Steven can still remember the moment when his vision changed: “At the age of 15, my eyes went bad, I couldn’t see, I couldn’t see to read. Everything was blurred.” After 25 years, his eyesight steadily deteriorated until he turned 40. Experiencing such a dramatic change inspired Steven to find a new career dedicated to helping others overcome similar challenges.
When my eyes went past, well past legally blind, I decided that I was going to spend my life helping others.
At that point Steven became a vocational rehabilitation counselor and began doing case management for people on welfare to help them return to work. He has been doing this work for the last 14 years, and loves helping people realize their full potential.
As a case manager, Steven noticed that many people in the welfare population needed assistance with mental health issues. That inspired him to get a master’s degree in mental health counseling at Springfield College. He loves his work and finds it fulfilling:
I think the most satisfaction I get from this job is that I am helping people who are at the very bottom of the socioeconomic ladder. And I am helping them realize that they don’t have to stay there, that they have skills they don’t understand they have, that they do have support, and that I’m going to do everything in my power to help them find the path to the job that they would really want to do and help them keep it.
Steven has used his vision loss to help clients. While many individuals with service animals ask that people not pet or interact with their animals, Steven uses his service dog Viking to connect with clients. Many of his traumatized clients become calmer by petting or hugging Viking. This interaction allows Steven’s clients to feel safer, and makes many of them more willing to talk.
Steven’s experiences help encourage reluctant clients to be more open to the idea of returning to work. Every day, he takes the bus to and from work, facing a long commute. Seeing his dedication inspires clients and shows them the benefits to overcoming barriers to employment such as transportation difficulties.
Having gone through the process of finding full-time employment and getting off Social Security Disability Insurance, Steven can relate to clients who are afraid of financial repercussions from going off benefits. He understands the desire to complete the transition independently, but still being nervous. He shares this advice with others going through the process:
You have to trust yourself, that you can work, and that you can be successful working. You still have skills, regardless of the disability … It’s so much better feeling like you’re relying on yourself and you don’t have to rely on anybody or anything else to be able to earn a living.
Share these videos so everyone can see that fulfilling employment is a reality. And don't miss any new stories: Follow the conversation on social media, using #ReturnToWorkSSDI.
The SGA Project is funded by the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA), Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, U.S. Department of Education Grant # H235L100004