Reality-based, confident, assertive, with a wry sense of humor, and a positively inspirational attitude to life, loving, and living — this sums up both Jeremiah Taylor and his wife Jo-Ann. But these qualities were severely tested seven years ago.
At the age of 52, Jeremiah, an active and ambitious sales executive, decided to have back surgery. At that time Jo-Ann, married to Jeremiah for one year, worked in real estate and taught aerobics on a part-time basis.
They both wanted to become more physically active and participate in a variety of outdoor activities, including cross-country skiing, mountain climbing (Jo-Ann wasn’t too certain about this!), hiking, and even bungee jumping. Jeremiah’s back problems, however, caused by a herniated disk that had degenerated over the years, were interfering both with his career goals and their desire for a more active lifestyle.
Jeremiah’s surgeon left the operating room and told Jo-Ann the back operation had been successful. “Great!” she said, “Mountain climbing here we come!”
Twenty-four hours after surgery, Jeremiah woke up and realized he was blind. The problem? During his back surgery, a routine although lengthy seven-hour procedure, his blood pressure was lowered to prevent excessive bleeding.
The anesthesiologist, however, failed to monitor Jeremiah’s blood pressure sufficiently and it dropped too low, causing the optic nerve to die. The result was total blindness.
“The surgeons felt some vision might return, but within a month we knew the optic nerve was dead,” said Jeremiah. “They also hoped that over time there would be a slight change and that maybe I would be able to see some light but we knew the damage was done. Blindness was something I was going to have to learn to live with.”
Coping with, and Accepting, Vision Loss
Both Jeremiah and Jo-Ann claim they didn’t experience any period of denial or anger. “We’re both pretty reality-based,” Jeremiah said. “Yes, we shed a few tears, but whenever either of us had a bad moment we’d talk about it.” Their bonds, strong before the loss of vision, grew stronger.
Jeremiah’s feelings are precise and pragmatic: “It’s hard to explain how I adjusted to my vision loss, but I was able to accept it almost immediately. It seemed like my ‘business’ side kicked in. I didn’t view myself as a sighted person who was now blind. I decided I was a blind person — period — and had to make the best of it. I couldn’t allow this situation to have an impact on my marriage, career, or my enjoyment of life.”
Professional Vision Rehabilitation
A month after the operation, and following Jo-Ann’s extensive Internet research, Jeremiah began attending a vision rehabilitation center in New York City. The agency taught Jeremiah how to travel with a cane and he learned a number of useful adaptive daily living skills.
“If my car had a flat tire I’d take it to the garage. I’m blind, so I came to an agency that knows about blindness. No big deal — it was as simple as that. I learned typing and then I learned JAWS for Windows [a computer software program that speaks]. Trying to understand the JAWS ‘speech’ was especially difficult. But it was important for me to learn this.
Sales involves a lot of time on the phone, networking, making notes, maintaining files, doing follow-up calls, keeping information systematized and organized. I wanted to be able to do all these things for myself.”
He also had the services of a state vocational rehabilitation counselor from the New York State Commission for the Blind to facilitate his return to an active working life.
Active Employment with Blindness
“I wasn’t at the agency long because I decided to focus again on my career. I enjoy challenges — and making money! I got a sense that because I was 52 maybe it wouldn’t be so easy to return to work, but work was my goal. I wanted things to continue the same way as before I became blind.”
Jeremiah recalls that after losing his sight he returned to the engineering sales company where he held the position of vice president. He’d always viewed his position not so much as “just a job,” but as an integral part of the career path he was building. It was a small company and he enjoyed his co-workers, but after he returned, the company hired someone else to take his place. Jeremiah decided to reduce his travel and look for another job.
A Natural Networker
Jo-Ann noted that many people seem to not get what they want, primarily because they lack sufficient motivation. Jeremiah, however, a born salesman with over 20 years of experience, knew exactly what he needed to learn in order to maintain his career, quality of life and independence. The first step was networking.
