Trina’s Job Hunt:Perseverance Pays Off

In honor of National Disability Employment Awareness Month, I invited a Seeing Possibilities reader to share her story here in hopes that it will inspire and encourage other job seekers. Trina Bassak has a doctorate in Physical Therapy with 25 years of clinical experience. She enjoys yoga, gardening, and roller skating. Trina and her husband are Master Gardeners and 4-H leaders. If you would like to contact Trina, her email is: tdbassak@frontiernet.net

About Myself

I was born with glaucoma which was diagnosed at age six and already had tunnel vision. I had a retinal detachment after yet another glaucoma surgery the summer after high school and went to college with low vision.  I always knew I wanted to be in a medical career. Once I was exposed to physical therapy, that was what I wanted to do without question.

Some accommodations were made after more glaucoma surgery in college (assist for reading and special bright-colored markers in cadaver lab). Then two years after graduation, employed in an outpatient clinic, my other retina detached after glaucoma surgery again. I continued to work totally blind and then returned to school in 2009 to get my doctorate of physical therapy (DPT) degree.

I worked and went to online school for three years and graduated in 2011. I used my computer with JAWS, Open Book OCR and had a reader to assist with the school work. The college let me take extra time for testing. I also went to massage school as well and graduated in 2000. I was afraid advancing technology in my field may not be accessible and this might force me to change professions. So I wanted to prepare.

The Job Hunt

I have had a difficult year searching for a job and it is finally over. The frustration level was much more than I ever imagined and I thought maybe sharing it with others may help someone on the verge of giving up on their own job hunt.

I have been a physical therapist for 27 years in Pennsylvania and for 25 of them, I have been totally blind. I left a long-term position to relocate to Florida, for family reasons, thinking I would find another position in a reasonable amount of time. I moved to a very rural area and the people were not accepting of outsiders, yet alone a person who is blind!  There were only a few clinics within 20 miles and no public transportation. I didn’t even make it to the interview stage and that was without disclosing my visual deficit!

My husband and I decided it was not the area for us and we began to investigate opportunities in Colorado. There were more job openings, great weather in the southern region, gorgeous mountains and friendly, accepting people. This led to a second move after only 7 months!  I applied online, made phone calls and contacted agencies that I thought could be useful. I even started looking in other related professions such as healthcare advocate.

I interviewed on the phone and even went to Colorado twice before moving for in-person interviews. One company flew me out and provided us with a car and hotel accommodations. I passed all their work lift tests and drug screens and thought I would get an offer. They declined me after 6 months, claiming they could not accommodate me. This was one of many rejections – at least 12-15…I stopped counting.  I started looking at other career options again. I applied online and contacted people with experience working from home. This included customer service, writing articles, and data entry. I really love my profession and working with patients, but was getting discouraged by the many barriers to employment.  I kept remembering the saying “insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”   At this point, I was frustrated, angry, getting depressed and cried a lot more than I ever had in my life.  I very much identified with being a physical therapist and my feelings of self-worth and self-esteem depended on my work, I came to realize.

Getting Discouraged…

My husband and I argued all the time and things were not going well.  At a very low point, I knew I had to do something. I then decided to take any position I could find and started looking at both therapy and non-therapy positions. On an impulse, I started calling chiropractors who seemed to work in conjunction with physical therapists. My focus was still on working in an outpatient clinic setting, which I believed would be the most accessible for a blind therapist. Or was it…?

Got the Job!

Finally, I received a call from an operations manager for an outpatient clinic and home health agency called AIM Home Health in Pueblo Colorado. We talked a bit and I learned they did not have an opening in outpatient. He wanted to meet me and discuss the opening in home health, even after I disclosed my visual limitations.  After a few meetings, I was offered a position as a home health therapist and I accepted the job.  The company offered to provide me with a driver who also would assist with computer work and home orientation, and a company car to do in- home treatments.

I contacted the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation upon arriving in Colorado and they started my application process immediately. While I was waiting to be accepted, I found a job on my own, which changed my plan with them. Instead of helping me obtain a position, they were now assisting with work accommodations. They sent an access technology specialist to assess the computer system which is already partly accessible. I am working out the necessary accommodations, learning the job, and orienting myself to new environments. It all has definitely been an adjustment for me.

Trina doing physical therapy in a client's home

Trina with client Nicole Turner

The biggest adjustment has been working in new environments-not knowing where everything is all the time as I did in an outpatient clinic. I don’t have control of the situation as I did previously but I still have to present myself as a confident and competent therapist. It seems to be going okay so far but I am constantly striving to make it better. My assistant and I are getting used to each other and she is learning how to provide me with directions. She is not used to being around a blind person and I am doing silly things since she doesn’t know how to tell me where things are.

