Richmond, Va. –
Defense Logistics Agency Aviation takes pride in diversity among its employees, including workers with visual impairments. On Oct. 15, White Cane Awareness Day will further celebrate the achievements and efforts of individuals with visual impairments who work to increase awareness among the sighted community.
White Cane Awareness Day was founded as White Cane Safety Day by the National Federation of the Blind and is observed every October as part of Meet the Blind Month. Oct. 15 was named the designated day of observance in 1964 in a joint resolution by the U.S. Congress.
The white cane is a significant symbol for individuals with visual impairments because it is a tool of independence that allows for safe and free exploration and navigation of the environment.
Hunter Matthews, a weapons system program manager, Air Force Customer Facing Division, Customer Operations Directorate, DLA Aviation, who works on Defense Supply Center Richmond, Virginia, lost his sight a little over six years ago during a motorcycle accident.
“My injuries were so severe on March 15, 2013, that the Fredericksburg, Virginia, hospital where I was initially taken to from the accident site could only stabilize me; and, I was air lifted by emergency helicopter to Medical College of Virginia in Richmond. It is a miracle that I survived the accident,” said Matthews.
Since then, he has had to learn to navigate his workplace and community as a member of a group that is often given little thought.
Matthews said many misconceptions about individuals with visual impairments persist, including the idea that there’s only one type of blindness. “Blindness varies from high-function low vision to total sightlessness,” he said. “Being blind [does not] mean having absolutely no vision at all.”
Other misconceptions include the idea that all individuals with visual impairments use guide dogs; have better hearing or other enhanced senses, ‘feel’ someone’s face to determine what they look like or want to be cured of blindness, Matthews said.
Additionally, individuals who are visually impaired work in professions according to their respective abilities and the degree of accommodation available in a given profession or workplace. That accommodation, Matthews explained, can sometimes come with its own limitations.
For jobs that require reading, for example, screen readers, scanners, optical character readers and magnifiers are helpful assistive devices.
LaParisienne Moore-Brown, equal opportunity specialist/disability program manager, Diversity/Special Emphasis and Analysis Branch, Equal Employment Opportunity and Diversity Office, Command Support Directorate, DLA Aviation, explained that the Computer Electronic Accommodations Program, or CAP, is a centrally-funded Department of Defense program that provides assistive technology and reasonable accommodations to people with disabilities and wounded service members.
To request assistive technology for use by individuals with permanent or long-term disabilities, she said, the request should be made in person or in writing to the agency disability program located in the EEOD office.
“But working with computers requires technology that will assist individuals with visual impairments not only with reading but with browsing and selecting or inputting data into form fields and interactive pages. “Assistive technology is only part of the solution,” said Matthews.
Matthews said many improvements can be made on the installation to better assist and empower visually-impaired employees and visitors. “We have no orientation or training adapted to visually-challenged individuals,” he shared. “And, we have no assistive or audible traffic controls.”
Against the backdrop of White Cane Day, Matthews recently spoke at a Town Hall about improving installation accommodations for employees with visual impairments and listing the above challenges he hopes will be addressed.
In his day-to-day role as program manager, Matthews thrives — so much so that his supervisor, Air Force Customer Facing Division Deputy David Brown, nominated Matthews for the DoD 2019 Outstanding Employee with a Disability. “I would not be where I am today without the help of family, friends, and coworkers,” Matthews said.
Moore-Brown offered this tip to sighted individuals for interacting with and assisting visually-impaired coworkers. “If you see someone and think they might need help, do not grab their cane. Ask if they need help first - only they can tell you what they need,” she said. “They are visually impaired, but it doesn’t mean that they aren’t capable.”
To request assistive technology, email Avn.firstname.lastname@example.org or call 804-279-4443.
Editor’s Note: Medical College of Virginia is now called Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center. https://brand.vcuhealth.org/content/index/guid/media_kit_1?parent=3