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Raghavendra Satish Peri, UserWay’s Director of Accessibility, is blind. This is his story of losing his sight, and gaining his vision of personal success, overcoming many obstacles along the way.
80% Blind, 100% Driven
I started losing my eyesight at the age of 8. By age fourteen, doctors confirmed that I had a condition called Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP). They told me there was a good possibility I would lose my eyesight completely in a matter of months. By then I was already 80-85% blind.
Despite massive barriers, I found assistive technology solutions, such as text magnifying apps, that helped with my education. At that time, my parents weren’t aware of digital education, and my specialists never recommended any technology-based solutions. But I pressed on, and in 2007, I finished my Bachelors in Commerce. By that point, I had lost significantly more of what little eyesight I had left.
At school, there were job fairs where several organizations came to recruit students. But due to my disability, I was never considered a candidate. Their answers were always simply stonewalls, along the lines of “We’re not sure what our disability policy is” or “We don’t know how blind people like you work on computers; we can’t risk it.” It was extremely exclusionary and discriminatory, even if they weren’t aware of it.
I tried my best to educate them on assistive solutions available on computers, such as screen readers, magnifiers, and high contrast adjustments, but nothing would convince them I was a worthwhile candidate for their investment.
Disability vs. Desire: No Contest
After graduation, my biggest goal was to find employment. If not, I’d never have the opportunity to live independently.
Luckily, one of my close friends was in the website development industry and mentored me in getting started. I became an entrepreneur. I spent countless hours of time and energy learning how to design websites and drive traffic to them through Search Engine Optimization (SEO).
Despite my love for digital marketing, my eyesight continued to deteriorate. Without access to more compatible assistive technologies, I wasn’t able to continue on in the field. So, I moved to Bangalore, India, to upgrade my skills by learning how to use the JAWS (Job Access With Speech) screen-reader. I also signed up for more employability training through Enable India, a non-profit dedicated to helping people with disabilities find employment.
Then the 2008 recession hit, and it was even more difficult for me to find work. In addition to many organizations announcing hiring freezes, even fewer places were hiring people with disabilities. Despite my research to ensure a company had a disability policy in place, most interviewers were either completely unaware they had a disability policy or simply didn’t want to make accommodations for my blindness. I was starting to feel hopeless.
Fortunately, through Enable India, I was eventually recruited by IBM, where I stayed for nearly 5 years in its accessibility department. After that, I moved on to Deque Systems as its first Senior Accessibility Consultant, where I had the opportunity to build its entire India team from the ground up.
Finding Place and Purpose
By my seventh year at Deque Systems, I was ready for a bigger challenge. That’s when UserWay, a fast-paced innovative accessibility startup, came along. After 15 years in the accessibility industry, both as an employee and entrepreneur, I was finally able to gather all of my skills and apply them on a larger scale.
The biggest factor for me when deciding to work with UserWay related to the leadership team’s approach. Their desire for excellence, their understanding, their inclusive approach towards people living with disabilities, and their humility, are what ultimately won my heart. These are the traits I look for when I am thinking of joining a company, and UserWay had it all. They demonstrated their understanding of disability dynamics, and how to best support employees with disabilities so they can shine.
63 Interviews, 1 Kidney Transplant & 58 Dialysis Later
Before landing my first job, I went to 63 interviews and applied for hundreds more. Looking back on those uncertain days, I can laugh now, but truth be told, they were very stressful. I wanted to give up many times, but my desire for independence was stronger than anything I was up against.
Recently, I had to undergo a kidney transplant, which forced me onto dialysis. The UserWay management team has been nothing but supportive and accommodating. I know I made the right choice when joining the UserWay team because they not only talk the talk, but they actively live by their values.
I am deeply thankful to the organizations that gave me the opportunities I have had, especially to UserWay for being a leader in disability justice through accessibility. In addition to my own hard work, perseverance, and dedication, because of these businesses, I am successful both personally and professionally.