Blind World Magazine

Helping visually impaired people master the employment process.

September 25, 2005.
Press Democrat, California.

CAPTION: Lisa Greenfield, a paralegal at the Council on Aging, found her job with help from the Sensory Access Foundation. She uses special tools to help her see. JEFF KAN LEE / PD

Finding a job is easy. Update the old resume. Read the want ads. Make a few networking calls. Schedule interviews. Visit companies that need to increase their ranks, and wow potential bosses with a strong interview.

Now try to do all that with your eyes closed.

For blind or visually impaired job seekers, finding a job can be overwhelming. Just consider something as simple as checking a resume for typos.

"There is an old saying, 'To move a mountain, first move a few stones.' We approach job hunting the same way. We don't let our clients get overwhelmed considering everything at once," said Peggy Dombeck, a job developer at Sensory Access Foundation, a nonprofit with an office on the Earle Baum Center of the Blind campus in Santa Rosa.

It is Dombeck's job to teach job preparation skills to visually impaired people in the North Bay and assist them with their job searches.

"So often, our clients have great job skills. They just need a little help finding work," Dombeck said.

The Sensory Access Foundation is funded primarily by the California Department of Rehabilitation. Among the jobs Dombeck has helped clients land are paralegal, program coordinator, computer specialist, instructor, blood donor recruiter, receptionist and home care provider.

Visually impaired clients who have gone through life skills training at the Earle Baum Center often participate in the Sensory Access Foundation's bimonthly job club. They practice mock interviews and get help in preparing for a job search if they are looking for work.

"Peggy helped me do my resume, then put it online," said Lisa Greenfield, who has been a paralegal at the Council on Aging for nearly a year. "She also helped me with my cover letter and we scanned ads. We practiced mock interviews." Greenfield lost some of her vision 10 years ago to eye disease.

The use of mock interviews helps blind clients navigate the process more confidently, according to Allan Brenner, executive director of the Earle Baum Center of the Blind.

"In an interview, visual cues are crucial. It's quite challenging for non-sighted people to pick up on nonverbal cues. Practice helps. We do the training, Peggy does the job development and job placement. We all work together ... to benefit the clients," Brenner said.

Work accommodations, including larger computer screens and software that reads text and offers aural translations, help visually impaired people do their jobs.

For Greenfield, who is legally blind, working as a paralegal requires large icons on her computer screen, the ability to zoom in with magnification and other visual enhancers.

"I would still be looking for a job if not for the support I got at the Earle Baum Center and from Peggy. I still go to the job club even though I have a job. I figure people will meet me and know that they can do it too," Greenfield said.

A big part of Dombeck's strategy for gaining employment for the visually impaired is educating potential employers.

Potential employers can put on paper eyeglasses that mimic visual impairments, including loss of central vision, loss of parts of the visual field, tunnel vision and loss of contrast caused by developing cataracts.

"We have had wonderful success in Sonoma County. The biggest challenge is overcoming barriers. All we ask is that employers put aside preconceived ideas and allow job seekers to talk about their qualifications," Dombeck said.

The Sensory Access Foundation is searching for information about job openings. It is also preparing to create a Business Advisory Council to assist with occasional mock interviews and to speak at job club gatherings.

The foundation is located in Santa Rosa. For information, contact Dombeck at 636-0577 or visit

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