Tracy Rau lost her vision when she was 3-years-old due to retinoblastoma. Retinoblastoma is a rare form of cancer that starts in the retina and usually develops in early childhood. Tracy lost one of her eyes when she was just 2-years-old and her other eye at 3-years-old.
When Tracy first started school she was taught braille. Her mother had a goal for her to become strong and independent and chose for Tracy to go to school in public schools instead of a school for the blind. Her goal was for Tracy to be raised in the “real world” and for her to learn how to adapt. So she learned braille in her public school and when she was in 5th or 6th grade, Tracy started to use a computer. She had to learn the layout of the keyboard and had software that would read what was on the screen to her. Tracy had aides all through school that helped her learn braille, learn to use a computer, take notes for her in class, and help her with homework.
After graduating high school, Tracy went to college for massage therapy. She worked for a small amount of time as a masseuse, but learned that it wasn’t a good fit for her. She said, “It wasn’t my calling.” Tracy decided that she would prefer to do office work and went to Vocational Rehabilitation to assist her in obtaining employment in an office environment. Tracy has been a client with Vocational Rehabilitation for years. Vocational Rehabilitation is a state agency that assists individuals with disabilities in obtaining or maintaining employment.
Vocational Rehabilitation has made it possible for Tracy to have assistive technology services provided to her and I went to Fort Wayne to meet Tracy and learn about her experience working with Jim Rinehart, Assistive Technology Specialist, at Easterseals Crossroads. Jim assisted her in determining what her assistive technology needs would be in her new office position and then provided training to assure she would be successful in her new position.
Tracy is now working in the front office of a local Catholic radio station called Redeemer Radio. Redeemer Radio broadcasts on 95.7 in Michiana and on 106.3 in Fort Wayne and streams their daily content on RedeemerRadio.com. Tracy had been interested in working in and office and she learned that the radio station was hiring through her church.
With the help of Benchmark Human Services she got the job at the radio station and her job coach helped her learn her new job duties and Jim assisted her with her assisted technology needs. Tracy said, “I was so grateful for this job. I love the environment. I love the people. I knew it was a going to be a challenge to prove that I could do the work, but I was determined to do an awesome job. I love people so I was excited that I would be able to interact with people who called into the radio station and greet them if they came in the office.”
Jim met with Tracy at her office and learned about her job duties. Tracy is responsible for checking email for events and keeping the events calendar updated. She is responsible for answering calls and other office duties. She works Monday, Wednesday, and Fridays and volunteers on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Jim helped Tracy get JAWS set up on her computer in the office. JAWS is a computer screen reading program for Microsoft Windows that allows someone who is blind or visually impaired to read the screen by text-to-speech output. They also worked on setting up systems so she knows where things are in the office. They labeled things throughout the office with braille labels such as the buttons on the copy machine.
Tracy would not be able to work without using assistive technology. She tells me technology is also vital in her personal life. Her iPhone is the most invaluable piece of technology she owns. She uses voice over features to be able to read her email and use the Internet. She uses lots of different vision apps on her phone such as a money identifier that helps her identify currency when shopping. She particularly loves that she can use voiceover with Facebook so she can keep in touch with friends and also to promote her work as a motivational speaker. Tracy spends some of her spare time as a motivational speaker sharing her journey and how she has overcome her challenges. She speaks about how she faced adversity and has learned to live every day to the fullest and never give up.
I really enjoyed spending time with Tracy and learning about her and how she is using assistive technology to enhance her life at work and home. She told me that she and Jim have worked together for years and she is so grateful for him and for the technology she has learned about from working with him. She said, “ Jim is great. I know I can call him any time I have a problem. If I need help updating equipment or something isn’t working, he is just a call away.
I asked Tracy what advice she has for our readers and she said, “ I would advise anyone to sit down with a professional to learn what is out there. It is so easy to sit and think there is nothing that can help me. You need to keep an open mind. I would suggest that someone not feel sorry for themselves and find out what options there are to accommodate your life. I live a very fulfilling life with my husband and have a job I love and would encourage anyone to think about what you do have and not focus on what you don’t have.”