Advice from Dr. Ron Milliman, Professor of Marketing at WKU and Private Business Entrepreneur

The following exchange between Dr. Milliman, who is blind, and an older worker who is losing sight will provide you with some excellent advice and practical steps for continuing to work after vision loss. The name of the individual writing to Dr. Milliman has been changed to protect his privacy.

Dear Dr. Milliman,
I am a 53-year old person who is gradually losing my eyesight. It has finally gotten to the point where I can no longer drive my car. This has been one of the most difficult adjustments for me to make in my lifestyle. Among other things, it is forcing me to give up my job with a firm I have worked with for nearly 20 years, unless I can figure some way of working from home or something. I know you have considerable background with these kinds of problems and challenges. Do you have any suggestions for me?

Clark H.

Dear Clark,

Unfortunately, your situation is far too common. There are millions of people facing similar challenges, and while there are no easy or absolute solutions, there are some viable alternatives that you can pursue. Below I will review a few of these alternatives.

Turn your current position into a telecommuting position. There are many benefits of telecommuting. Obviously, for someone who cannot drive or has limited, or no, access to some form of public or private transportation, telecommuting is often a perfect solution. It offers much more flexibility in employee work scheduling. In addition, it gives you a much more controlled environment, meaning you don't have to be nearly as concerned with someone moving furniture around or placing things in your walk areas, etc. It is less likely someone will tamper with your equipment, changing critical settings or parameters that can adversely affect your productivity.

There are, however, a few downsides to telecommuting. It requires more self-discipline on your part. There are other potential sources of distractions that you don't normally have in the regular work setting; for instance, if someone else is in the household watching TV, playing a musical instrument, your pet dog barking, neighbors making noise, or working outside, etc. Ideally, it requires some special room or space to be set aside in your home or apartment just for work purposes where you will be least distracted. If injured "on the job" while telecommuting, there can be a dispute arising from conflicting insurance interests. It is also often more difficult for you to receive needed guidance in a timely manner than when you are working in the firm's work environment.

When approaching your employer with the proposal that you be allowed to work from your own home or apartment, that is, telecommute, you must emphasize the benefits to your employer. For instance, your firm will be able to retain a highly trained person to continue doing the job, rather than having to spend valuable time, money and resources recruiting and training a new person. The more skilled your position, the stronger this selling point is. In many situations, you can even make the point that you can be even more productive by telecommuting because you will be able to stay more focused on your job, and not be pulled off track by co-workers coming in and out of your office or work area. (This is, of course, points to address after completing a rehabilitation program that has prepared you to return to work.)

To make it easier for your employer to work with you in converting your position to a telecommuting type position, you need to think through the process, task-by-task and answer the big question for your employer: how can this be accomplished if you were telecommuting? To answer this question for your employer, you need to start with a thorough reassessment of the various tasks you perform, initially, just listing them; then, prioritizing them from the easiest, most "convertible" tasks to the most challenging to change over to a telecommuting format. You should start at the top, the easiest to convert, and rewrite the job description and responsibilities to fit a telecommuting approach. Next, you should study the mechanics of implementing the changeover, including all necessary hardware and software requirements, telephone line requirements, insurance considerations, etc.

Once these needs are identified, whatever purchases and installations are necessary, these need to be planned and executed without delay. You should begin with the easiest tasks to convert and use them as learning experiences, which, in turn, would greatly facilitate the conversion of the more difficult tasks. Not many employers will provide equipment for your home office but you can always ask. More than likely, however, this will be your responsibility and/or that of your rehabilitation agency. If you need help making the purchases, just inquire.

In the event you cannot convince your employer to allow you to telecommute, and you are forced to quit your job, there are some other types of businesses that are especially suited for telecommuting. Almost all firms are candidates for shifting at least some of their positions to a telecommuting approach, providing the management is amenable to the concept. Many office positions can be revamped to a telecommuting position. Some manual assembly jobs can even be modified to fit a telecommuting format. However, the service type business can probably gain the most from telecommuting such as insurance firms, mortgage brokers, stock brokers, real estate brokers, telemarketers, answering services, etc.

Finally, you might consider starting your own home-based business. This might be easier than you think. If this is something in which you are interested in pursuing and you want my assistance, just get back to me, and I'll be glad to help.

To learn about Dr. Ron Milliman's personal challenges, awards and successes go to his articles on AFB CareerConnect. You can email comments and questions to him from the bottom of the first article, Professor and Entrepreneur..

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