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Chartering a Course Through The Accounting World

Editor's Note: Mark Dumalski is Treasurer of AEBC's Ottawa-Gatineau Chapter and expects to receive his Chartered Accountant's designation in the first half of 2009. He is currently working as a Senior Tax Analyst with Deloitte & Touche LLP.

During my last year of high school, I was seriously considering pursuing an undergraduate degree in history, but I found myself four or five years later making a little history of my own after changing my subject area. In my second year of a Bachelor of Commerce degree at the University of Ottawa, I decided to specialize in accounting. When people ask me why I chose this focus, I really don't have an answer. Accounting seemed like a respectable profession to me at the time, and I had always been interested in tax, so it seemed like a good fit for me. I didn't see it, however, as a long-term career option, as I was still seriously considering law school.

But my co-op interview with Deloitte & Touche began to make me think more seriously about accounting. Not only was Deloitte the biggest accounting firm in the Ottawa area and in Canada as a whole, it was also the only one offering co-op students the opportunity to spend their first four-month placement working exclusively in tax. Normally, accounting students are required to start off in the audit stream, but this area failed to catch my interest, and I knew it would be difficult for me to work in an auditing capacity with hard-copy financial documents.

My first term in tax at Deloitte, however, showed me that I would face some of the same challenges in preparing Canadian and U.S. personal tax returns. Not only did clients tend to submit their slips by fax or via inaccessible PDF files, but the tax-return software we used was also difficult to work with. I wasn't immediately sure how I would deal with this challenge, given that scanning slips wasn't as accurate as dealing with such important numbers requires, but Deloitte has always made every effort to allow me to do my job on an equal footing with my sighted colleagues. To this end, the firm arranged for the Canadian and U.S. tax preparation software to be scripted for JAWS, the screen reader, and to have tax slip information put into a format I could access. While such accommodations sometimes meant spending extra time on a given file, Deloitte was always willing to make this investment, if it resulted in me preparing a quality return.

At the end of my university degree, Deloitte offered me a full-time position, and I was on my way to achieving a Chartered Accountant's (CA) designation. The Institute of Chartered Accountants of Ontario (ICAO) was somewhat surprised that a blind person was pursuing a CA designation, having never before encountered anyone who could not read print--even if it were enlarged--but it arranged for me to write my tests at the University of Ottawa's Access Centre, and I passed the three-day Uniform Final Examination one gruelling year later. While I don't think I'm the only person with vision loss to have achieved this, I am probably one of a select few.

Now, the only thing separating me from my CA designation was 1200 hours of audit experience. Once again, though, we found a way to achieve what had previously seemed impossible. While not all aspects of audit are practicable for me, given my limited vision and the prevalence of paper documents in this area, I could write memos for a file explaining the proper accounting treatment for given transactions; perform analytical procedures on financial data presented in Microsoft Excel format; select various invoices or assets for testing out of a population of thousands of items, again with Excel, etc. At this writing, I still need about 120 hours, and the current plan seems to be for me to work with our Toronto office, in a researching role, to provide information to other members of a given audit team on various complex accounting issues. Getting my requisite audit hours has definitely been a challenge, but a challenge that has been overcome.

I have come a long way from thinking about the Roman Empire and ancient Greece in high school, though my thoughts still wander the globe. I now work in our International tax group, where I assist multinational corporate clients with various tax planning and restructuring issues. It has been an interesting journey--pursuing a career that has required me to be inventive and to fight through the intermittent frustrations. It is also rewarding, though, and not just for work reasons. Achieving this goal has shown me that, even in situations where it seems impossible, persons who are blind or partially sighted can pretty much accomplish whatever they wish, as long as they are creative and determined to find a way, no matter what the circumstances.

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