Jim Lee is chief of staff to the general president at the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) in Washington D.C. He's also a long-time friend of Fred LeBlanc, a firefighter for 29 years who lost his vision suddenly in 2011 at age 48.
LeBlanc wasn't sure what his future held. His career as a firefighter was in doubt. From the beginning, Lee showed support by calling LeBlanc regularly to see how he was adjusting.
A year later, LeBlanc was elected to the regional leadership council of the IAFF and he and Lee became co-workers.
Before working with LeBlanc, Lee had no experience interacting with someone who is blind or partially sighted. He quickly learned that LeBlanc’s abilities didn't change, even though his sight did.
"Unless he tells you, you wouldn't know that Fred has vision loss," says Lee. "His abilities didn't change at all. I was amazed to see how Fred handled himself when he first lost his vision."
The IAFF made workplace accommodations for LeBlanc's sight loss, such as using email to send documents instead of printing copies. The workplace also uses a different background on documents to add contrast. Lee says while he and the IAFF would do anything to accommodate LeBlanc, there was very little extra work involved in taking these simple steps.
"People with visual impairments have a lot to offer," says Lee. "They just need the opportunity to prove that. Employers have to give them a chance to come in and show what they can do. A lot of employers would be amazed."