Interview with Senior Accessibility Specialist: Subject Matter Expert for JPMorgan Chase – Joel Isaac
APH CareerConnect staff had the opportunity to meet with Joel Isaac at the 2015 AFB Leadership Conference in Phoenix, Arizona. Joel is a registered mentor with APH CareerConnect and his story is one in which every young adult pursuing employment can learn something from. Married with a young child, Joel exudes confidence, a strong desire to learn, persistence, and humility. As you read about Joel, he will motivate and inspire you with his knowledge and experience, and at the end of the article: his opinions may very well become yours.
APH CareerConnect: What are your job duties in your position at JPMorgan Chase?
Joel Isaac: I’m responsible for educating developers, designers, quality assurance, and managers on the needs of people with disabilities. This can take the form of providing presentations, group forums, one-on-one training, written guidance, and testing of products to ensure they meet the needs of our customers.
APH CareerConnect: What are the education, training and/or licensure requirements for your position?
Joel Isaac: In my opinion, an individual seeking a career in accessibility should have a strong foundation in one or more of these areas: software development, design, quality assurance/user acceptance testing, and or product development. Strong knowledge of accessibility guidelines like Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), Section 508 and how they relate to technology is a must. Many companies put a strong focus on education, so a Bachelor’s degree in a related field would be a minimum consideration.
Recently, there has been discussion of regulating and licensing Accessibility professionals. Groups like the International Association of Accessibility Professionals (IAAP) are working to develop standards towards this need. So far, this has not become an industry requirement, but it is definitely an area of which to be aware.
APH CareerConnect: Discuss the education and training you have received.
Joel Isaac: I have a BA in Psychology, a BS in Computer Info Systems, and a MS in Info Systems Management. When I decided that Accessibility was a career path worth pursuing, I took additional college-level courses in assistive technology and less formal courses online to learn more about accessibility guidelines and issues related to the field.
APH CareerConnect: What skills and abilities are the most important in your field of work?
Joel Isaac: There are varying opinions on this subject. A person I highly respect once told me that empathy is the biggest factor in the making of a great accessibility professional. One who can put himself “in the other guy’s shoes” is better equipped to meet our customers’ needs over one who just approaches accessibility as a checklist of problems to resolve. I agree with this opinion, it’s really about people. This is the part of the job that is constant, regardless of changes in laws and technology. The desire to learn is also important. Laws and guidelines can change, the interpretation of these rules are always open to interpretation. Technology changes and people find new ways of interacting with new technology. The accessibility community is constantly seeking new techniques to meet the spirit of the law and improve people’s access to information. One must have a strong desire to read and comprehend in order to continuously keep pace with the latest changes.
APH CareerConnect: Describe your employment path and how you came to work for JPMorgan Chase.
Joel Isaac: When I graduated from college, I had the opportunity to work in tech support in the burgeoning field of media streaming. Because of my background in coding, I transitioned from this position into full-time developer roles in .com start-ups. As the .com bubble started to burst, I moved to more stable positions with larger companies.
I worked as a full-time developer for more than ten years providing business analysis, technical and functional specifications, database designs, and of course the programming for a lot of websites. While pursuing my career as a developer, I was intrigued by the purpose of accessibility. In 2006, I decided to make an effort to learn as much as I could about the subject.
I took a lot of classes and did research online before I had the confidence to apply the knowledge I was gaining to the websites upon which I was working. While I was learning about accessibility, I was also learning about the need for advocacy and some of the driving concerns of our community by volunteering through our local councils: technology and financial literacy, as well as employment concerns (ones that very much resonated with me).
In 2012, I was contacted by JPMorgan Chase through a group of employment head hunters. After a few interviews with the hiring manager and the accessibility team, there seemed to be a good connection. I started soon after in early 2013. I continue to enjoy my role here at the firm and look to grow in this position.
APH CareerConnect: What access technology do you use at work to complete your job duties efficiently and effectively?
Joel Isaac: When I started my position here at JPMorgan Chase, I mostly used ZoomText to provide contrast, magnification and some speech. As time has passed, I noticed my magnification creeping up and now have a heavier reliance on JAWS and NonVisual Desktop Access to provide more detailed speech output. I also use VoiceOver, Talkback on mobile devices, and a braille display.
