Retinitis pigmentosa may have changed the arc of Joseph Hall’s life, but the Chicago man’s contagious optimism serves him well.
Being visually impaired has given Joseph Hall, Sr. an empathy for individuals who are coping with vision loss themselves. In fact, he often uses his own condition to motivate and inspire others in his work with The Chicago Lighthouse for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired.
Founded in 1906, The Chicago Lighthouse is a world-class social service organization serving the blind, visually impaired, disabled, and veteran communities. Widely regarded as among the most comprehensive of its kind in the nation, “The Lighthouse,” as it’s known, provides vision rehabilitation services, education, employment opportunities, and assistive technology for people of all ages.
Hall is agent and scheduler extraordinaire in the organization’s Low Vision Call Center, where he fields calls from patients, sets up appointments, and performs other tasks. Hall’s success in the position is, in part, due to the fact that he has been coping with conditions brought on by retinitis pigmentosa since 1979, when he was diagnosed at 24.
Though he claimed to have experienced symptoms of the condition four years earlier, Hall notes that he received the official word in 1979 from world-renowned ophthalmologist Dr. Gerald Fishman—who, serendipitously, has since become director of The Pangere Center for Inherited Retinal Diseases at The Lighthouse.
A career pivot after vision loss
Before his official diagnosis, however, Hall knew something was up. “I was employed at Sears Roebuck's Chicago headquarters as a merchandise expeditor at that time.” he recalls, “When I started to have some minor accidents and unexplainable incidents of vision lapse, I felt it was time to find out what was going on!”
After receiving extensive eye tests and examinations, Hall credits Dr. Fishman with clarifying his condition and putting things into proper perspective. Though he would still on occasion bump into things—and once, fell off his bike, suffering facial lacerations—he persevered. His desire to succeed, along with his considerable people skills, landed him a position as a customer service representative with the firm Arrow Messenger. When that job was eliminated in 2015, Hall came to The Lighthouse for help.
Hall says that at The Lighthouse he learned new skills to compensate for his declining eyesight. “The Lighthouse provided me with work readiness assistance through their job readiness counseling and internship program,” he says. Through a coordinated, one-day-a-week, keyboarding practice, and lessons in assistive technology for accessibility—including ZoomText® and Talking Typer™ software—he was able to enhance his marketability for employment.
Additionally, Hall leveraged the organization’s Job Club during his search for employment. “The Lighthouse’s Job Club is a series of sessions that provides a wealth of job readiness information, resources, and tools for employment preparation and other necessary instruction and advice for an employment search,” says Hall. With the additional training Hall received in keyboarding and ZoomText, plus his proven ability to connect with callers on the phone, he was recruited for a post in the Low Vision Call Center.
The Chicago Lighthouse: Optimism answers the phone
Despite the fact that his vision has worsened, Hall maintains an upbeat attitude and never lets his condition stop him from doing many of the things he loves to do. “Like everyone else, I have had my share of tragedies, including the loss of my mom in a car crash in 1988 when I was just 33 and my brother from a shooting in 1986,” he says. “You come to realize that life is short, and you need to get as much out of it as you can—while giving something back!”
In his job with the call center, Hall tries to do just that. “I have had the opportunity to speak with many individuals who are experiencing vision loss or are totally blind—as well as relatives, friends, or caregivers,” Hall says, adding that he often hears tales of despair, anguish, grief, anxiety, and other woes involved in an individual’s vision loss or that of a loved one in their care.
“Most recently, I encountered an individual who was in a deep state of despair,” he recalls. “So, I spoke to him with compassion, pointing out that I too am visually impaired and once had those same feelings, but would not let my disability define me or prevent me from living the best life I can.” Drawing on the help he received at The Lighthouse, Hall went on to explain that there are organizations out there—such as The Lighthouse—that exist “to help those of us with vision loss live more independent—and fulfilling—lives.”
Hall’s ability to speak from a place of experience, with compassion and empathy, helps move others to action. “I tell them that they would be pleasantly surprised at what they actually can accomplish if they take advantage of these opportunities,” he says. “Needless to say, that person's attitude and disposition seemed to transform from despair into hope, which represented a huge change from our initial conversation!” Hall smiles.
Despite his assertion that he is as “old as dust,” Hall’s zest for life seems limitless and is reflected not only in his work but in his leisure time as well. Blessed with a strong voice, Hall sings with a gospel group at his church and also volunteers with a church-sponsored community rescue group. When he’s not singing or working, Hall puts his self-taught carpentry skills to use on home renovation projects. Noting his flair for creating cabinets, he points with pride to having built his own kitchen.
“I practice what I preach,” Hall grins. “I absolutely refuse to let my disability define me and will keep living life to the fullest!” Sage words to live by, for both Joseph Hall and those he helps through his work with The Chicago Lighthouse.