Rare form of macular degeneration dims man's sight but not his work ethic
Hauch marked that Makielski could no longer drive or use a blow torch but he could perform all other activities, such as using power tools or other tools "as long as he uses common knowledge safety precautions."
And this was added at the bottom: "Dr. Hauch believes in allowing his patients to maintain employment as long as he/she is able."
But Makielski, left with only peripheral vision that has gradually shrunk over the years and will eventually fade to nothing, says he's struggling to persuade his employer he still has skills.
A liability or an asset?
Niel Makielski says he knew that once his second eye was affected, he wouldn't be as effective as he once was, so he asked to be demoted and work only 20 hours a week.
"I couldn't see having the stress and pressures of going blind and keeping the stress and pressures of running the department at the same time," Makielski says.
He says the manager who replaced him has been unaccommodating and has him merely painting around the growing clinic. Once, after painting 14 rooms himself, Makielski says, he was disciplined for a total of six paint drops found on the linoleum floor.
A co-worker, who asked to not be identified for fear of losing his job, says he's seen Makielski be unfairly reprimanded.
"I've worked with Niel on many occasions on many projects, and he does good work," the co-worker says. "He does as well as somebody that could see. They're looking at Niel as a liability instead of an asset. ... A lot of people would be depressed, but he tries to continue on with life."
The Makielskis filed a complaint several weeks ago with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The investigator closed the case, citing the agency could not conclude there were violations but "does not certify that the respondent is in compliance with the statutes."
Paul Meyer, CEO of South Bend Clinic, said this in a statement: "I cannot speak to personal employee and employment matters as that would violate the employee's rights to privacy. ...
"We have and will continue to employ individuals with any manner of physical and developmental disabilities, and accommodate their unique needs and welcome their contributions. We are proud of our track record in that regard. As a health care institution we deal with healthy, infirm, and disabled individuals daily, as that is our mission."
'It's bad enough to lose your vision'
Julia Studebaker is a blind rehabilitation teacher who helps those with low vision to cope at home and work.
Her agency, CompassPointes, also facilitates a monthly support group for those with vision issues.
But Studebaker's experience is more than just academic: Her husband, William, died at the age of 77 after living most of his life with multiple sclerosis, much of those years legally blind.
Learning to accommodate his vision issues was instructive, she says. He held various jobs and was even able to find ways to teach high school science for 20 years.
Working with available agencies such as CompassPointes, Veterans Affairs or Vocational Rehabilitation and comparing notes with others are good ways to keep up with technology and find out what's available to employers.
Some occupations might be ruled out by a loss of vision; it might be difficult for a surgeon with Parkinson's to keep that job, Studebaker says.