An Update that is Years Overdue

I cannot believe I have not blogged since May 2013! So much has happened in the past 5 years that I guess writing just took a back seat. But due to changes in life circumstances, and a new perspective, I want to write again. I will go indepth on everything in the coming days, but for now, I will ease myself, and my readers back into things by just giving a quick overview of what I have been doing.

In the summer of 2013, my DVR counselor (a state-funded service that helps people with disabilities find employment) put me in contact with a job developer. This job developer arranged a temporary work experience for me in which I assisted the braille department at Audio & Braille Literacy Enhancement, a local agency based out of the Milwaukee Public Library which transcribes print materials into braille for school-age children, and adults in the community. The state paid me $10 an hour, and I worked there 3 days a week for about 3 months. The executive director who is also blind, had met me before at other events and liked me, and I liked her, which eased my nerves considerably the first day. Although I took the job seriously, doing my best to act and dress professionally, the boss felt more like a good friend than a boss in the traditional sense of the word.

My primary responsibility in this position was proofreading materials like restaurant menus and books after they were embossed into braille to ensure that everything was correct. I also spent a couple days answering the phone at the front desk, or separating the pages when they came off the embosser, as the embossers use tractor-feed paper that comes on a long roll of pages. I even got to gain journalism experience by helping the executive director interview people, and write articles for a monthly newsletter. I enjoyed this experience, and would have loved to launch my career there and work there for several years. I enjoyed the tasks assigned to me, and the casual work environment where we worked hard but also had time to socialize. But unfortunately, this agency did not have the funding to hire me, so while I was welcome to volunteer there any time, I would need to explore other options for my permanent career.

Shortly before my job at ABLE ended, I was speaking to an older blind woman who also volunteered there, and she was telling me that she took some Paralegal coursework at the local technical college years ago and although she decided not to pursue this as a career, she really enjoyed the classes. I had thought about law school, especially after my parents read some of my college writing and told me I would make an excellent lawyer. I even took the LSAT in December 2013, but didn’t know if I actually wanted to be a lawyer badly enough to embark on the daunting task of going to law school. My decision was finalized when I heard that law school graduates have difficulty finding jobs, so I could spend three years working my tail off in law school, but then find myself right back where I started.

But that very day when I got home from ABLE, I read about the paralegal program this blind friend told me about, and it occurred to me that this might be perfect for me. I could earn a certificate in just one year, for a fraction of the cost of law school, and since I already had a bachelor’s degree, I wouldn’t need to take some of the required courses. When I graduated, I would not be authorized to practice law, but I would be prepared to assist lawyers in a law firm. My parents thought this was an excellent plan too. So I applied and was accepted into the paralegal program, and started in January 2014.

I am ashamed to admit this, but while I knew this was a great plan, when school actually started, I didn’t have the most positive attitude about things. I think I was just antsy. I wanted a job, and by extension, some income, and I wanted it now! I thought that on that glorious day when Gilbert and I accepted our diplomas at Carroll University that I was done with the childish school nonsense of buying books and doing homework and all that. It didn’t help that we had a particularly brutal winter that first semester, and I dreaded the cold icy walks to and from the parking structure each day. But I persevered, and my attitude gradually improved as the weather got nicer, and I realized that some of the classes, especially two of them which were taught by a very karismatic professor and former lawyer, were extremely interesting.

I finished the program in December 2014, and then in January 2015, I worked again with the same job developer who helped me land my job at ABLE, to find a paralegal position. I met with the job developer weekly to practice things like resume writing and interview skills, and to compare notes. He called a few places to try and talk up my credentials and positive personality to potential employers, and would also tell them that the state could pay my wages for a trial period of three months. But he also asked me to apply for jobs on my own, and if I got invited for an interview, to let him know and he would accompany me.

So I applied to several jobs each week, mostly through Wisconsin TechConnect, a job board for people with degrees or certificates from technical colleges. In Mid-March, all of this persistence paid off when a Social Security disability firm invited me for an interview! The manager really liked me, and when the job developer sweetened the deal by explaining the trial period, I was hired on the spot. I couldn’t start right away because some state paperwork needed to be processed, and I needed to order some technology to help me with the job, but I officially started as a full-time case manager for this firm on April 6, 2015.

I will go more indepth talking about this job in future posts, but to make a long story short, I worked as a case manager from April 2015 to Christmas of 2016. But the task management software my coworkers used to manage their caseloads wasn’t fully accessible with my screen reader, and while I tried to improvise and keep things organized on my own, it was difficult to stay organized. So my boss asked how I would feel about no longer having a caseload, and my sole responsibility would be filing appeals over the phone with clients when they were denied. This has turned out to be a perfect fit for me, as the Social Security web site, and the Google spreadsheets used to schedule appeals are fully accessible. And since I noticed that I had a lot of idle time with this position if clients did not answer the phone, or case managers just did not have any appeals for me to do, I approached my boss one year ago today and asked if I could work part-time. I will elaborate more on this later too, but I just missed having time during the week to go to bible study at our church, handle doctor appointments or just rest. Around that time, I had also been in contact with the Occupaws guide dog trainer because Gilbert was really struggling with arthritis, and we discussed the possibility of retiring Gilbert and training with a new dog last summer. Ultumately, we decided to have Gilbert go to work with me one more year because he could still handle it most days, and my office environment would not provide enough physical activity for a young dog. But we may re-visit things this year as he is starting to have other health concerns as well. At any rate, I don’t think I would have had the time or energy for dog training if I worked full-time.

To my delight, the boss said yes when I asked to go part-time! So now I work Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Business has increased a little bit this year so my schedule is always full now, but the longer I have been filing these appeals, I have found ways to be more efficient, so while I was only comfortable filing four appeals a day one year ago, I now schedule six appeals per day. Although life hasn’t turned out the way I imagined when I was younger—I dreamed of an exciting career in journalism and thought maybe by now, I would be a reporter in Washington D.C. covering all the drama there.—I feel a sense of peace and contentment. No one knows what the future holds, but I will cross that bridge when I come to it. For now, I feel like this is where I am supposed to be.

Published by Allison Nastoff

As I write this in 2020, I am 30 years old. I am blind, and Gilbert was my first guide dog. He passed away on December 2, 2020, but I decided to keep the title for my blog as a tribute to him because he will always hold a special place in my heart. In 2012, I earned a Bachelor of Science in Communication with a journalism emphasis, and went back to school for a Paralegal certificate in 2014. I worked for five years at a Social Security disability firm. When the pandemic hit, I did some reflecting and decided to resign from this job and take seminary courses. My dream is a career as a teacher or writer where I can be a blessing to others.

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