National Disability Employment Awareness Month – an amazing man leading an amazing organization, Part 1

John Samuel, Technology Services Manager, LC Industries

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, and this two-part blog features John Samuel, and the organization he is helping transform, LC Industries. On September 6, I visited John at his office on the LC Industries manufacturing campus, and then was given a quick tour of the facility. Originally, I was only going to write about the organization, but John’s story is so compelling, I need to make this a two part blog. So, part one – about John.

STAN: I believe you came to LC Industries about a year ago, in September 2017. Could you tell me a little bit, about how you got here?

JOHN: Actually, it started back around the year 2000 when I was pursuing my accounting degree at NC State. I was then first diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa, commonly abbreviated R. P., and slowly started losing my vision. This is a much different journey from someone who is born blind. The condition worsened and by the time I graduated, my vision was even too poor to drive.

STAN: So what were your initial jobs like?

JOHN: I started my career in Finance, working in Bangalore (India) and New York City. Both locations were ideal for me, since I did not need to drive. Then in 2009, I went to Cameroon (Africa) to start and lead a telecommunication infrastructure company, and by this time, I was considered legally blind.

STAN: How did you cope with your work? I am sure you have to sift through many reports and numbers.

JOHN: Even in college, I found ways to cope and adapt. For example, I discovered it was far easier to read white print on a black background as my sight worsened, so I simply inverted the color of the computer screen. I figured out many life hacks like this, which helped me get things done.

STAN: And so what did you do after your stint in Cameroon?

JOHN: I decided to go back to school in Washington, DC and get my MBA. When I was at the George Washington University, I worked with the faculty and staff in the Disability Student Services office, to get the accommodations I needed to complete the program. However, when I started to apply for jobs, I realized that many organizations did not have accessible websites, which severely limited by ability to apply online for jobs. At this stage, I still was not completely open about my own blindness, and this was holding me back.

Many of the excellent LC Industries quality products for US Armed Services personnel on display

STAN: And so did things change? What were your next steps?

JOHN: Yes, things did change, but it took me some time. It was only after I read about Ed Summers, Director of Accessibility at SAS Institute, who developed a software that enabled blind users to visualize graphical information using sound. In addition, I wanted to connect with him not only because of the software he developed, but he was living with blindness in my hometown of Cary. Serendipitously, after months of not being able to connect with Ed, my father saw a blind man walking on the road and surprisingly enough it was Ed. (Link to news article about Ed Summers and his work.) Knowing that I wanted to move back home, Ed then introduced me to LC Industries, where they were looking to start a new technology services business, which was a great fit for my background. In this role, I know I have an opportunity to help remove many of the barriers I faced.

STAN: John, thank you for sharing your fascinating journey with me, and I do hope many who read this will get inspiration and valuable insight for their own journeys. Now, let us talk more about LC Industries.

And now here is the link to part 2 – more about LC Industries.

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My previous blogs for National Disability Employment Awareness Month:

2014: Bridge II Sports – a cool organization engaging people with disabilities through various sports.

2013: Support via a wonderful organization, Enable America.

And also: A theater organization supporting performers with disabilities, Theater Breaking Through Barriers.