Blind World Magazine

Man sees beyond his blindness.

February 6, 2006.
Modesto Bee - Modesto,CA,USA.

Mauricio Molina is losing his sight, but he has a vision for his future.

More than a decade ago, when hewas an award-winning letter carrier in San Jose, he pictured himself retiring from the U.S. Postal Service.

Now, the Modesto man sees himself as a history teacher a career he said should not be hampered by his impending blindness.

A full-time student at California State University, Stanislaus, Molina is majoring in history and plans to apply for the school's teaching credential program this fall.

He spends days and evenings learning not just what he's taught in the classroom, but how to cope with his increasing visual limitations.

In 1993, Molina was delivering the mail. He began noticing his low-light vision wasn't as good as it should have been.

He already wore glasses for an astigmatism, so he went to his ophthalmologist, who sent him to a specialist, who sent him to Stanford for tests.

There, doctors told him he had retinitis pigmentosa. It's an inherited disease Molina's older brother also has it. RP means the rods and cones, the retina's photoreceptors that capture and process light, are dying.

There's no cure.

Experts say most people with RP lose peripheral vision first, their sight narrowing gradually, as though looking through a straw, and are legally blind by the time they turn 40.

Molina's disease is atypical he's losing the center of his sight first. Right now, he said, he can look straight at people and not see their heads or shoulders, but see a door four feet to the left of them.

"I'm way beyond legally blind," he said. "Unless there's a cure, I will lose my vision. All of it."

He knows he faces challenges in the new career he has chosen for himself. Teachers do a lot of reading and grading papers, for example.

But he said he doesn't see obstacles.

Molina said other people who have been blind and taught found ways to do their jobs, and he will, too.

"If I do have a concern, it's getting past people's perceptions that visually impaired people are not capable," he said. "We are."

Molina kept his letter-carrier route after his diagnosis. But he noticed the disease progressing from small slashes through the letter "a" in books he was reading, to a ring-shaped blind spot around the center of his vision.

The ring is slowly closing.

In 1998, when driving wasn't safe anymore, he asked to work in the mailhandling area, where he wasn't required to drive or do much more than move mail around the warehouse area. It wasn't easy, he said, admitting that was the limit of his ability.

He asked his supervisors if they would keep him working as he lost more sight, and they said no.

"Just no," Molina said. "Reasonable accommodation only goes so far."

After 18 years, he retired. He had no job to go to.

Through the state's vocational rehabilitation program, he went for job retraining. He took computer classes and thought he'd study computer science.

His loss of income, though, forced more change on his family. In 2000 he and his wife, Deborah, sold their Morgan Hill house, and early in 2001 moved with their two children to Modesto, where Deborah has family.

It took Deborah time to find work as an instructional aide, and Molina got a job working with a startup company called "Apartment Daddy," which listed rentals.

But the software the company used wasn't designed for people with visual impairments, he said, and "if I can't do a job well, I don't want to do it at all."

The business went under the following year, Molina said, so he'd have been unemployed again anyway.

He kept looking for work, but when he told prospective employers about his visual problems, "the interview just changed," he said.

Molina said he needed a change.

With some vocational classes behind him, in 2002 he enrolled at Modesto Junior College. He participated in disabled student programs that let him practice using computer programs designed for people with vision limitations.

He had more change in mind, though.

After winning the 2004 Disabled Student of the Year award and graduating with an associate degree, he transferred to Stanislaus State.

He's more than proficient with such programs as JAWS, which provides, among other things, a "reader" that tells Molina what he would be seeing on his computer screen.

And he developed a love for teaching while working with other visually impaired students, showing them what's available.

But when he thought about the immediate future and how to get working again relatively quickly, he envisioned a different path.

"I'm a history buff, too," he said.

Now 44, he's close to his bachelor's degree. He's on the waiting list for two required classes. If he can squeeze them in on top of the four courses he signed up for this spring, he'll graduate in May.

He doesn't doubt he can do the work.

Education is part of who he is now.

"I wish I would have done it sooner. I'll probably keep going to school, even after I'm working," Molina said. He's thinking about a master's degree.

He won $5,000 from the Dale M. Schoettler Scholarship for Visually Impaired Students last year, given through the California State University system to several students across the state. The money is much needed because his only job is part time, scanning books page by page for other disabled students to use.

Michelle Sanchez-Stamos, the university's disabled students coordinator, is Molina's work-study boss.

"One of my star students," she said at the mention of Molina's name.

He rides the bus from Modesto to school every day, a trip that takes about an hour and a half with transfers. It gives him time to listen to the class lectures he always records to help him study.

Economics professor Kelvin JasekRysdahl praised Molina for always having his work done early, for being a student leader and for never asking for exceptions because of his impairment.

As for Molina's plan to teach history in grade school or high school, JasekRysdahl said he has no doubt his former student will succeed.

He thought about parts of his own job that might challenge Molina, such as the amount of reading teachers have to do, but said he doesn't foresee problems.

"(Molina) just seems to be able to adapt," the professor said. "I think he'll just find a way."

Molina's brother keeps him up to date on the latest technology for the visually impaired, and Molina volunteers sometimes with the VIPS House in Modesto, a learning center for the visually impaired.

And he continues learning his own increasing limits a prospect that isn't always easy.

"The blind spot is getting larger, and my peripheral vision isn't as crisp as it used to be," he said. "I get frustrated, and it might last 15 minutes or an hour, or I might laugh it off, depending on my mood."

His life has become about adaptation, from being organized to the nth degree, to having his family give him directions inside stores.

He said he doesn't know how long his remaining sight will last, but he plans to make the most of what he's got left.

"Losing your sight is like part of you dying all the time," he said. "I could sit in my room and mope all day, but that's no fun."

Bee staff writer Lorena Anderson can be reached at 667-1227 or

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