Collage: VICE / Images: Getty; Sameer Doshi
Let me begin by saying that I don’t lie to my employers about my blindness, but more on that later. I was born in Bombay (now Mumbai), India, and moved to Alabama in the United States of America, in 1986, at age 5, with my parents where I did my early schooling and, later, further studies in New York. I was diagnosed with high myopia, or extreme nearsightedness, from birth, so I had really bad vision throughout my life that was slowly corrected by wearing contact lenses.
When I turned 25, I got a giant retinal tear in my right eye. When you’re myopic, the shape of your eye remains the same, but the tears keep getting larger. Often, you won’t even notice the tear, but blood will flow through it, resulting in a loss of vision. I could only see hand motions and other movements — effectively, my right eye was non-functional. Thankfully, I still had vision in my left eye. But because I had vision in only one eye, I had to turn fully each time someone called my name to be able to see them. Having vision in just one eye also meant that I couldn’t experience 3D movies in the way that they are intended to be experienced. The perception of depth in a 3D film is created by showing slightly different images to each eye. So, without vision in both eyes, the sense of depth cannot be achieved. The doctor wanted to do prophylactic eye surgery on my functional left eye as a preemptive measure. The procedure involves cleaning the eye, which helps avoid retinal tears from developing later on.
But things took a turn for the worse. I got a cataract in the left eye and had to have surgery to remove that. Mind you, cataract surgeries are one of the most common surgeries in the U.S., so I wasn’t overly concerned. However, in the postoperative phase, when I began taking the prescribed steroids to help with the pain, there was some sort of pressure that developed on my eyes – possibly a side-effect from the steroids – and the vision in my left eye depleted, too. The doctor said that because I’d just had surgery, my vision would decrease before getting better. But my vision kept decreasing. To help put things in perspective, the depth of field of my vision is that of a pinprick. And so there I was – 30 and a new dad with a baby I could barely see.
In October 2018, I applied for the position of Cloud Solutions Architect at Microsoft – my first interview after losing my eyesight. In my previous job, my colleagues were always accommodating. Whenever I got nervous, they would make me feel comfortable. Yet the voices in my head wouldn’t stop. Was I worth it? Were people being too kind? Was I even up for it? When Microsoft agreed to interview me, the voices got so loud that I wasn’t able to sleep properly. After all, why would Microsoft want a blind person representing them? I had an entire month to prepare for the interview, and I made sure to utilise every single minute of that time. The presentation was all I thought (and dreamt) about, no matter if I was sleeping, showering, or eating. My goals were simple: to steer the conversation towards tech and the digital transformation ideas I had for Microsoft, and not to draw attention to my blindness. I’m able to work on the computer using assistive tech, which enables the system to read what’s on the screen. I was thus able to memorise every single pixel and dot of my interview presentation. So, if anyone pointed to any part of the screen, I would know exactly where they were pointing, without needing to see the screen.On the day of my interview, I arrived two hours early to ensure that I could get a lay of the land. A security person, who I told I was there early to get acquainted with the space, was kind enough to indulge me and escorted me to the interview room. I rehearsed my presentation in that time with help from my wife via video call. I figured out where the projector was and set things up. I figured out how to get from my chair to the projector, so that I wouldn’t trip on any wires. Was I pointing where I thought I was pointing? Yes. Was I referring to my presentation and not, let’s say, the LinkedIn profile of my boss? Yes.
There were only two chairs in the room, so I knew exactly where the people interviewing me were going to sit and where I had to look. I folded my cane and put it inside my backpack because I didn’t want to trip on it. I did this without the intention to mislead. I was not making a conscious effort to hide my blindness. All I wanted was for attention to be focused on my presentation and ideas. Cut to a few hours later: The interview went perfectly! We had an hour-long, animated discussion on tech, cloud computing, and everything in between. When I got home, my wife asked how they reacted to my being blind, which was when I realised, gosh, I hadn’t mentioned it! I didn’t even think of bringing it up. I assumed that my boss knew I was blind because I have a flat eye from all the retinal tears. I just thought that he didn’t want to bring it up. But a few weeks into my working there, he described a delivery person in vivid detail: tall, red shirt, driving a blue truck. That was when I realised that he didn’t know I was blind. My own boss didn’t know I was blind! So I told him: “Jeff, I’m blind.” He took a moment to process what I had said, smiled, and replied, “It’s okay, man.”
I’d like to believe my experience is unique. When COVID hit, things became easier for me because I was working from home and no longer had to figure my way around physical spaces. If I zoomed into a specific part of a presentation by mistake, Jeff told me that he would just assume that I was zooming in to highlight something in the presentation and that my being blind didn’t even occur to him.
At work, when I’m having trouble getting somewhere, which is almost always, I hold on to someone’s hand and they guide me. The airport, of course, is a horror story. I dread it every single time. Am I going to follow the same process while preparing for another job interview? Legally, in the United States, disclosing one’s blindness is not mandatory. I’d like to believe that I’m going to proudly walk in with my cane and not hide my disability. But I know that the voices in my head are going to say something very different when that scenario does arise. I’d like to believe that I will push myself hard to say that I’m blind. But you and I are going to talk only about tech, and I’m going to forget that I’m blind. And so will you. Follow Arman on Twitter and Instagram.