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Thoughts on what I learn

"You should have been blind by now" - An interview with a developer who is losing his sight

Have you ever thought of doing your daily job without sight? I must admit, I would not have any clue of where to start, but a very close friend of mine is going exactly through this and I think it's worth to share his story.

When I met Weber in 2006, we were both exchanging computer science students in Seville, Spain. I just arrived there, did not speak a word of spanish, and was looking for a room to rent. We were visiting the same flat and there was only one room available, a double room. So, after 5 minutes, we both decided to take that double room together.

When he came to visit me, we did pizza in my pizza oven

That's Weber learning how to make pizza in Italy, around 2008.

Probably only at 21 you can think of renting a room for 6 months with an unknown person, and this could go bad in many ways, but luckily it turned so well we're close friends that also meet from time to time, even if we live in two different continents. He currently lives in Houston, Texas, where he works as a software consultant. He runs the blog Dislexia Visual (portuguese; English-translated version here). At the time he managed to do several day jobs to pay his overseas studies, then go to party at night and hang out with friends: such a great determination!

When I got to know him better, he told me about the issues with his eyes: he already knew that in a couple of years he was going to be blind. He visited a moltitude of doctors, and all of them have told him the same thing, "you should have already been blind by now". He went through many surgeries. Luckily, his body didn't surrender that easy and he still has a tiny fraction of sight.

With this interview I'd like to put some light on something that may happen to all of us, not only IT professionals. If even one of you will change the color pattern, or think about accessibility for a second, I'll have achieved my goal.

First question is an introduction to you: who is Weber, where did you grow up, study, work..

I'm Weber Amaral, 36, and was born in southern Brazil. I lived in a small town in the country side my entire childhood. I studied Computer Science at UTFPR (Brazil) and when I was 21 y/o, I moved to Spain, where I spent a whole year in a student interchange program at the University of Seville and also had an internship in an automotive industry at the same city. Back to Brazil I moved to Sao Paulo (country's largest city) to work for Siemens. After 7 years there, I received an offer to move to Houston, Texas, where i've been living for the last 6 years with my amazing wife, Carol.

What is the issue with your sight?

When I was 6 y/o, I loved going to school. One day though, finding me too talkative, my kindergarten teacher sat me in the back of the classroom. She then noticed I couldn't see anything she put on the board. She called my parents, who took me to the eye doctor. We then found out I had only 5% of my sight in both eyes due to a vascular and autoimmune disease called pars planitis. Since then, I've gone through more than 50 surgeries and lost the sight on the right eye around 6 years ago. The left eye was doing its work "well" until it really start a new phase of degeneration almost 3 years ago. So, everyday for me now is a new discovery, since my vision is getting worse and worse.

What is your daily job? How do you spend a typical day? Do you program?

Since I graduated, in 2008, I've been working as a software consultant for different process industries, such as Oil & Gas, Chemicals, Petrochemicals, Steel Mill, Foods & Beverages, Pulp & Paper, etc. The 7 first years in Brazil, I performed multiple roles, which envolved coding, but also software deployment, requirements design and project management. In the last 6 years, in the US, I'm a software consultant of a specific Siemens tool, called XHQ. We design solutions for Operations Intelligence. Thus, my work involves requirements specification, solution design and software deployment. Coding nowadays for me is restricted to JavaScript, SQL, XSLT, PowerShell and a little bit of C#.

What tech tools help you in your daily job?

All my work environement is Windows, from client to servers. So, with the vision I have today, for now the accessibility tools contained inside the MIicrosoft OS have helped me to execute my daily job. I do have a big issue with light screens, so I use the Windows 10 dark mode (also for Office, Visual Studio and others). I also use extensions, such as Dark Reader, Midnight Lizard and others to transform regular websites in dark mode. Besides that, the magnifier (both PC and phone) are also very useful for me. I don't use PC voice command very often, but the Google Assistant is an everytime friend for me.

Are there any subsides from the government, or the company?

I am currently registered as a visually impaired in the Texas Workforce, a state agency responsible for supporting workers and employers in order to maintain a sustainable economic prosperity for all. In other words, they can help me to keep my job. Currently, the main benefit I get from them is the O&M training (Orientation & Mobility training), which provides me with the tools and techniques to keep my independency despite of the vision degradation. On the same topic, my company acknowledges my situation and we work together in order to keep my productivity, while they provide me with all the required tools, devices and softwares.

Do you feel discriminated by your colleagues?

Not at all by my colleagues. I am very very blessed to work at the environment I currently do. Even when I don't feel comfortable to execute some activity due to my eye condition, the whole team is very supportive and we all work quickly to switch assignments. With that, I feel very empowered to tell my team what is OK or not for me to execute. But, i understand I am very lucky to be on that position and I'm pretty sure other people with disability might not fit in this scenario. All of this is related to my work environment, which again, is very positive for me. Nevertheless, there are other nuances when we discuss discrimination on the society as a whole, where, unfortunately, not always I feel as comfortable as I mentioned above.

Do you think that you can change job in the future?

I pretty much like what I do today and, most important, I feel very comfortable in the work environment I am right now. However, I definetely understand that the worse my vision gets, the more I have to adapt my carrer. That means that, at some point, the adaptations will be too significant and the changes will be more profound. So, answering the question, I don't plan or want to change job right now, but I also have no clue what comes next.

What is your biggest fear?

Well, my biggest fear is to live in a society which does not understand how difficult everything is for a person with disability. Unfortunately, there isn't much I can do to improve my sight and I am very conscient about future brings to me. Thus, my real fight is to make sure that people like me will always have good opportunities in life and do not suffer any type of discriminations.

Our interview ends here; feel free to ask more questions in the comments. And please, remember to pay a visit to Dislexia Visual (portuguese; English-translated version here).