Soon we will fall into a routine.  I am grateful for her help and the opportunity this company has provided me. I am a good therapist and just needed to be given a chance and some accommodations. I keep wondering what I would be doing now if I had given up the search. Instead of doing the same thing over and over again, I’m glad I tweaked my search and opened myself up to new opportunities. It feels like the right place for me now.

Don’t Give Up!

Anyone in search of a job needs to be persistent and look at all opportunities and options, even if they don’t seem feasible.  I was on the verge of giving up but chose to continue forward. Now I completely understand why many people do give up.  During this difficult process, something in job preparedness needs to be done every day. Whether it is working on a resume, searching for openings online or in newspapers, making phone inquiries, networking, expanding your knowledge by taking online courses, or reading articles of interest…just do something! Perseverance will pay off; maybe not in the way you initially thought but open yourself up to new ideas and experiences.

Trina in the tomato patch

Trina in the tomato patch

 

Advertisements

A Spring Chorus of Twitters and Tweets

Ahhh, I welcome the crisp spring air and bright morning sun on a March day. I wander the yard with my guide dog Sophie and we are both feeling the freshness in the breeze and have a renewed spring in our step. Sophie pauses, closes her eyes and lifts her twitching nose high in the air to inhale the kaleidoscope of scents. There is a definite smell to the color green. And rain has a distinct and lingering fragrance. Just as humans see the world in varying shades of color, dogs experience it in layers of exquisite smells.

Image result for daffodils

 

I walk my little plantation to find other signs which tell me winter is over. I know the vegetation in my garden and I take inventory. My daffodils and paper whites are smiling and the forsythia bush is aflame. I can detect these vibrant splashes of color as they dance against the still brown lawn. The azaleas are budding and the camellias are in full bloom. No sign of the hosta yet and I cannot find the lilies of the valley either. A few herbs are pushing through-I ruffle the leaves and smell parsley and lemon balm. I gather my clues through touch and smell. Then I am suddenly aware of another sign of spring that demands my attention.

 

I close my eyes and stand still, like Sophie does. I hear layers of birdsong in the trees: playful twitters and tweets, insistent squawks and squeaks, delicate coos and peeps. My yard is a veritable bird sanctuary! I notice the melodic and frantic sounds like never before and wonder what the birds are saying to each other. “I’m over here!” and “Oh-oh, pick me!”  I imagine, as male and female flirt. The birds call out back and forth, replicating and responding in the ritual of finding a mate. What enthusiasm and energy they have as they play “Marco –Polo” in the tree tops. This adds yet another awareness of beauty this morning for me. Though I cannot see the frisky feathered creatures, I am enthralled with their noisy love songs and playful antics overhead. I suddenly want to learn more about them and their signature voices. I want to not only take time to smell the roses, but stop and listen to the beautiful spring chorus offered by nature.Image result for birds in the spring

 

Perhaps I will take The Hadley School for the Blind course entitled “Enjoying Birdsongs.” Here is the course description:

 

{Enjoying birdsongs helps people reduce stress, improve cognition and memory, interact with nature, and even have spiritual experiences. This course guides students through the many birdsongs presented in John Neville’s audio CD set Beginner’s Guide to Bird Songs of North America. This course helps students become able to appreciate nature and birdsongs, as well as reflect on their experiences with birdsongs}

 

The Hadley School for the Blind offers many distance-learning courses for high-school students and adults. There is a variety of academic, enrichment, technology and recreational courses that are FREE to the blind and visually impaired. Learn more at:

http://www.hadley.edu

 

The Summer Camp Experience for the Blind and Visually Impaired

When I was ten years old, I went to summer camp with my best friend. To this day, that week is memorialized as one of the best weeks of my life. The camp offered a variety of sports, games, talent shows, arts and crafts, swimming lessons and wilderness experiences. There was so much to try for the first time. I was beyond myself with excitement and enthusiasm. Besides the fun activities, every meal in the mess hall and bedtime in the bunks was a time of laughter, songs, pranks and socializing with new friends. Oh and let’s not forget the “cool” counselors who shepherded us through the week’s program; we watched them and wanted to be like them! The summer camp experience can be life-changing.

