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Don’t Be Blind to the Possibilities

An Owner/Operator Talks About Life And Work With a Limiting Handicap

Years ago, while sifting through résumés looking for a qualified video engineer, I came across an applicant who stated that he was color blind.

As the NBC peacock was painting across the screen of my office TV and the announcer intoned “The following program is being brought to you in Living Color, on NBC,” I remember (and the memory makes me squirm, even now) being slightly amused.

That someone who could not readily identify different hues of color would apply for a job as a video engineer at a color television station seemed, well, a bit odd.

©iStockphoto/caracterdesign How could he “ride the video”? (This was way before computer camera controls.) Would we end up with green people and purple hair? Rather than give any serious thought to these questions, I set the résumé aside in the “Do Not Consider” stack and went about the task of finding the person I would consider.

Had I not ended up in a wheelchair some years later, I doubtless would not even remember that episode and my cavalier way of dealing with it.

Owning and operating a radio station from my 24 volt ride, though, has convinced me that I could have, and should have, done better, for myself, my company and for the applicant. Had I given even a small amount of thought to accommodating that person’s slightly different needs, I might have ended up with an excellent employee. As it happens, I never found out.

Getting it done

What I have found out, in an up-close-and-personal way, is that disabled people can Rube Goldberg their way around almost any obstacle.

Those of you who are owner/operators know that our daily task list never ends. We sell, voice track, screw in light bulbs, take meter readings, clean up, work the crowd at the Chamber meetings, sell some more, manage the staff, cut the checks … well, you get the idea.

So how is this done when all that stands between me and immobility is a bad gel cell? With patience and perseverance, obviously, but also (and amazingly, to some people), with quite a bit of success.

Selling and I have a love/hate relationship. That is to say, I sometimes hate that I love to sell, and vice versa. Selling to a client, though, when you are eye level with that person’s third shirt button (or worse, second blouse button) is a special challenge.

I approach it with cautious optimism. I always explain over the phone my situation and ask about the layout of the client’s office. Handicap parking? Steps? The list is fairly short. If there is hesitation, I quickly check the balance on the company card and offer to buy lunch at a familiar place. I also always get there first (but that’s just good salesmanship, anyway).

Even transmitter duty is not off-limits to me (although my wife cringes when I call her from the site). It is true that I am long past the point of standing up and swapping out a 4CX15000, or coupling up a 3 inch coax line, but I am still pretty valuable to have around when something deep inside the Cabinet O’ Death (my wife’s term) goes Snap, Crackle and Pop in the middle of the night.

Ninety percent of working at the transmitter site is knowledge-based. Given a schematic and a helper to hold the scope probes, most problems are solved with the brain, not the back.

Of course, once a problem is diagnosed, it has to be repaired, and I have found that a digital camera (a picture of the inside of a fried ATU truly is worth a thousand words) and the aforementioned able-bodied assistant are the two indispensable requirements to getting that done.

Since the average transmitter site is very short on accessibility, I try to arrange my own. At my site, this is as simple as a sheet of 3/4 inch plywood, kept there against the possibility of rain-soaked ground.

As for personal conveniences, there is one wild tree that has grown up in back of the building. It is on my personal “No Cut” list.


Computers, of course, have made everyone’s life easier, and this is doubly (or triply) true for disabled folks.

Checking FCC rules and regulations, keeping up with rulemakings and filings, paying all sorts of regulatory and IRS fees; I accomplish all of these tasks from my office, or sometimes (if I’m particularly ambitious or have just forgotten until the last moment) in my pajamas from my home computer.

Likewise, I have often monitored the station, listened to aircheck “tapes,” tracked and produced spots; all sitting just 15 feet from the coffee pot on the kitchen counter.

People I know fairly well and who know I am absolutely unfazed by my circumstances occasionally ask how I am doing. Do I have a problem doing this thing or that?

The answer is that, like most disabled people I know, I do pretty well at most things and perfectly well at others. When I need help, I ask for it. I try to give my best, every day. I try to make my station sound good and keep my clients and my listeners happy. In short, I’m a lot like any other owner/operator, or good employee.

I suspect that there aren’t 10 people reading this who have any sort of limiting handicap, so, if you’ve plowed this far along in this piece, you might be asking, “What am I reading this for?” My answer: You’re reading it because sometime down the road you might have occasion to interview someone who just happens to be color blind.

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