When I first met Maria, more than 17 years ago, I remember being nervous. Her husband had just been hired to the same branch office as Dean and they became immediate friends. Dean explained to me that Maria was totally blind, and had been since she was an adolescent. I’d not spent much time around anyone who was blind and even though, in my job as a special educator, I’d become accustomed to being around people with special needs, I was nervous about meeting Maria. I was not afraid of her or her condition, but I was worried that my verbal communication skills were not adequate to fully and comfortably communicate with someone who could not see my hand motions or body language. Now it seems silly, but at the time I was worried.
Maria put me at ease immediately. She may have sensed my discomfort and from the day we met we became good friends. We had kids around the same time and spent a fair amount of time in each others company. I’d take my two young children to visit with her and her children fairly often and we saw each other socially through our husbands.
When Maria asked me to help her learn her screen reading software about the time I was looking for work in the field of IT, I ended up learning more than I think I taught. I ended up putting that volunteer work on my resume and I think it was what ultimately got me hired for the accessibility specialist position at Caliber.
When Maria approached me to help her with a web page for her job seeker’s group I was happy to do so for a couple of reasons. First of all, I wanted to repay Maria for being a catalyst in getting me the job back in 2000. I also wanted to brush up on my accessibility skills, and what better way to do that than to work with the users of screen readers and other assistive devices? I was also interested in knowing how accessible WordPress.com could be – at least to readers. (I’ve already discovered it has some glitches when creating sites).
So yesterday I visited with a few members of the Unlimited Success group. Because of Maria I was not worried about the meeting in any way. I knew my stuff and I had no concerns about talking to a group of visually impaired adults. The folks I met were gracious, welcoming and opinionated – which is a good thing. They knew what they wanted and had opinions of what worked and what didn’t. I’m more excited about this volunteer opportunity than I have been about most others I’ve done.