Building Careers – Part One

split screen of pictures of Richard Oliver and Greg Szabo

NIB and its associated agencies have long known that given the right training and opportunities, there are few limits to what people who are blind can do. NIB’s Contract Management Support (CMS), Business Management Training (BMT), and Professional Mastery of Office Technology for Employment (ProMOTE) training programs prepare employees who are blind to reach their career goals, whether the goal is a leadership position in the NIB network or a professional career in government or the private sector.

Richard Oliver of Industries of the Blind (IOB) in Greensboro, North Carolina, was declared legally blind in his early 20s, complicating his job search. “I heard that some organization called IOB was looking for people to work in a distribution center. As soon as they realized I was blind, they hired me.”

Oliver started at IOB in 1995 as a material handler. Over the course of four years he was promoted from packing orders to shipping them, and then became a computer operator. From there he moved into accounts receivable and customer service.

“I taught myself HTML coding and built IOB’s first website for fun,” he recalls. “That’s when they realized they needed someone in that type of position and chose me.” While working in the IT position, IOB’s head of supply chain and logistics mentored Oliver, teaching him about inventory control and manufacturing, and he participated in NIB’s BMT program, which he says “taught me so much about business that I didn’t know.”

During BMT, he moved into business and product development, and became director of sales, marketing, and business development in 2012. As he built a network with suppliers and other NIB associated agencies, he realized he had a passion for talking with people and advocating for people who are blind. In 2016, he was selected for NIB’s Advocates for Leadership and Employment training program.

Now director of community outreach and government relations, Oliver serves as the public face of IOB, representing the agency in the media and in the community. He is, he says, dedicated to changing people’s minds about blindness.

“Thanks to IOB, I’ve had opportunities over the years to learn and grow and to discover not what I can’t do, but what I can do,” he says. “I want people to know that given the right adjustments, people who are blind can do anything.”

Like Oliver, Greg Szabo had difficulty finding a job. Diagnosed at age three with the degenerative eye condition retinitis pigmentosa, Szabo says he was lucky in the services he found in the public schools, where he earned an associate degree in journalism, but not as lucky finding employment.

On a trip to meet and train with his guide dog, Finn, he fell in love with the Pacific Northwest. A friend told him about a facility operated by The Lighthouse for the Blind, Inc., in Spokane, Washington, and he applied for a job, relocating in August 2011.

From his first job packaging wallboards, Szabo was promoted to senior machinist, then to setup specialist. “I was the first person who is blind to do that job,” he says. “I figured out how it could be done by a person who is blind, and now it’s a blind-accessible position.”

Szabo took advantage of everything the Lighthouse had to offer. “I took all the classes, joined all the teams, earned my Lean Six Sigma certification,” he recalls, including participating in the company’s Toastmaster’s Club, where he realized his passion for public speaking.

When a public relations and outreach position became available, Szabo applied for it, even though it required a bachelor’s degree he didn’t have. “They gave me the job with the caveat that I finish my degree,” says Szabo. Through its college assistance program, the Lighthouse is helping him pay for a bachelor’s degree in communications, which he is on track to complete in December.

This month, Szabo was promoted to director of government and public relations for the agency. “I love my job, this organization, and our mission,” says Szabo. “I love telling people about the great things the Lighthouse is doing and showing them what ability – not disability – means.”