'I Didn't Reveal The Truth To My Employer At My Interview'

When I was 25, I had a giant retinal tear in my right eye caused by high myopia, a type of high-degree nearsightedness, which left it virtually unusable. While I wished I could fix it, there was nothing that could be done. So, my thought process was pretty much to accept what had happened and keep moving forward.

After the tear, a doctor performed prophylactic laser treatment on my left eye to help stabilize it's retina in place, which I believe saved it from also tearing. Every doctor I've seen since then has said his work was top notch and fantastic.

I had just started living by myself in Hoboken, New Jersey. I was working long hours at my tech job. I lost my depth perception and remember getting upset when I couldn't see the new movie Avatar in 3D.

My finance, now wife, and I discovered that if she approached me from my blind side I'd jump and be startled, which was a huge problem when I was driving. For example, if she was in the passenger seat, pointed and said: "There it is!" I would usually miss the turn. So we got great at descriptive terms like: "To our three o' clock." Honestly not much had to change. With one fully functional eye I could pretty much do what I normally did before.

Five years later I started to develop a cataract in my left eye, which reduced my vision further and meant I was unable to drive at night. My wife was six months pregnant at the time and I needed to be able to drive her to the hospital when she went into labor.

I decided to undergo cataract surgery, which I couldn't actually have until a month after the baby was born because my surgeon had a scheduling conflict. But, I still needed to drive. So, I went ahead with the operation in 2012 and everything went fine.

My vision improved, but I had some issues with the eyedrops I was taking. I had developed what is called a steroid response, which is relatively common however if left untreated can cause severe damage to the optic nerve. Unfortunately, mine was misdiagnosed, so I eventually lost sight in my left eye too.

Sameer Chopra
Sameer Chopra is an engineer and author who interviewed remotely for his current job at Microsoft without telling his employers he was blind Sameer Chopra

Here I was with a wife, one-month-old daughter and a job in technology. I had been registered legally blind. I remember thinking: "Oh no, what do I do now?" One of the first things we did after the diagnosis was look up "How to use a cane" on YouTube.

It can be tempting to focus on what's going wrong. But I've always had a positive attitude, which I believe comes from my parents. We moved from India to America when I was only six. That's one heck of a journey. They had to pack up their entire lives and travel across the globe. They only had two suitcases and didn't know anybody but the relatives who were sponsoring us. I think their experiences instilled me with a lot of optimism about life.

When I became blind, I was working at a large financial services corporation. My job was to help our department move faster by automating certain processes. I knew I would have to find practical solutions so I could continue to do my job.

At the time, my team was creating documents about how to set up certain servers and systems. The core problem was that most of them included screenshots, which were now useless to me. Instead, I asked my team: "Can we figure out a way to create steps which are just text and computer language?"

Eventually, my team made the decision to turn all of the documents into scripts, which could be run automatically. You could enter a command line instead of clicking on the mouse and hitting the right keys. This change led to quite a big complicated process being made super easy. A lot of other groups in the firm noticed our success.

Being blind helped reinforce my belief that people are, in general, good. Occasionally there will be someone who deviates from that, but for the most part I believe people want to help someone they think is struggling.

It's really hard to hide your disability as a blind person; walking around the office with a cane can feel quite vulnerable. When you say: "Excuse me, I don't know who you are, but I need you to point me to the bathroom or the elevator," I think it tends to make people lower any guard they may have built up.

My first new job after going blind was in 2014. I was in charge of launching one of the core products at a company providing legal and compliance software. I couldn't believe I had been chosen to head up such an important project, but the CEO was 100 percent sure I would do a good job, which really helped.

Four years later, I heard there was a position available at Microsoft as a software engineer. We had been working heavily with the company and I was encouraged by some of my coworkers to apply for the role. But I was very concerned. The position involved increased customer interaction, which I felt could be more difficult as a blind person.

I was worried some people might give me leeway because I was blind, or that it could dissuade others. I also didn't want a potential new employer to think: "Gosh, I don't want to put this very nice person in a position where they are not going to succeed." So, I wanted to really show that I was 100 percent capable of doing all the work, without drawing attention to the fact I am blind.

Ahead of the interview, I knew that I was going to have to prepare a presentation, which included visual aids. Everyone at my job at the time knew I was applying for the role and many colleagues were more than happy to help me.

Once the presentation was drafted, I prepared heavily to memorize how I was going to present the visuals. I learned the text on screen, specific locations I would need to point to and where to click, all from memory.

I arrived at the interview two hours early and asked the receptionist whether I could go inside early and get a feel for the layout of the room. When she took me upstairs I felt very awkward. This was a giant conference room, there were around 20 seats arranged around a huge table, a big screen at one end and video conferencing equipment at the other.

I put myself in a corner so I wouldn't trip over anything and made a circuit around the room so I understood where everything was. I felt where the conference table ended, where there were cables on the ground and where the windows were.

Then I arranged the seats so that there would be only two logical places for an interviewer to sit. I wasn't sure whether there would be one or two people, so I pushed most of the chairs to the other end of the table and left one in front of me and one next to me.

After arranging the chairs I set up my presentation. I texted my wife asking how it looked. I gave her a video call to make sure I was pointing at the correct areas on the screen and asked her whether there was anything I needed to know about in the room.

I got familiar with the controls of the remote and how I was going to walk from my chair to the screen. I set up my computer and then calmly waited. By the time that the interviewer walked in, I was able to sit up and say: "Oh, hello, nice to meet you." I put my hand out and sure enough, he sat exactly where I thought he was going to sit, so I knew exactly where to look.

We had a great conversation and then he left for another interviewer to come in. The next employee came in and sat on the other side of the table. When he asked me to talk through my visual aids, I was able to stand up and point to each specific part of the screen.

The final interviewer was the icing on the cake. This person was dialing in, but for some reason wasn't able to find their way into the conference room. I just called them from my computer, which I'm super familiar with and can navigate really well. The interviewer was so pleased I knew how to handle this situation and said: "You're going to be great at speaking with customers." I couldn't believe how well everything had gone.

The intention was never to lie about being blind. But during the interview, the people I spoke with were so passionate and knowledgeable about their work, we just got lost in conversation. When I got home I thought: "I don't think they know I'm blind."

After I accepted the role I passed my background check and was booked in for a new employee orientation in Texas. The company had booked flights for me and organized a hotel. My boss called me before I arrived and said: "Oh there's someone else from our team joining on the same day as you. You should find each other and meet up."

He started describing what the guy looked like and I knew it was the perfect opportunity to tell him I was blind. He said: "Woah". Then he paused for a while and said: "Okay, I'll have him find you." He stressed that of course, it was okay, but that he was shocked because he had no idea during the interview process.

After the orientation, I called my boss and said: "Look, I'm gonna need some accessibility software." He said: "We can totally do that." He had no problem at all. It was a huge sense of relief. It was fantastic.

It made me realize that in the tech world, some companies actually do value diversity. If I had to interview for the role again, I would be straight up about my vision. I would walk in on time, with my cane and be very honest about being blind.

Even when I look back at it, I think if I had ended the interview by saying: "I'm blind" I believe my future boss would have had the same reaction and ultimately would have made the same decision.

For those who lose their vision later in life, I would say to get as much help as you need. Whether it's from family, friends or co-workers. But realize that there is a lot of good that can still happen in your life and that being blind might not be the thing that defines you.

Sameer Chopra, 42, from Chicago, is a software engineer and author of new fictional sci-fi book The Work Ahead: A Novel. Sameer often writes under his pen name of Sameer Chopra.

All views expressed in this article are the author's own.

As told to Monica Greep.

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