A unique twist of fate

Kindergarten was gliding along smoothly for Ivan Weich until he was hit in the head by a rubber kickball at recess.

That’s when he found out he wasn’t normal like the other kids.

He was blind.

Weich’s parents knew he was born with the eye disease ocular albinism, but they didn’t tell him. They wanted him to lead a normal life like anyone else. Going to school and hanging out with the other kids were all part of the plan.

Problem was, Weich could make out shapes and movement in the world around him, but he couldn’t see anything clearly — including the chalkboard at the front of the class, or even his face in the mirror.

At school his teacher moved the boy’s desk near the front of the classroom, but Weich found it embarrassing.

Now, at 37, Weich still tweaks his life to fit his poor vision, but he doesn’t consider himself disabled, and he never asks people to feel sorry for him.

He was just promoted to Claims Representative at the Social Security Administration on Wheaton Way, the agency he has worked at for 12 years.

Weich taps the keys in a cubicle like all the other workers in the office, but he uses a special computer program called Magic that magnifies the words on the screen.

It’s one of many tools Weich has used to live a normal life.

In grade school he followed along in class by reading a notebook-sized copy of the day’s chalkboard lesson that his teachers made just for him each day.

Then he started using a monocular lens, which allowed him to move his desk back with all the other students, and still see what was going on.

A doctor drilled a hole in Weich’s glasses and glued a telescope-style lens over the hole.

Weich couldn’t drive a car with the device because it limited his peripheral vision, but he could watch television or follow baseball games from the stands.

In college he had classmates take notes for him while he listened along.

During that time, Weich saw a flier for the National Federation of the Blind in a hallway at school, and he later joined.

The federation helps change what it means to be blind, Weich said.

“I learned that it is respectable to be blind and it can be overcome. Blindness is not a tragedy at all.”

Now Weich holds the position of Local Chapter President and President of Blind Public employees.

Although organizations like the National Federation of the Blind advocate for the blind in the workplace, Weich said blind people are still regularly discriminated against.

“Seventy percent of the blind are still unemployed or unemployed,” he said.

Weich got into his job working for the government because it had two elements he loved.

“I was always fascinated with the field of medicine and the field of law and of course, at the Social Security administration I use both,” he said.

He talks to clients about their physical ailments to diagnose their disability claim.

Then, when he makes a decision to accept or deny their claim, he has to notate the laws that correspond.

Weich doesn’t know if he would have his vision improved if he were given a single wish.

“If I really look around today, there’s a lot of things I am glad I don’t see, and there’s some things I would like to see. I certainly wouldn’t want to go through another 9-11.”

He also wouldn’t want to experience tragedies like his father dying, which happened three years ago.

In 1999, Weich was working for Social Security in San Diego but transferred to Seattle so he could help care for his dad, who was battling cancer.

He switched on and off with his brother at his father’s bedside for six months until his father died.

“Here’s a man I grew to love and respect and we had to see him sitting and dying and we couldn’t do anything for him.”

A little while later, his girlfriend died in a car accident.

Weich credits his strength during those years on his friends around him and his desire to keep busy.

Today he is a Boy Scout leader and Merit Badge Counselor, and he has training as an Emergency Medical Technician.

And even though he has to use his hand to guide his comb along the part in his hair because it is too hard to see his reflection in the mirror, smiles frequently bubble on Ivan Weich’s lips.

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