Editor’s note: Read Captain Benjamin Keeley’s story to learn about his career journey after retiring from the U.S. Navy and losing his vision. His story commemorates three days: Hire a Veteran Day is July 25, and both National Disability Independence Day and the 32nd anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) are July 26.
By the time Captain Benjamin Keeley began losing his vision, he’d already
established his own company after amassing decades of experience. And
today, although he’s semi-retired, he continues operating his successful
business and runs a nonprofit. The fact that he has no vision in his right
eye and limited vision in his left hasn’t slowed him down one bit.
Benjamin served in the U.S. Navy, first as a police officer in Guam and later
as an internal communications specialist in the Navy’s fleet. He retired with
the rank of petty officer, then worked in the private sector for Northern
Telecom, AT&T, and the company now known as Deloitte, where he ran its
worldwide solution center for internet commerce.
Following the call of the sea
Benjamin’s passion for the marine industry never waned, so he returned to
school to earn his captain’s license – and title – and a master’s degree in
Data Engineering. He proceeded to join Royal Caribbean cruise lines as
director of its global database operations, which was when he recognized
the need for a single software package that managed all of a company’s
databases rather than piecing them together.
In 1999, he left Royal Caribbean to start his own company – VNS
International – which originally stood for Vessel Net Solutions. Benjamin
brought together all of his skills from the U.S. Navy, his captain’s license
training, and his master’s degree to provide services for ships including
integrated Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) packages, Human
Resources procurement, reservations, ticketing, and everything else
needed to operate a vessel. He officially changed the name to VNS
International when he expanded to offer the same services to hotels and
After Losing Sight
Unfortunately, Benjamin’s time with the U.S. Navy didn’t just give him
practical experience. While serving in Guam, he was exposed to Agent
Orange, which was in the drinking water in toxic levels. Because of this
exposure, Benjamin developed diabetes, kidney failure, and diabetic
retinopathy, which is the cause of his loss of sight.
“I’ve been working with the Blinded Veterans Association to prove that’s the
cause of my issues, and we’re making good progress with my claim,” he
says. “I’m also an ambassador for them.”
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has provided Benjamin with a
great deal of assistance, including rehabilitation and medical care. Some of
the technology he learned to use and has come to rely on are closed-circuit
television (CCTV) and OrCam, which he calls his “bionic eye.”
“OrCam is a great tool that kind of looks like a memory stick, and it reads
what it sees,” Benjamin explains. “It allows me to read spreadsheets, travel
in the airport and read the signs – it makes you independent.”
He admits it “drives him crazy” that he can no longer drive a ship or go for a
car ride listening to music, but his business and life have continued moving
forward in every other way.
“There pretty much isn’t anything I can’t do that I did before, which is true
for anyone in technology who is visually impaired,” he says. “When I’m working on a ship, I take someone with me just to make sure I don’t fall or stick my hand somewhere it’s not supposed to be. But all my experience is still in my brain, and I can pass it on. Just because I can’t see doesn’t mean
I can’t provide knowledge and wisdom to people.”
Helping others navigate vision loss
In fact, now that Benjamin is semi-retired after adopting his 10-year-old
granddaughter, he established a nonprofit called Wisdom 4 The Blind. The
nonprofit hosts portals that provide a variety of information about different
types of blindness, services, opportunities for activities, policy updates, and
more – including podcasts for each of the portals. The first portal is called
Wisdom 4 Blinded Veterans, and he plans to launch Wisdom 4 Blind Kids.
In the fourth quarter of 2022 he’ll launch a portal for adults who are blind.
The podcasts are also available on podcast services.
The first episode of the podcast for kids, called Did You Know – which is
hosted by his daughter – features a friend of Benjamin’s who works for
NASA Mission Control in Houston and is completely blind.
“We’re trying to let kids know that if they are blind or visually impaired, life’s
not over,” he says.
After all, Benjamin should know, having continued to succeed and pursue
new ventures after losing most of his sight.
“I’m a firm believer employers should give vets a try,” Benjamin says.
“Actually, they should never put anyone who is blind or vision impaired or
has any kind of disability in a bucket as not being valuable. There are a lot
of talented people out there.”
- Interview with Richard Archuleta, Medically-Retired Veteran Working at the Environmental Protection Agency – CareerConnect (aphcareerconnect.org)
- Veterans Health Administration Services for the Blind or Visually Impaired – VisionAware
- Veterans Personal Stories – VisionAware
- Department of Veterans Affairs: Blind Rehabilitation Service – Available Programs & Services Provided | OIB-TAC