NEVER GIVE UP
by Karl Arnold Belser
(Dialogue Magazine Spring 2003)
I was 24 when I started loosing
I was terrified, and at one point almost committed suicide, because I
believed that engineers had to see.
started when I was driving back to school with my wife and baby when I
a small dark spot against the sky when I blinked.
spot was like the after image from a photoflash.
turned out that I had a fungus infection
similar to ocular histoplasmosis.
doctor could not kill the fungus.
lost the vision in my right eye, and the fungus remained as a latent
my blood. I
continued with my
education, hoping that I would not lose the vision in both eyes.
joined IBM after graduation and I worked for a time with a blind
Noel. I recorded
textbooks for him on
tape and discussed circuit diagrams using magnetic squares, circles and
stuck to a smooth white board. Noel
even invented a language by which circuit diagrams could be read to him. He used a sighted
technician to be his eyes
when he could not do the job himself.
told Noel about my eye disease and how afraid I was of loosing my
vision. I also
confess my fears that I
could not be
an engineer if I were blind.
told me the following story: A
fellow went into the boss’s office to discuss a new idea. He stated the problem, and
the boss said
that he had looked at this problem and a solution was impossible. But the young man had
demonstration, so he got a few more minutes of the busy bosses time. The boss raised his
eyebrows and said, “I
guess if you do it that way, it is possible.”
emphasized that serious disability of any kind can break the strongest
when he thinks an alternate way of functioning is impossible. He told me that he was
living proof that it
is possible to successfully cope with blindness.
loosing the vision in my good eye when I was 44, and I was treated with
newly invented laser eye surgery.
treatment left me with central vision loss in both eyes, which meant
couldn’t see a person’s head if I looked directly at him from 4 feet
lost my vision and within six months my mother died, my brother died,
my little Pekinese dog died. I
divorced and estranged from my children.
doctor even told me that I was permanently disabled and
that I should
start collecting Social Security Disability benefits.
I was depressed, thought my life had come to an end,
considered suicide. But
IBM did not
fire me, and I remembered how well my friend Noel functioned. If he could cope with
vision loss, so could
only support was a woman from human resources at IBM.
With her guidance I consulted with a low vision
in the next year I experimented with many types of visual aids. These included TV
magnifiers and scanners
with text-to-speech converters, many of which were expensive and not
portable. I ended
up choosing a
telescope and a special pair of glasses containing a bifocal magnifier. With these two visual aids
I adapted myself
to almost every situation.
could not use my special glasses to read a computer screen because I
twist my head too much. A
text-to-speech conversion program solved this computer usage problem. The program allowed me to
highlight any text
using the cursor and click “copy” to tell the program to speak. The program I use now is
which is free on the Internet.
with these visual aids there were things that I could not do well
competition with the other workers at IBM.
and promotion were at stake. I
that I had to find a job that I could do well
was a disk drive engineer, and I started looking at the “big picture”. I collected papers on the
of the disk drive business. When
could not find papers that were appropriate I wrote them. I became a disk drive
with my knowledge I retired from IBM at 56 and joined a disk drive
company. I invented
and patented new
technology for this company, which was soon purchased by another big
company like IBM. I
retired a second
time a few years later after the technology transfer was completed.
technology can be measure by the number patents issued, and 38 of my 43
were written after I lost my vision.
vision loss turned out to be a blessing in disguise because I was
become more valuable to the companies that I worked for.
personal life also turned out better than I could have expected. I focused on activities
that I could do with
low vision. I
learned to square dance,
speak Spanish, play the piano, and garden.
met people who accepted me as I am, and after a few
relationships I met Jackie, the woman who I have happily lived with for
last 15 years.
consider myself an example, like that of my friend Noel, of what can be
despite disability. The
tricks are to
creatively compensate for the disability, figure out what can be done
limitations, and never give up.
* * *
updated November 11, 2005
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