A Follow-Up Interview with Master Sgt. and Blind Army Veteran Jeffrey Mittman: Part 2

A photo of Jeff Mittman

Meet Master Sgt. and Army Veteran Jeffrey Mittman

United States Army veteran Master Sgt. Jeffrey Mittman was wounded by a roadside bomb on July 7, 2005 in Baghdad, Iraq. In that attack, his left eye was destroyed, his right arm was badly damaged, and he lost his nose, his lips, and most of his teeth. “My left eye was destroyed, my right eye had permanent scarring, and I had just a little peripheral vision remaining. My first concern was how I was going to recover and take care of my family,” he said, since he could no longer lead soldiers in combat. You can read Sgt. Mittman’s story about his long and arduous journey through healing and rehabilitation at “Information for Veterans Coping with Vision Loss,” on the VisionAware website.

Jeffrey Mittman Today: An Update

Recently, VisionAware Social Media Specialist Maureen Duffy spoke with Jeff about his post-military life and career. In Part 1 of his interview, Jeff discussed his rehabilitation, the critical importance of mobility skills, and the positive impact of assistive technology on his education and work.

In Part 2, Jeff talks about his current life, which includes a new job and yet another Master’s degree program! He also discusses the current (and unacceptable) 70% unemployment rate among people with disabilities, including blindness and visual impairment.

Jeff’s Current Life: Work and School

Maureen: Once again, thanks very much for taking the time to speak with us, Jeff. Can you update us about your current life? Here’s what you said in 2010:

“I’m pursuing an M.A. degree in Executive Development for Public Service at Ball State University and I should finish next May. I’ve just started an internship with National Industries for the Blind. They hired me as a national account manager, which involves me handling all of their civilian government agency accounts.”

Jeff: I finished my two-year M.A. degree in May 2011, and in August of 2011, I started a two-year MBA degree, also at Ball State. It’s funny – I had just finished my first Master’s degree and said, “I’m never going to school again.”

I had gone to the Ball State campus to do a speech, and the director of the MBA program was in the audience. When I got done, she came up to me and asked if I had ever thought about getting an MBA. I said sure and she accepted me on the spot.

I think she had done a little background checking on me. The Veterans’ Affairs officer there had talked to her about me prior to this. So I gave a speech, had a conversation, and there I was in a second graduate program! I’m guessing I spend 25-30 hours a week on my school work, on top of my work week. It’s a significant amount of time.

I’m no longer at National Industries for the Blind. About this time last year, I received an email from the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS), here in Indianapolis. They wanted to know if I was interested in coming to work there. And I said sure I’ll talk to you – I had no reason not to. I’ve never turned my back on an opportunity. I went and did my first job interview ever, and DFAS hired me. I started in January of this year.

I work in corporate communications, doing internal and external communications and communication plans, writing articles for the internal business journal, on occasion speaking at different events for the agency, and of course I’m still doing all of my travel and independent speaking.

In terms of accessibility, I did a pre-employment interview with DFAS Human Resources, giving them a list of the technology I needed – and when I arrived at the job, it was all there. It’s a reasonable accommodation to ask for the software and technology I need. It’s not special treatment – it’s up to the individual to talk to the employer and ask for what he or she needs to do the job well.

Jeff’s Final Word: On Being a “Role Model”

Maureen: Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

Jeff: I hate to use the term, but people perceive there is a “glass ceiling” for people with disabilities in the workplace. It’s almost incumbent on people with disabilities in the workplace to act professionally, because some people do see us as representing the entire disabled community.

When I fail at something at work, I want my co-workers to realize I failed because of a lack of my innate ability – and not because of my disability. If I fail, it’s because I lack the ability, not because of my blindness.

I know that if I feel stressed at work, it means I’m doing something right because it means I’m challenging myself. So if I keep doing that, and I keep moving forward, eventually, I – and other people with disabilities – will move into positions of power to make decisions and influence the employment of other people with disabilities.

When we’re talking about a 70% unemployment rate among people with disabilities, that’s because there’s no one yet in positions of authority to make those hiring decisions, or write a policy saying we will hire people with blindness – which, by the way, we have where I work.

When I see people who are capable – “Oh, and by the way, they’re blind” – the blindness is always the secondary thought to me. I was asked recently if I wanted to be a role model for the disabled. I said no – I wanted to be a role model for the general public. I want to be a role model because I’m doing my job – not because I’m blind. I want to be seen, first and foremost, as a capable individual. No more, but no less, either.

Additional Veterans’ Services at VisionAware

A new information hub for veterans with vision loss, titled “Information for Veterans Coping with Vision Loss,” is now available on the VisionAware website. Timed to coincide with this year’s observation of Veterans’ Day, this new resource serves veterans with vision loss, their families, caregivers, healthcare providers, and social service professionals.

Our thoughts and thanks remain with those who, as we share these words, continue to place their lives at risk in active combat.