Refocusing Your Goals

A man finds the tools to save his career after vision loss

by Tanweer Imam

In November 2007, I suffered a significant loss of eyesight due to a medical condition. Most people thought it was the end of my intellectual pursuits and professional achievements. I am not referring to just family, friends or colleagues who were unfamiliar with visual impairments. This is something I heard from highly qualified ophthalmologists and specialists.

One doctor gave me the heartbreaking news without mincing words: "Mr. Imam," he said. "I am sorry to tell you that you will never be able to read again." For me, being told I would spend the rest of my life without reading was similar to receiving a life sentence in solitary confinement—reading was something I cherished most.

As a persistent quality professional, however, I was determined to find a solution. With the help of family and friends, I found a store in Long Island, NY, that sold a wide range of products to help people with low or impaired vision. There, I found special items to help me gain back some of my independence.

Finding the right tools

For several months, I had depended on other people for such mundane tasks as telling the time. At the store, I found a talking watch that announced the time, day or date with the press of a button.

The store also sold computer software that would speak every letter, number or character as I typed them. This allowed me to hear what I was writing, even if I could not see the words forming. 

When the salesperson showed me a desktop magnifier, I felt I had won the lottery. This machine could magnify any paper document up to 36 times and display it on a desktop monitor. Because I was not completely blind, I could once again read by myself after spending months in hopelessness and despair.

Equipped with these accessibility devices, I returned to work at Rock-Tenn Co. in Pennsauken, NJ, in July 2008. In November 2009, however, I was laid off after Rock-Tenn’s Pennsauken operations shrunk from nearly 20 lines running on three shifts to two or three lines running on one shift.

In the market

After 14 years of continuous employment, I was back in the job market—this time as a legally blind person. I decided to begin my job search by tapping into my professional network, but the response was rather discouraging. One of my former colleagues wrote a truly disturbing note to me on Linkedin, "You will not get a job in quality again."

After being denied scores of employment opportunities, Bestwork Industries for the Blind in Cherry Hill, NJ, hired me as its quality assurance manager and management representative in July 2011. Since then, I have helped Bestwork pass five consecutive third-party ISO 9001:2008 audits, including four surveillance and one recertification audit—all without any major findings.

With the help of large font and bold type, I have conducted routine managerial duties to the same standard as prior to my vision loss. I have performed internal audits, trained five managers on quality auditing, and conducted quarterly reviews attended by top management.

I inspect and approve first-piece printed labels for accuracy before bulk printing using my hand-held electronic magnifier, which is a smaller version of the desktop magnifier. I also provide mobility training to newly blind or visually impaired employees, so they know the locations of emergency exits.

Just one month before I lost my eyesight, I had earned my fourth ASQ certification and was on the fast track to becoming a director or vice president of quality for a large organization. While my career did not take that particular path, I do not have any regrets.

Nine years ago, many people thought I would never work again, but I was determined to adapt, and have recently been voted to become a member of technical advisory group to ISO Technical Committee 176—which is responsible for quality management standardization. Now, I look back and say people really don’t know how far a blind person can go.

Tanweer Imam is a quality manager and management representative at Bestwork Industries for the Blind in Cherry Hill, NJ. He earned his master’s degree in chemistry from the University of Sindh in Pakistan and is an ASQ-certified manager of quality/ operational excellence, quality auditor, engineer and Six Sigma Green Belt.

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