Some years ago, I was the camp nurse for Georgia Lions Camp for the Blind. I was struggling with my own vision loss at the time, but still working as a school nurse. I spent 7 weeks caring for campers of all ages from preschoolers to seniors. It was an inspiring and empowering experience not only for the campers, but for me. I learned so much from observing the campers and playing alongside of them. They had such exuberance and eagerness to try new things like climbing the rock wall and horseback riding. One six year old boy who was totally blind since birth conquered the climbing wall while his mother and camp staff looked on through misty eyes. When he reached the top and rang the bell, he was giddy with accomplishment and exclaimed “Look at me! I’m so high up!” For many campers, it is their first time to be away from home and the watchful eyes of parents. It is the first exposure to many new experiences like canoeing, camp-outs, adapted sports like beep ball and goalball, and tactile arts and crafts. They quickly become a part of “the group” and feel included and accepted, while learning from each other. It is a place where their disability does not make them different. The growth and learning that takes place in a camp setting is invaluable and cannot be replicated. There is often a sort of magical transformation that takes place in a camper. And they leave with powerful memories of being included, succeeding at new activities, tasting independence, and making new friends which can change them forever.

Camps that are designed for special needs can accommodate campers in unique ways. The Georgia Lions Camp for the Blind is a visually impaired friendly environment. They use rope lines to help guide the campers to different areas. In the buildings, the wood work is painted in high contrast for better visibility. The pathways are straight, flat and uncluttered. The staff receives training in vision rehabilitation techniques and many are interns or professionals in the field of vision rehabilitation therapy. The program integrates recreation, education, rehabilitation and social development, with a hefty component of play therapy. Have you ever played in a huge mountain of bubbles spewed from a bubble making machine? It was a highlight at camp. In other words, the environment is safe and the staff is trained and knowledgeable. It is an ideal opportunity and atmosphere for campers to explore interests, discover special talents, and stretch personal limits in a physically and emotionally safe environment.

So, what did I learn from my experience at the Georgia Lions Camp for the Blind? Well, I came away with a new “can do” attitude after watching campers conquer new tasks. I learned to try to do things in a new way. I enjoyed being part of the community of visually impaired, realizing I was one of them for the first time which helped me accept my disability. I came away empowered to learn new skills to live with my blindness. Somehow, the kids instilled in me a new-found courage to move forward by watching their fearless approach to activities. I learned to play again and have fun in bubbles, water and mud. I played beep ball (adapted baseball for the blind) and loved it. I learned at the talent show that we ALL have talents. We celebrated and shared our unique talents and “abilities,” while our disability faded into the background. I was truly inspired by campers’ attitudes and accomplishments as well as the staff’s dedication to serve this population. My time at the Lions camp rivals my summer camp experience as a child. It was most memorable and life-changing.

There are summer camp programs for the blind and visually impaired of all ages. Many schools of the blind have summer camps such as Perkins and Colorado School for the Blind. Leader Dogs for the Blind offers a summer camp program for teens which is free, including airfare. Lions Clubs International has special needs camps throughout the world. Everyone should experience summer camp at least once in their life. And you are never too old to go to camp. Who knows, you may come away with new confidence, courage, independence, playfulness, friendships and a spirit of adventure.

For more information go to:

http://www.blindcamp.com/   National Camps for the Blind

http://www.lionsclubs.org/EN/our-work/sight-programs/sight-services/camps-for-the-blind-and-visually-impaired.php    Lions Camps for the Blind/Visually Impaired

http://www.perkins.org/resources/scout/recreation/summer-camps.html  Perkins School Summer Camps

http://www.leaderdog.org/clients/programs/summer-experience-camp   Summer Experience Camp

 

smiling camp staff

Nurse Audrey with girls’ counselors

group of people dancing in a mountain of bubbles

Bubble Fun at Georgia Lions Camp for the Blind

Wise Old Trees

A sign which reads "Cathedral Grove-enter quietly"

Muir Woods, a sacred place

As a cellular and developmental biology major, I was fascinated by the diversity of life on this planet Earth. My fascination began in childhood as I roamed the fields and played in the creeks on our farm in Michigan. I loved to collect leaves and bugs, climb trees, watch ants, catch frogs and study flowers. I spent hours outdoors, communing with nature and it was always a spiritual experience for me. I am in awe of the variety of shapes and colors; species and phyla found in the plant and animal kingdoms. And beyond that, the fierce determination to survive and the ability to adapt are impressive. Take the majestic sequoias in Yosemite and their cousins the coastal redwoods in Muir Woods National Monument, where these ancient trees are protected.

