Name: Robert D. Sollars, 52
Location: Phoenix, Arizona
GG | RARE: What sort of job did you have before getting sick?
Robert D. Sollars: I had just moved to the Phoenix area from Missouri. I was in security for 20 years at that point and looking forward to starting a consulting business here.
GG: What is your disease/disability and how does it specifically stop you from working a full-time job?
Sollars: I am blind, with diabetes and renal failure. I haven’t done anything in my life other than security. Because of my diabetes I can’t read braille, which leaves me out of a lot of jobs. And unfortunately, there is a stigma attached to hiring anyone who is blind to work in/out of a security business– except in sales (yuck!).
As a matter of hiring me based on some more of my obvious disabilities, I would say the fact that most computers are not accessible to me leaves me out of a lot of options, as well as a stroke that I had in 2011—which causes me to “wobble” slightly when I walk.
GG: How does the job you created allow you to work from home and on your own terms?
Sollars: I set my own hours, and I don’t have to go a long distance to get things I need. The computer has JAWS (Freedom Scientific) and I don’t have to haul a bunch of pills and other things around to an office where my work space may be limited.
GG: Do you still encounter any challenges with your new profession because of your illness? How did you work around it?
Sollars: As I said above, there is a stigma involved with a blind guy in security. The matter of my 30 years of experience doesn’t seem to matter to many. My peers within security know and accept what I can do without reservation and help as much as they can. But it seems that many business people think that when you go blind, you lose your ability to think and function, which is an attitude I’ve encountered more than once in making a personal sales call.
GG: Do you work alone or with other people? How did you explain your situation to them or did you have to say anything at all?
Sollars: At this point I work with only my wife in the business and 3 cats. They don’t seem to mind too much. I have a friend who helps out with a lot of stuff helping to take the pressure off my wife to do so much (again some websites aren’t exactly friendly for JAWS). And the cats are fine as long as they get their food, treats and a few lovings once in a while– at least until quitting time.
GG: How do you handle necessary benefits like insurance that comes with normal 9-5 jobs? Do you use a spouse’s insurance, a parent’s or government funding?
Sollars: My wife has wonderful insurance through her employer, so we use that. She’s an Registered Nurse and that obviously helps me as well.
GG: What is an average day like for you at your new job?
Sollars: I get up at 5:30 am every morning and shower and dress. I then feed the cats and dog. I sit and drink my one cup of coffee and watch the news in my office. Usually I will make a few calls to the East coast before getting started at the computer. But I’m usually at it and working by 6:30 am. If my wife is working, then I stop when she gets home for breakfast with her and then keep plowing thru everything. I usually stop at noon for the news and lay off for the day around 3:00 pm, depending on if anything demands my attention or not.
If I have appointments, which are often for my blood and urine donations, I schedule them around my wife’s schedule and the same for any sales appointments. If I can’t do that, I use a service called “dial-a-ride,” and then she’ll pick me up from wherever.
GG: What advice do you have for other patients looking to start a new kind of job that fits around their illness?
Sollars: NEVER NEVER EVER quit. It doesn’t matter what others say or how they limit you. The only person who can hold you back is you. Find the information you need to work, be that training or other help. Then go for it. If you have little energy because of your disease, work around it to fit your schedule. If you can only work a couple of hours, then only work a couple of hours. But overall, you have to be working at something you enjoy and love. If you don’t, then it will only make your situation worse. If necessary, talk to the boss about limiting your hours until you can get back to full-time. If you are independent and working for yourself, then sit and write a book or something– there are plenty of editors out there that are reasonable. My book will be out in a couple of months. If I can do it, anyone can. And lastly, have a support system in place that can knock some sense into you when you need it!