The Other Side of 50

Women navigate a seeing workforce while visually impaired

By From page OSF7 | April 10, 2014

VACAVILLE – At a time when most people are thinking about retirement, Sandy Nelson, 57, and Sherri Gabrielson, 60, plan to keep on working. But it is not just age that might make some curious. Both women are visually impaired.

Nelson began job searching in January after 13 years of being out of the workforce. Gabrielson has been working since 2011 at a call center located on Travis Air Force Base.

Both women not only must navigate the workforce at an older age but do it with visual impairment, as well. They both received help from the Lions Center for the Blind in Oakland and the California Department of Rehabilitation in Fairfield.

Both women also belong to the Solano County Commission for the Blind. Nelson joined the commission several years before – she even kept in touch with them when she moved to Washington.

“Then when we moved back to Vacaville, they wanted me to be their treasurer. It was intimidating, but I didn’t want to say ‘no,’ so I did it,” she said.

Working with the commission has given both the confidence to face the adversities in the job market knowing that they have the support of friends behind them.

Nelson quit her job as a registered nurse in 2001 because of complications with her diabetes.

“I had been working for 18 years, and I just couldn’t do it anymore,” Nelson said. “I would pass out. I stopped driving.”

Then in 2003, the majority of her sight went because of diabetic retinopathy.

For Gabrielson, her blindness began at birth after receiving too much oxygen as a premature baby, she said. By the time she was 15, her sight was gone. She married and raised her family, but continued with her education. For 13 years, she was at home then, after her divorce, she started job hunting.

“I just thought it is time,” Gabrielson said. “I got training from several support groups. It was frustrating because I wanted to learn the technology all at once. They would tell me to slow down.”

The technology for Nelson has been a huge learning experience.

“I never used computers back in the ’80s, “she said. “I didn’t have to. Learning how to use a computer has been really intimidating.”

Nelson may not have to work, but she wants to work again. The need to help people is a driving force that pushes her forward each day she applies for a job, she said.

“I still have more to give. I want to help people,” Nelson said.

Gabrielson had similar feelings and said, “I want to contribute to society.”

So far, Nelson has sent out 22 applications for telephonic case management work. She is aware this is a narrow, and emerging, field in medicine, but is one that, she said, will work with her limitations.

“It’s a job where you can work from home, or work from an office; on the phone or in the field holding educational seminars talking about medicine,” she said. “I think my biggest hurdle isn’t my blindness, it’s my age. They look at my resume, and see when I got my degree and think, ‘She’s too old.’ Or I have been out of work for too long.”

Gabrielson heard about the call center job and called them up and sent a resume.

“(I) basically pestered them to give me an interview,” she said.

For Nelson, the process will continue until she finds work.

“Each person handles blindness differently,” she said. “We each grieve for the loss of our sight in a way. When you’re born blind, you don’t know what you have lost. Some people tend to focus on what they lost, but instead they should focus on what they gained. I have gained so much more than what I have lost.”

Reach Susan Hiland at 427-6981 or [email protected]

Susan Hiland

Susan Hiland

Susan graduated from Southern Oregon University in Ashland, Oregon with a B.A. in Communications. She has eight years experience working for newspapers in Nebraska.

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