[nfbwatlk] Veteran mechanic, now blind, back on the job. The Statesman Journal, June 27 2015

Nightingale, Noel Noel.Nightingale at ed.gov
Thu Jul 2 22:03:21 UTC 2015


Veteran mechanic, now blind, back on the job
Kaellen Hessel, Statesman Journal
June 27, 2015
Chris Goodman, 59, of Salem, feels for lug nuts he set aside while working on an SUV at Victory Automotive in Salem on Thursday, June 25, 2015. Goodman lost his vision in 2012 after working as an auto mechanic for 20 years. (Photo: ANNA REED / Statesman Journal)

Chris Goodman can't see well enough to drive, but with his sense of smell he can know that a car is leaking coolant or its power steering fluid is getting old.

Goodman was an auto mechanic for 20 years before he began losing his sight. Now, legally blind, he is working in an auto repair shop again through a trial work experience supported by the Oregon Commission for the Blind.

For three months, the commission pays his salary and helps provide the accommodations he needs while Victory Automotive provides him with on-the-job training.

About 70 percent of people who are blind or experiencing vision loss are unemployed, said Dacia Johnson, executive director of the commission. That number doesn't take into account how many people are seeking work, she said.

There's a misconception about the number of jobs that require vision, Johnson said. Many can be done without sight- they just have to be done differently, which sometimes can be more efficient.

"There are really very few jobs that can't be adjusted in today's technological world," Johnson said.

Three weeks in, Goodman is training to be a service adviser. He works mostly at the front desk as he interacts with customers, answers the phone and updates vehicle information on the computer.

He's itching to get back under the hood regularly. He's got a talking tire pressure gauge that will read him measurements and plans on getting more talking tools.

Goodman was working at a shop in Idaho, in 2012, when his vision got so bad he had to stop. Goodman said his retinas detached, possibly because of untreated glaucoma.

Goodman went through a yearlong vocational rehabilitation program with the Idaho Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired, where he learned to get by without sight. He returned to work for 10 months before moving to Salem in April 2014 and connecting with the Oregon commission.

He began an individualized vocational rehabilitation program that helped him learn how to navigate a new town via public transportation and use technology, like computers and iPhones.

His goal was to get a job, no matter the field. Melissa Robinson, the job developer he was working with, wanted to try to get him back into auto repair.

He and Robinson went to half a dozen shops on cold calls, an experience Goodman described as "one of the scariest things in my life."

When he walked into Victory Automotive, 4055 Rickey St. SE, owner Daniel Hammond hired him on the spot.

"I'm always open to trying something new, and I never assume anything," Hammond said. "I want people to take a chance on me, so why wouldn't I take a chance on someone else?"

By the end of the trial program Goodman hopes to understand how the business side of the company works, how to deal with customers and be a bridge between them and the mechanics.

He works with Jeff Wall, service adviser, to learn the software they use. Since he can't use the mouse to click on what he needs, he has to use hot keys, like Control plus F, to navigate. They've been having some difficulty finding ways for Goodman to accomplish some tasks, so Wall has been working with the software manufacturers to find software-specific keyboard shortcuts.

On Thursday, Goodman performed an inspection of the front brakes on a 2010 Ford Expedition. He used a rack to lift the vehicle several feet. Wall helped him find the right levers to operate the rack, since Goodman hadn't used the machine yet, and double checked his work.

Goodman used an air impact wrench to take off each wheel's six lug nuts before rolling the tire out of his way. He had his hands on the car constantly, using them to guide his movements, check for rust and measure the brake pads.

As he squatted on the ground, he held the 50-pound tire on his knees as his hands lined up the wheel to the corresponding lugs.

Unlike the shop's technician, Goodman is not worried about getting hurt.

"I feel so confident in my ability and carefulness," he said.

He's not going to move forward or bend over without knowing what's before him, he said. When he uses his white cane to walk through the bay, he knows by hearing whether a car is raised in the air, he said.

Business is slow at Victory Automotive. There's enough work for 1.25 people, but three people work there besides the owner, Hammond said.

The car industry is dog-eat-dog, but if a business is all about numbers and profits, you're going to lose your soul, said Hammond, who describes his job as building trust with customers and a good work environment for employees.

Goodman is grateful Hammond was willing to give him a shot. If Hammond can't afford to hire him after the trial, he'll try to find out whether there's more state or private money that can support him working there.

"I want to see this company, this store succeed," Goodman said. "I ain't giving up and I ain't quitting."

khessel at statesmanjournal.com<mailto:khessel at statesmanjournal.com>, (503) 399-6743 or follow on Twitter @KaellenHessel

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