It was a privilege to visit these special places. Even with my diminished vision, I was able to sense the grandeur as I entered Mariposa Grove and Cathedral Grove. I walked among trees that were as old as 2000 years, as tall as 379 feet, and as wide as 40 feet. Talk about behemoths! I felt very small and inconsequential; my life but a momentary breath in comparison. The forest’s gauzy shafts of light, swirls of purple shadows, melodious songs of birds, earthy herbal fragrances, and gurgling sounds of streams all intermingled to create an ethereal effect. Indeed, this is a natural cathedral, serene and solemn, commanding a hushed respect. These redwoods have stood for eons of time, against the forces of natural disasters, man and change. Sadly, they are the lone survivors of their species, now protected from the chaos and clamor of the outside world. I gratefully received the gifts of peace and tranquility they offered. And I came away with a few lessons from these wise old trees.

Ranger Lucy in uniform standing with me and my guide dog

Ranger Lucy, Muir Woods

Ranger Lucy from the Muir Woods park service gave a tree talk to visitors. She had 5 lessons we can learn from the redwoods:

  1. Stand Tall and Proud– redwoods are the tallest living thing on earth. They have survived fires, droughts and other hardships. They bear scars and cracks which testify to their struggle to live. Wear your scars of survivorship proudly and stand with dignity.
  2. Live in a “Cool” Place-redwoods grow best in the cool temperatures of the fog belt in California. They flourish in this moist environment. Find your special place in the world where you can thrive.
  3. Support Your Community-redwoods have a disproportionately shallow root system for their size. Their roots extend widely to tangle with other near-by trees in order to anchor themselves securely. Reach out to your community to establish connections with others.
  4. Grow a Thick Skin-redwoods have very thick, spongy and fibrous bark, rich in tannic acid which makes it resistant to fire, insects, and fungi. Allow your skin to thicken so you can resist the assaults of life.
  5. Surround Yourself with Family-redwoods have the ability to reproduce by sprouting burls and forming tightly grouped “family circles,” giving them a survival advantage. Stay close to family so they can fortify and strengthen you.

I am always looking for what nature can teach me. We live in such an exquisitely designed and spectacularly intelligent world. When we stop to observe and listen, we learn great secrets and truths. These sacred experiences teach us to respect and appreciate the beauty and gifts of the Earth.

A group of trees forming a family circle

Cathedral Grove, a family circle of redwoods

            

The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.

John Muir

 

Musings of a Visually Impaired Mother

I come from a long line of mothers. Women have been birthing babies since the beginning of time. You know that excruciating moment during childbirth when you are screaming “I can’t do this!” and then you dig deep and discover you can after all? I told myself in that moment “If my mom could do this seven times (yes, seven!), then I can too!” And then when the nurse placed my squalling, slimy, bundle of joy in my arms for the first time, I suddenly realized the labor was not even the hard part of being a mother.

I learned that I was expecting my first child from a neurologist, who was working me up for some unknown vision problem. The news was dulled by the uncertainty of my diagnosis. But I decided in the end that it was indeed good news and worth celebrating. Like every other expectant mother, I began to plan and dream of the days to come with my first baby. Before I knew it, my husband and I had two more babies, each two years apart; two boys and a girl in between. When I told my mother I was pregnant with my third she asked me “How did that happen?” and I replied “Oh, the usual way, Mom.”

The baby years are largely a blur, especially after the third one. It was a time of sleepless nights and exhausted days; the tired years. Someone always needed something from me. I remember feeling like a 24- hour Dairy Queen. I constantly “wore’ a baby around my neck or on my hip and my clothes were often adorned with baby body fluids. My body was no longer my own. But I remember those years with a special sweetness and wonder at what my husband and I had created together. There was sheer joy in cuddling my precious babies, taking in their milky breath, sleepy grins, and clutching fingers. During that time, I still did not know what was wrong with my vision and I didn’t think about it much.

Life got a bit busier during the toddler years. I call them the “sticky” years; Cheerios stuck to the kitchen table, gooey jelly fingers and tacky walls and windows. I had trouble conjuring up my inner June Cleaver. I was probably somewhere between Carol Brady and Roseanne on the mother spectrum. I much preferred playing with my children to cleaning up after them. I learned that children are incredibly resilient and durable. Eating a little dirt and even an occasional dead fly off the window sill, did not make them sick. In fact, it may have even boosted their immune systems. Most days, my lunch consisted of half-eaten PB and J crusts gleaned from the kids’ plates as they hurried away from the table. At that time, I finally got a diagnosis: Retinitis Pigmentosa. I began to have a few issues like tripping and bumping into things. One day, while running after my youngest son who was headed for the street, I fell into a hole and broke my ankle. It was also during these years that I lost my driver’s license due to vision loss. This put a huge cramp in my style and an extra burden on my husband. Gone were the days when I could just run up to the store for diapers and milk.

