For Hesper Lovejoy working with SSB and her HR department gave her the tools she needed to continue her work
October 28, 2020
Successful businesses with a strong culture of disability awareness are not only well-prepared to build their team by considering job seekers with a disability, they are also better positioned to retain workers who may become disabled over the course of their careers.
For Hesper Lovejoy, who faced significant vision loss 20 years into her career as a Legal Administrative Assistant at Winthrop & Weinstine, P.A. in Minneapolis, working with State Services for the Blind (SSB) and her HR department gave her the tools she needed to continue her work. "I talked with my immediate bosses, and then with HR," Hesper recalls, "And they were immediately on board with whatever I needed to do. They were phenomenal."
When Hesper's vision started to deteriorate two years ago, due to retinitis pigmentosa, she was initially scared and anxious. Then, she determined to make a plan and confront her circumstances head on. "I knew I needed to learn how to get around, and I needed to learn about assistive technology."
Hesper worked with Mark Groves, a Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor at SSB to create a road map for achieving her goals. With three months of FMLA Hesper enrolled at Vision Loss Resources (VLR), where she gained skills in orientation and mobility, and in using screen reading software and other assistive tech. An Assistive Technology Specialist was able to come in to her office after work hours and on weekends to program screen reading software to work with the programs she used in her job. Hesper also contacted Guide Dogs of America, and, in May of 2019, her new guide dog Kiwi came into her life.
"Hesper knew what she needed, and we were able to help her get there," said SSB Director Natasha Jerde. "We not only work with blind, DeafBlind, and visually impaired job seekers, but we also partner with businesses to make sure that employees who are losing vision get what they need to keep working. Winthrop & Weinstine stepped up in an impressive way to support Hesper when she needed it and we provided the know-how and the resources to help Hesper adjust; of course, more than anything, it was Hesper herself who provided the drive and the determination so that she could continue in the job she loves."
SSB worked with Winthrop & Weinstine to set Hesper up with a CCTV - a closed caption TV system that enlarges print and images - and with JAWS, the screen reading software that converts text to speech. "JAWS has been a game-changer," Hesper says. "Before, I would struggle to read just to keep up. Now, I can read through everything that comes in, so that I have all the information and know all the details."
"We're about building a Minnesota with a strong and dynamic workforce," said DEED Commissioner Steve Grove, "That includes connecting Minnesota businesses with job candidates who have disabilities, and making sure that businesses can support their employees who develop a disability over the course of their career."