[nfbmi-talk] over coming adversity

joe harcz Comcast joeharcz at comcast.net
Sun Dec 19 17:14:22 UTC 2010

Overcoming adversity: Owosso native succeeds despite hearing, vision loss


Michigan Commission for the Blind photo/Tamieka Hall Jeff Smith, left, speaks after receiving his Achievement Honor Roll Award from the Michigan Commission

of the Blind on Dec. 10. He thanked the commission and his friend and councilor MCB DeafBlind Unit coordinator Cindy Caldwell, right, for all of their

help along his journey.


Posted: Sunday, December 19, 2010 8:00 am | Updated: 8:52 pm, Sat Dec 18, 2010.


By JESSICA ROBISON, Argus-Press Staff Writer |


LANSING — Former Owosso resident Jeff Smith was honored for his achievements Dec. 10 at the Michigan Commission of the Blind quarterly committee meeting

held in Lansing.


The MCB presented Smith, along with eight others, with its annual Achievement Honor Roll Award.


Smith, who is considered profoundly deaf and has 15 percent peripheral vision, has been working with MCB for 10 years, and was able to get a job through

the federal International Revenue Service with the help of his councilor MCB DeafBlind Unit Coordinator Cindy Caldwell and the Lions World Services for

the Blind in Arkansas.


“I really feel honored and lucky,” Smith said. “It’s an honor to receive this award, and I can’t thank the commission enough.”


“This is a really special day for me,” Caldwell said during the award ceremony.


Reaching out for help


Smith was working as a senior conveyor engineer at Act 1 Engineering in Livonia when he first contacted the DeafBlind Unit of MCB in 2000 for help finding

a job he would be able to do with his disabilities.


Because Smith had 15 years of experience in engineering before he began to lose his vision, he tried to stick in the field, but when it didn’t pan out he

tried several other fields of work.


“With his vision loss and his hearing loss, it was difficult to do what he was doing,” Caldwell said. “It takes a while to accept that you might need to

change your plans.


“He’s always been real motivated,” she said. “But sometimes I had to nudge him.”


“It took a while (to accept), but sometimes you have to change direction,” Smith said.


Caldwell said Smith tried a lot of different programs, even selling products from home, before finding his job with the IRS.


“It was just finding the right directions to go,” Caldwell said. “It’s a process.”


One step in his process was going back to school. MCB helped Smith pay for his associate’s degree in interior design from Baker College in Owosso.


Smith graduated from Baker in 2006, but in 2007-08 the housing market took a nose dive, he said.


Landing a job


When Smith received an e-mail about his current job, he was a little indifferent about it.


“I thought, ‘IRS — the government — me? No,’” Smith said. “The IRS is totally different than engineering, but it still deals with numbers.”


“He’s good with math and numbers,” Caldwell said.


Smith joined the Lions World Services for the Blind in Arkansas and began training in the IRS Program in October 2009.


LWSB has a process to help place the people that come into the program, LWSB Public Relations Director Dan Noble said.


There is a month of evaluations to know and understand each person’s capabilities. After the evaluations each person enters into pre-vocational training,

then vocational training, Noble said.


“(Smith) was ready to rock ‘n’ roll,” and went straight from his evaluation to vocational training,” Noble said.


Smith took a pilot program, an automated underreporter program, through LWSB, Noble said. The program lasted two months rather than the typical four- to

five-month programs for IRS training.


“Jeff is a continued success story,” Noble said. “His continued success will give others the same opportunity.”


Because of Smith’s success, LWSB recently found out it will be able to continue the automated underreporter program, Noble said.


“Jeff’s success is going to keep the program going,” he said.


LWSB has a good relationship with the IRS. With IRS employees training Smith, it helped him land his current job.


“He did very well (at the LWSB), and was offered a job in Atlanta,” MCB Communications and Outreach Coordinator Susan Turney said.


Smith was offered the job as a tax examiner in December 2009 after he graduated from LWSB and started the position in January 2010.


“At graduation — and I will never forget it — Jeff (Smith) said, ‘You all at LWSB have allowed me to say a phrase I never thought I’d say again...You’ve

allowed me to call home to my wife and say: ‘Pack up the bags. I’ve got a job and we’re moving,’’” Noble said.


“(Smith’s) just an amazing individual,” he said.


