Think of a job that someone who is blind can’t possibly do. Guess what? They can.
From an award-winning photographer to an international journalist, and from a state Supreme Court justice to an acclaimed chef, here are four individuals who are shattering stereotypes about what people with blindness can accomplish in the workplace – and in life.
Award-winning photographer Pete Eckert calls himself a tourist in the sighted world. “I am trying to cut a new path as a blind visual artist,” he said on his website, PeteEckert.com. “I am not bound by the assumptions of the sighted or their assumed limits.”
Eckert was diagnosed in his teens with retinitis pigmentosa. Before he lost his vision completely at age 28, he found an old Kodak camera and taught himself to use it. He went on to develop a unique photographic style that uses slow-speed photography and multiple exposures. “I see each shot very clearly, only I use sound, touch, and memory,” he said.
Over the past 30 years, Eckert’s photographs have been exhibited around the world and he has won multiple awards, including first place in the 2008 “Exposure” competition by Artists Wanted in New York. “My motivation comes from trying to show sighted people the world from a blind perspective,” he told Oasis magazine.
Gary O’Donoghue has a nose for news. That comes in handy since the British journalist is, in his own words, “that blind bloke you sometimes see on the news.” O’Donoghue, who lost his vision at age 8, became interested in journalism in high school. That led to a 20-year career at the BBC, where he covered everything from the Kosovo war to British government. In 2015, he was assigned to cover American politics in Washington, DC.
Being a blind journalist is “hard, but important,” O’Donoghue told the BBC. “It’s important to have people like me doing the job though, if journalism is going to properly reflect how Britain is. Otherwise, all stereotypes will be perpetuated, and the world won’t move on in its understanding of disability.”
There are also advantages to being blind, O’Donoghue said. “Sometimes you get a second longer before they slam the door in your face,” he said. “It’s about making that second count.”
State Supreme Court justice
Justice is supposed to be blind – and it definitely is when Richard Bernstein hears arguments in the Michigan Supreme Court. He made history in 2014 when he became the first person who is legally blind to be elected to the state’s highest court.
Bernstein, who has been blind since birth, prepares for cases by having an assistant read him legal documents. “It would be much easier if I could read and write like everyone else, but that’s not how I was created,” he told the Associated Press. "No question, it requires a lot more work, but the flip side is it requires you to operate at the highest level of preparedness. This is what I’ve done my entire life.”
Bernstein is also an accomplished athlete who’s run 19 marathons. “So often people look at us and see physical infirmities,” he said. “But we tend to have a strength that comes with the spirit that is incredibly resilient and powerful.”
Chef and reality TV star
For popular chef Christine Ha, cooking is all about taste, aroma and touch. “I have to figure out by smell and touch if an ingredient is fresh,” she told People magazine. “It’s really about being organized, careful and using my other senses.”
Ha has neuromyelitis optica (NMO), an autoimmune degenerative condition that caused her to lose most of her vision in her 20s. She never attended culinary school, but she attracted wide attention on her food blog, The Blind Cook, which includes recipes, cooking tips and restaurant reviews.
Ha became a pop culture phenomenon in 2012 when she won Fox TV’s “MasterChef” cooking competition show. She released a cookbook, Recipes from My Home Kitchen: Asian and American Comfort Food, and co-hosts Four Senses, a cooking show on Canadian television geared towards people with visually impairments. In 2014, she won the Helen Keller Personal Achievement Award from the American Foundation for the Blind.
Perkins School for the Blind knows that all children, visually impaired or not, can be whatever they want to be when they grow up. To give students who are blind the skills and confidence they need to achieve their dreams, Perkins offers a Pre-Employment Program for teens and young adults ages 15-22, as well as Short Courses that teach Expanded Core Curriculum skills.