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The Working Life of An Independent Blind Woman Annoyingly Independent? Maybe...But You Go, Girl!!

Editor's Note: The following article is reprinted from the Braille Forum, Volume XLIII, No. 3, November 2004.

Let me preface this piece by stating that seeking autonomy and independence for any woman in the 20th century, blind or sighted, was, and to some extent, still is, a daunting struggle.

My working life as a blind woman for the past 30 years has been an odyssey, navigating through a sea of bureaucratic storms, battles and occasional anchorages at peaceful ports of employment.

This odyssey began with an application to the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation. In those days the choices for a blind woman were quite limited. I am aware that many blind men would claim the same restricted opportunities. While this may be true to the extent that any person with a disability has faced barriers to employment, the fact is that males have had and still have an advantage, simply by virtue of their gender.

As a blind woman, I was limited to the job choices of medical transcriber or BEP vendor. I tried the latter for a year and had to leave because the long hours were incompatible with my single parent responsibilities. So I ended up spending nine years as a medical transcriber in order to support my three young children. This was a good job, paid the bills and saw me and my kids through those stormy years.

However, it was not an opportunity to fulfill my human potential. It was an entry level, dead-end job and I needed more in my life. Now you ask, "Why are you complaining? You had a good job and many people with or without disabilities would be satisfied." I have never bought into the concept that "being satisfied" was the end-all of my life journey. Therefore, I have travelled many risky roads, keeping in mind that this is my very own one life and I will spend it being the best and the most I can be.

The question that has travelled those roads with me has been who or what defines the sum total of my being: my values, my choices, my needs, my joys? And the answer is always, "You, Teddie-Joy, you are the keeper of this definition." Therefore, I have had a somewhat speckled 30-year working life, but exciting and always filled with self-discoveries and epiphanies.

I spent nine years as a medical transcriber, one year as a vendor, five years as a recreation director with the Department of Recreation and Parks, two years as an advocate for the Client Assistance Program, one year as a CAP trainer, and the last four years as a community liaison and disability rights advocate. In between I spent time being unemployed and five years going back to college at the age of 49 and graduating at age 54 with a degree in gerontology.

It is certainly true that many bureaucratic systems have assisted me in this journey, but I have always made the life choices. They have not always been ones of which the systems approved. I don't have the time to wait on either systemic or popular approval.

After these 30-plus years, I am exceedingly pleased and proud of the woman I have become. My values, needs, choices and joys have all been owned by me alone and I celebrate that achievement! The sorrows and pain in life cannot be escaped, but I live it all with commitment to my independence and autonomy.