Even though Smith and his wife had to move out of Michigan to Georgia, he said they are both really enjoying it.


“(My wife) is aware of my disabilities and is very supportive,” Smith said. “We are really happy (in Georgia)...There’s so much to do and so much to see,

and the weather is warmer.


“People (at work) down there are really awesome...They encourage you to do your best.”


He said his fellow associates have helped him move forward.


“I’m happy where I’m at,” Smith said.


The only real drawback for Smith is moving away from his children — he is unable to see them as much.


“There’s always been down times, but I try to turn them into a positive,” Smith said. “I always try to give 110 percent.”


The most difficult parts of his disabilities for Smith are communication and transportation.


“I don’t drive,” Smith said. “Transportation is my biggest thing.”


Because of his vision loss, Smith now has to rely on public transportation or other forms of transportation to get anywhere, including to and from work.

He said he is lucky enough to have a neighbor in Georgia that is willing to drive him to and from work, but it is difficult to not have that independence



The journey


Smith has been with MCB for 10 years, and has worked hard to get where he is today.


At an early age, Smith lost most of his hearing to scarlet fever, a disease caused by the streptococcus bacteria — the same bacteria that causes strep throat.

Streptococcal bacteria produces a toxin that leads to the hallmark red rash of the illness.


He began losing his sight in the mid-1990s due to a condition known as usher syndrome II, which is characterized by congenital bilateral sensorineural hearing

loss that is mild to moderate in the low frequencies and severe to profound in the higher frequencies, intact vestibular responses, and retinitis pigmentosa



RP is progressive, bilateral, symmetrical retinal degeneration that begins with night blindness and constricted visual fields—tunnel vision—and eventually

includes decreased central visual acuity; the rate and degree of vision loss vary within and among families.


Smith has a 15 percent peripheral vision, but his vision loss progression is slow, he said.


What began as night blindness and his doctor prohibiting him from driving at night, led to not being able to drive at all and eventually losing his job

in the only field he knew.


“From the beginning, he’s always had very good family support,” Caldwell said. “That’s really important.”


Smith said his parents and brothers helped and supported him all through school, where he took hearing impaired classes through Owosso Public Schools until

his junior year of high school when he entered regular classes.


Smith graduated from Owosso High School in 1983, and proceeded on to Lansing Community College where he received two associate’s degrees in applied science

and industrial drafting in 1986.


During his time at Owosso schools, Smith learned how to lip read, use sign language and speak from his speech therapist Peggy Dillingham at Central Elementary.


“(Dillingham is) a special lady,” Smith said. “When people tell me, ‘You speak so well,’ I always think of Peggy Dillingham.”


Smith also gave credit to his hearing impaired junior high teacher Sheri Blecker and high school teachers Mary Parker and Marge DePong.


Smith said during college he used an interpreter to help him know what the professors were teaching.


“Professors moved around so much, so I couldn’t always hear or read lips,” he said.


Now with a hearing aid and the ability to read lips, as well as having sign language interpreter on occasions, Smith is able to listen and communicate without

a problem, Caldwell said.


A strong support system


As the years past, Smith and Caldwell’s professional relationship turned into a lasting friendship.


“Over the years, Cindy and I have become very good friends,” Smith said.


Smith recently surprised Caldwell by traveling back to Michigan to receive his award after he told her he would be unable to make it. She thought relatives

would be there to receive the award for him.


“I was totally surprised,” Caldwell said. “It was one of the few times in my life that I was speechless.”


Smith credits Caldwell with a lot.


“I will never be able to express my gratitude for how much Cindy and the MCB have done for me. For nine years Cindy and MCB have been there, through the

thick and thin of my life,” Smith said when he received his award. “The only word I could use is ‘Patience.’ MCB has supported me every step of the way,

including a couple of detours, to finally have a full time job.”


Caldwell said her and Smith’s friendship will continue many years into the future.


“We will be staying in touch for many, many years,” Caldwell said. “It’s been a long road. Sometimes you have to try a lot of different things before you

find what’s right...Through it all he had a long personal journey as well.”


“It’s been 10 years, and a long road with a lot of ups and downs,” Smith said. “It’s been really rewarding.”

The Argus-Press: News Local - Overcoming adversity: Owosso native succeeds despite hearing, vision loss


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