Regardless of the disability, Jeremiah believed that networking was the most effective way to find employment. “I spoke to everyone I knew,” he said. “I alerted my friends, relatives, and especially former employers and co-workers.”
Today Jeremiah has his own employment agency and recruits individuals by telephone, primarily for the Yellow Pages. He advises his clients about conducting themselves effectively during an interview, and coaches them on business dress and resume development. In addition, he profiles their personalities and gives them “hardnosed” feedback.
He’s always found his own jobs, and the Yellow Pages hired him knowing he was blind. “Anyone looking for a job,” he says, “has to make phone calls, has to network, must have a good resume, must look good, must have decent communication skills, must feel good about themselves, and must be motivated.”
He suspects, however, that many people who have disabilities might not reach the interview stage because the prospective employer may be concerned about the costs of adapting workspaces or the legalities of terminating persons with disabilities.
Living Life to the Full
Today, seven years after the operation, Jeremiah states that his life hasn’t changed much at all, while at the same time noting that everything has changed! He didn’t cook before he lost his vision, and he doesn’t cook now. He used to do most of the shopping (which spoiled her, Jo-Ann says) and the cleaning (which he continues to do), as well as ironing his own shirts (which he still does).
What has changed is that Jeremiah and Jo-Ann now work on many household tasks together. For example, when Jo-Ann bought new window shades and didn’t have the strength to drill the holes to hang them, they both stood on side-by-side chairs and she directed while he drilled. Task accomplished!
“There are many things we can’t do separately but together we can achieve almost anything!” says Jo-Ann. “You learn what’s important. We don’t do as much as we did — he used to attend all my aerobic classes and now he doesn’t — but we still have each other. We love socializing with friends and eating out; in fact, we’re cooking so little these days we’re even thinking of getting rid of the stove!”
This couple continues to live life to the full. They’re active. They love ballroom dancing and receive compliments wherever they perform. “In fact, our socialization has increased. We love it, and we do it as often as we can,” said Jeremiah.
They also enjoy watching movies together at home where Jo-Ann can narrate events occurring on the screen and tell Jeremiah what’s happening. But he also enjoys the experience of getting dressed up and going out socially.
Jo-Ann admits that going to the movies is a little frustrating “because I can’t keep up a running commentary on the action for Jeremiah, but he loves the overall experience and sense of being out in the world.”
“I live in a relatively rural area where there’s hardly any public transportation, plus I now work from my office at home, so I’m not really able to practice the orientation and mobility [cane] skills I’ve learned,” says Jeremiah. Today when he needs to go into Manhattan, Jo-Ann drives him to the train and a friend meets him at the other end.
“I’m motivated and I’m glad I am!”
“I think motivation is important — in addition to being focused and determined,” Jeremiah says. “Anybody, whether disabled or non-disabled, has to make the best of themselves in an interview, and you’ve got to get the people to like you. You’ve got to be motivated enough to ask for the job.”
“Some employers are afraid of hiring people with disabilities, so maybe it’s better you don’t tell a potential employer too much initially. Let’s say you’re a great 5’9″ lady and I’m 5’4″ and I know you don’t like short guys, and I want to call and ask you out because I know you’re going to love me afterwards. (By the way, Jo-Ann knows I’m not talking personally here!) Would it make sense to tell you that I was 5’4″ before I asked you out? Better that I pick you up in the car, and I stay in the car until we get to the restaurant. Why start off with a negative? I might never get the date!”
“Yes, I’m motivated and I’m glad I am! I love working. I love being successful. And I love my wife! I’m a very lucky man.“
Resources for Individuals Who are Blind or Have Low Vision
Jeremiah has found the following resources useful. You might, too:
- NFB telephone newspaper service
- E.A.R.S. for Eyes audiotapes
- A bar code reader helps Jeremiah to identify any bar-coded product. He uses the reader to label CDs, files, clothes and other items. To purchase a bar code reader, see talking bar code reader at Independent Living Aids.