit so no one will find out.

Please, continue to work. You are important and you are intelligent and you are NOT any less of a person than a sighted one. Don’t let this disease win. Don’t let the darkness close in. Take your story into your own hands and light up the world.

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6 thoughts on “How I Told My Workplace About My Low Vision (A Guest Post by Jen Walker)

  1. Such a good reminder that everyone is going through more that we are all aware of. The honest reminder not to quit is important for me today…just because of my particular day. Thanks!

  2. I love that you “came out” Jen! And I’m So Glaf that your boss TOLD you not to quit! Your job is manageable as a blind person. You CAN do this!!! If you need resources or need to learn alternative techniques to help you do your work, you can get those! There are great resources! Take good care of yourself and keep moving forward! This is only the beginning of an amazing new chapter!

  3. Great story Jen. It takes a lot of courage to do what you you did. It’s not easy as there are those who do not understand. And without this understanding you realize it is time to move on. However, in your case and with the understanding and support of your colleagues, you are where you need to be. No doubt you are a great role model, not only for your colleagues, but also your students.

  4. Well done Jen Walker for the way you handled that. Really interesting story. Too late for me (already retired) but surely it will inspire and encourage others.

    As a legal secretary for many years in the majority of firms they are only looking for the best and most productive workers. Also employing the least number of secretaries they could get away with.

    How could I suddenly announce my RP when they suppose that they have chosen the best, fastest productive person, who can output loads of paperwork. What a liability. Low output means work piles up and another person required. So I soldered on, caught in a trap making excuses and never ‘cane out’. Mistake? Maybe! But I will never know now.

    With hindsight there are some things I would do differently. After all it’s hardly my fault I have RP and the ignorance of working colleagues can be a real stumbling block to owning RP.

    Very brave Jen Walker.

  5. I have always been lucky with my career. However, the last 6 months have been the hardest. So much so, I wondered if I was coming to the end. However, likewise for me I had an amazing boss who told me that I had a lot more to give, we then sat down and devised an action plan. I now have a new role which gives greater empowerment and challenge. I am walking on clod nine.

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