Beyond Vision

Rebecca Leadership 2021

This Wauwatosa woman is visually impaired. She’s not letting that stop her from getting others like her into the workforce

Evan Casey  Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Recent data shows that the majority of working-age people who are blind or visually impaired are out of the workforce.

Wauwatosa resident Rebecca Arrowood is looking to change that — despite her own vision loss.
She recently completed the Blind Leaders Development Program at the American Foundation for the Blind.

The program began in 2020 to “increase upward mobility and create meaningful leadership experiences for individuals who are blind or low vision, who are already employed and in the beginning stages of their careers,” according to a news release about the program.

Arrowood is an HR generalist with Beyond Vision, a Milwaukee nonprofit that is looking to increase employment for blind and visually impaired people.

“I think any type of difference or disability just enhances an organization when you have more people at the table with different perspectives and viewpoints,” Arrowood said. “It just offers a better environment, and you’re able to do more problem-solving in some ways, and you can serve customer needs in different ways.”

Growing up
Arrowood, who grew up in Neenah, Wisconsin, began losing her central vision in elementary school. She still had some of her peripheral vision so she was able to play soccer and do some activities.

“As a kid, you just automatically learn how to adapt and adjust; you don’t really think much about it,” Arrowood said.

“It was tricky because I was never really the child to come home and tell my parents I couldn’t see something,” Arrowood said. “It was just my normal was what I saw. I thought it was probably normal.”
But she was still able to play soccer, which was a “huge outlet for me.”   She played and even coached soccer up until her second year of college.

Rebecca stands smiling at the camera. She's wearing a grey sweater with a brightly colored scarf.
“I was fortunate. I had really supportive friends and family with my vision impairments,” she said.
But over the years her vision has gradually declined. She doesn’t have any vision in her right eye and can see only general shapes and colors in her left eye. “There’s vision there but it’s fuzzy, or blurry is the best way to describe it,” she said.

She uses a cane now and is looking for a guide dog.

Arrowood graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay with a degree in accounting and finance but decided to go back to school to get a master’s degree in counseling. She worked as a substance abuse counselor and therapist for years but decided it was time for a change.  That’s how she ended up in Wauwatosa, which is where she’s been since 2019.

 

An ‘untapped population’ 
Arrowood, 33, wanted a position that would use her business background and interpersonal skills.
That’s where Beyond Vision comes in.

Beyond Vision is a nonprofit that works to provide employment opportunities for those who are blind or visually impaired. Half of the workforce in the company is blind or visually impaired.
In Wisconsin, there are more than 41,000 visually impaired individuals; 66% of them are not employed, according to Beyond Vision.

The nonprofit is working to change that statistic.
It has a call center and offers manufacturing services; it also does commercial and government assembly packaging work.

“I think the disability community, in general, is very much an untapped population when it comes to employment,” Arrowood said.

“We’ve got a really low turnover rate. People generally want to come to work and are happy to be here and enjoy what they do.” “It’s more than just a job for a lot of people. It’s a chance with helping develop independence and being a productive contributor to society,” she added.

Arrowood uses a screen magnifier and screen reader while doing her job.  She also occasionally uses handheld magnifiers. “Mainly things are pretty accessible these days,” she said.
As an HR generalist, Arrowood helps develop policies. Much of her job last year was focused on developing policies during the coronavirus pandemic. She also helps with personnel issues and administering benefits.

Blind Leaders Development Program
While in the Blind Leaders Development Program, Arrowood was trained in leadership, networking, communication and other skills.

She said she wanted to learn leadership skills and to grow professionally and personally. Enrolled in the program, she attended webinars and was paired up with a mentor who was blind.
On April 20, 2021, Arrowood attended the virtual graduation.

She hopes to educate others about what it means to be blind or visually impaired through her daily interactions.

“I think people just sometimes have a lack of education with it, so just using my day-to-day interactions to help show people and to realize that obviously if I’m not blind or visually impaired I don’t have to think about what it’s like being blind or visually impaired,” she said. “It’s like any disability.” A runner
Arrowood is also a runner. She’s run four marathons and has fellow Wauwatosa resident Mary Callen as a running partner.

Callen is also blind and has run in several marathons across the nation.
Arrowood said Wauwatosa is a very walkable community.
“It’s super walkable. I really appreciate that,” she said.

Evan Casey can be reached at 414-403-4391 or evan.casey@jrn.com. Follow him on Twitter @ecaseymedia.

Read the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Article here: https://www.jsonline.com/story/communities/west/news/brookfield/2021/06/24/wauwatosa-visually-impaired-woman-graduates-national-program/7478739002/

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