Birthday at the beach-happy and tanned!

Celebrating my birthday at the beach-1995

The school-aged years are remembered as “controlled chaos.” We were in the thick of raising our children while balancing our careers. It took team work and creativity to meet the demands of our busy household. The kids needed rides to baseball practice, ballet, and piano lessons. I needed rides everywhere; to the grocery store, haircut and doctor appointments, and to work. Transportation was the biggest challenge for our family. We were fortunate enough to have friends and neighbors who were supportive. I offered services like after-school care or baked muffins in exchange for rides for my family. It required careful orchestration, but we got where we needed to go and survived those busy years. As my vision deteriorated my children learned to pitch in and help. They learned to guide me and give me descriptive narration at ball games and movies.    

During the teenaged years, when aliens take over kids bodies, it’s difficult to have a visually impaired mother. Now adults, my children admit it was sometimes painful and embarrassing for them. One year on Mother’s Day, we went out to dinner at our favorite restaurant. We were escorted to the table and I began to sit down on what I thought was a bench and went crashing to the floor. I looked like a bug on the rug, my dress crumpled to my waist and arms and legs flailing. I began to laugh so hard that I could not get up. My three teenagers were mortified and asked to leave the restaurant. We stayed. For them, my vision loss was an aggravation and an inconvenience. They had to take turns driving me on errands, much to their chagrin. For me, it was becoming an all-consuming struggle to keep up at home and work. By now, reading print and mobility were my biggest issues and I needed to learn new ways of doing things. I needed to embrace technology and my earliest computer lessons came from my kids.

Before long, my sweet little babies were grown and off to college. Our house became empty and quiet. All too soon, the years flew by, leaving me with the echoes and trappings of child rearing. My role as a mother has changed from caregiver to counselor, confidante, cheerleader, and consultant. As I look back, I can honestly say I relished each phase of motherhood. My children and my husband made it easy for me to be a “good mother” and I have often joked that “they were so easy, they practically raised themselves.” Despite my anxieties and limitations as a visually impaired mom, my kids have said they feel they had a very “normal” childhood. And I can see many wonderful qualities in them which resulted from growing up with a visually impaired mother. Compassion, empathy, cooperation, advocacy, problem-solving skills, resourcefulness and patience are among them. My adult children are truly my favorite people in the whole world.

In truth, motherhood is hard work and it requires intentionality, resilience, and patience. Fortunately, we are naturally endowed with a certain measure of courage and grace to be mothers. The other necessary things, we find amidst the love and laughter of our children. Even vision loss cannot suppress the joys or dampen the pride of being a mother. My humble advice to other visually impaired mothers: don’t sweat the small stuff, keep it simple, live in the moment, and don’t aim for perfection because you will miss every time

Enough

This post is a response to a writing challenge from The Daily Post. The instruction was to write a story of exactly fifty words. It is called “a fifty.” I began to think of memories and scenes in my head that would lend themselves to this economy of words, a succinct picture in words. As I am new at the art of blogging, I am at times stifled and worried that I do not have “enough”  of interest to write, or “enough” talent and creativity. But that is not so…

This story is a true story. We met a beggar boy, no older than 5 years, on the streets of Lima Peru where we took our children on a family vacation. We called it a “vacation with a purpose.”  As a family, we worked in an orphanage, each of us with our own job to carry out. My children ate and played with the orphans at Kids Alive. They saw first-hand the effects of poverty on a child. These discarded children had nothing but lice, scabies and whatever bits of trash they could hoard before arriving at Kids Alive. And yet…they were full of life, joy and gratitude since they had been rescued from the trash heaps and brought to the orphanage. There they were given 2 outfits of clothing, a school uniform and supplies, 3 meals a day, medical care, a bed and a roof over their heads. To them, it was pure luxury and they were living in paradise! Enough is clearly a matter of perspective and experience.

The purpose of this trip was to teach our children to be grateful for what they have and to realize how much of the world does not know the excess in which we live as Americans. We wanted them to learn the joy of sharing what they have with others. It was important to us that they learn to treat all people with dignity and respect, since we are all the same. And we wanted them to value the right things in life: family, friendships, generosity, hard work,  service to others, and gratitude. I dare say the lessons were learned and my children were forever changed by this two-week trip to one of the poorest countries in the world.

“Enough is as good as  a feast”~Mary Poppins

 

 

And now for my first “fifty”:

 

The ragged street urchin sang, playing his broken ukulele. He held out his grubby hand. I gave him an apple and thanked him for his performance. His eyes lit up in gratitude for it was enough to satisfy him until the next wave of hunger pangs. How much is enough?