Chronically Employed: Blind Entrepreneur Invents New Technology for Patients
June 4, 2013
By Michael Arbitman
36, Pembroke Pines, FL
GG | RARE: What sort of job did you have before getting sick (or were you a student or fully unemployed)?
Arbitman: I was the VP of Technology for a firm. I managed a director, a team of programmers and network engineers. I was part of the executive team for the company.
GG: What is your disease/disability, and how does it specifically stop you from working a full-time job outside of home?
Arbitman: I contracted a rare strand of Uveitis, which is similar to pink eye, but affects the inside of your eye. The disease attacked my retinas, and because I’ve been diabetic since I was one year old, the blood vessels in my eye have thinned out during the years, and there was not ample blood flow to repair my right eye.
The doctor was able to reattach my left retina; however, the damage to the eye has left me with macular degeneration, which means I have no center vision, and everything looks like I am looking through a fog machine. I can see some shapes and shadows, but that is all. My first surgery was to repair the retina and use silicon oil to hold it in place. The second procedure was to remove the oil and replace it with gas.
After that, I developed cataracts because of the trauma to the lens, so I had that replaced as well.
At the same time, I am one of the few men who has osteoporosis, which is normally a bone disease that older women get which lowers the density in the bones. I fell off of the bed during a diabetic low blood sugar attack and fractured my L4, L5, tail bone and hip. I was treated with Fortao, a once a day shot to help rebuild the density of the bones. Now I have to start a once a year treatment to keep the levels the same. Living normally (except for the diabetes) for 30 years and then having to learn how to do everything without being able to see took time. I cannot work at an institution in my profession that does not also allow me to hire a personal assistant to read technical documents, contracts, drive and so on.
This is why I had to work from home. What makes me feel worse than any of this is the fact that it happened three days before my one year wedding anniversary. My wife has to change my insulin pump for me every three days because I cannot read the screen, even though I am working on an app that will do that for me in the future.
GG: How does the job you created allow you to work from home and on your own terms?
Arbitman: In this day and age, there was no reason that it took two year for my family and I to find all of the available resources for the blind. I created www.imuneek.com, the world’s only social information networking site that instantly connects people to other people, businesses, organizations, news, support groups, doctors, events and an answer forum specific to their medical condition or disability, physical or mental.
Since I am the co-founder, along with Lixon Nelson, I am able to make phone calls, send emails and arrange meetings from my home office. I have learned how to use two screen reading software’s, called Zoom text and J.A.W.S., which allows me to navigate the computer at 80 percent of what I used to do.
Working from home allows me the flexibility to learn how the software interacts with certain programs and sites until I become comfortable enough to navigate them freely. I can control the temperature in my house to stay cool, which is better for the eye. I can keep the lights at a level which is comfortable for me, and If I need to take my medication, use an eye drop or eat something, I can do so at my own leisure. I have a 20 month old daughter, and working from home allows me to see her when she gets home from daycare, and sing to her every night to put her to bed and then continue working as necessary.
I also get to become a part of projects. I am working with Florida International University to create glasses that will read to the blind and eventually replace the walking cane. I am working with the nelson group to create an app so that blind diabetics can use an insulin pump. I am working with the National Federation for the Blind and the Lighthouse for the Blind to be utilized as a motivational speaker, just by telling my story and how I overcame my disability.
GG: Do you still encounter any challenges with your new profession because of your illness? How did you work around it?
Arbitman: Working in this field, not every website is screen reading compatible. So finding information at times is difficult. When a person wants to meet, I have to plan and schedule my rides according to the availability of my driving service or business partner. I cannot freely visit clients when they want. I cannot visit every website to learn about their company. The work around is being patient, understanding that it may take a little longer, but it will still get done.
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?
Arbitman: My eyes are different colors. My left eye is brown and my right eye is white, sp people can see that I cannot see too well. My business partner and everyone else I come into contact with don’t seem to mind because I have a different attitude on life. I am not a blind person trying to use a computer; I am a computer user who is blind.
I am exactly the same person I was before; I just need help looking at things. I have the same personality, the same likes, the same sense of humor, I just need a little more description of things. I have yet to come across someone who is not motivated by my attitude. I refuse to have people feel sorry for me or treat me different because everyone in their life has a circumstance or condition that they are dealing with. Mine just happens to be visible. My business partner takes care of the visuals, I take care of the technical side of the business: it’s a perfect match. The companies I deal with all cater to a specific medical condition or disability, so they are used to uniquenesses.
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?
Arbitman: My wife is a kindergarten teacher, so I am under her insurance plan. Because I have a preexisting condition, diabetes, I could not receive healthcare unless I was under my parent’s plan, my own from work or my spouse’s.
GG: What is an average day like for you at your new job?
Arbitman: I wake up at about 8 or 9 am, eat and take my medication. I go over to the computer and start researching organizations that cater to a specific medical condition or disability, then contact them to establish a partnership. I contact organizations in my area to find out what events are being held so that we can attend them (like walks or fund raisers). I attend any meetings that were set and try to bring more attention and traffic to www.imuneek.com. After I put my daughter to sleep, I work on the insulin pump app with developers overseas and research new technologies to incorporate into the glasses project. Then I take my nighttime pills for blood pressure, go to sleep and start all over again.
GG: What advice do you have for other patients looking to start a new kind of job that fits around their illness?
Arbitman: First thing is to change your mentality. I am a computer nerd. I love working with computers. So my mentality is: I am not a blind person trying to use a computer, I am a computer user who is blind. You should replace computer user with your interest and blind with your uniqueness. It will philosophically change your outlook on dealing with your situation. Your illness does not define who you are or what you can do, it does however change the way you have to do it, that’s all. If you are a cook, find a way to cook differently to fit your needs. If you are a writer, find a way to write; if you are an athlete, find an organization you can compete in. Your illness does not define who or what you are, it only changes the way in which you need to do them.
Sign up for updates straight to your inbox.