APH CareerConnect: How and when did you disclose your disability to your supervisor?
Joel Isaac: For this position, I felt it was necessary to disclose my visual impairment during the interview process. I felt upfront disclosure was important in this case to relate to my effective use of the tools required for this position and to give the interviewers a better understanding of who I am as a person.
APH CareerConnect: What is your advice to young adults regarding disclosing their vision loss to potential employers?
Joel Isaac: In my opinion, disclosure is an exercise in judgment. If your vision loss is something that an employer needs to consider in determining your suitability for the position you are seeking, you should disclose, otherwise, if vision loss is not a factor in how well you could do this job, then you have no obligation to disclose.
APH CareerConnect: What do you find most satisfying about being employed with JPMorgan Chase?
Joel Isaac: I get a lot of satisfaction from working alongside a world-class group of diverse individuals committed to creating products that are innovative while setting the bar for the next generation of financial applications. Another thing that gives me great satisfaction is the supportive nature of our accessibility team. I’ve never worked with a group of individuals more committed to supporting one another more than those at JPMorgan Chase.
APH CareerConnect: What is the most challenging part of your job?
Joel Isaac: Asking for help has been my biggest challenge. I have always been fiercely independent, but as I’ve experienced vision loss, I’ve also experienced the frustration of not being able to do things the same way I’ve always done. Even after losing my sight for many years, I don’t always know when to ask for help and will struggle through an issue that could be quickly resolved with a helping hand. For example, for years I’ve done visual analysis of web pages. I am now at a point where I cannot conduct this type of visual analysis as effectively as I have once done. I really had to struggle past my pride and ego to ask some of my sighted colleagues for some help in this area.
APH CareerConnect: How do you handle stress at work?
Joel Isaac: When I get stressed, I generally take a deep breath and try to decide whether anything can be done to resolve the situation. As I get older, I have started looking at the “big picture” a little more instead of focusing on individual problems. This perspective helps me from overreacting as much as I once would have.
APH CareerConnect: What tips for having a successful job interview would you offer young adults with vision loss?
Joel Isaac: In my opinion, most of the advice that I’d give to interviewees with vision loss would be the same as the advice I’d give to any interviewee: be prepared. Do as much research as you can on the company, position, and the people with whom you could potentially be working. The preparation will lead to confidence during the interview. Your knowledge is important, after all, that’s probably the main reason the interviewer is speaking with you, but sometimes confidence can be a greater factor in whether you are offered the position you are seeking.
Don’t beat yourself up if the interview doesn’t result in an offer. Consider what you learned during the interview. Was this position really a good fit for your skills? If you feel that you did something wrong during the interview, how could you improve it next time?
Lastly, for a person with a visible disability, most interviewers don’t understand the nature of disabilities. They may have many preconceived notions and misunderstandings of your capabilities. It is your job during the interview to dispel any misgivings that the interviewer would have in hiring you; this especially includes issues related to your disability.
APH CareerConnect: What personal attributes are essential for successful employment for a person with vision loss?
Joel Isaac: In my opinion, the attributes required for successful employment are the same regardless if you’ve experienced vision loss or whether you have no impairment: persistence, the ability to learn from successes and failures, and sensitivity to environment are essential.
Persistence: there are always barriers to keep you from reaching your goals and sometimes it would be easier to give up, but being able to work through those ever-present fears and doubts patiently is a valuable asset.
The ability to learn from successes and failures is also important: we all make mistakes and sometimes we do everything right. How do we do it better next time is a question that can help to ensure success.
Sensitivity to environment is something I’ve noticed time and again. Diverse situations may not benefit from the same response, but require a gauging to react in a manner tailored to the situation.
APH CareerConnect: Describe your visual impairment.
Joel Isaac: I learned that I had a form of Retinitis Pigmentosa when I was very young. Initially, it only constituted minimal night blindness. Through school, I had trouble with distance vision. Like most teenagers, I wanted to drive to gain independence. I did drive with a restricted license for a time, but driving became very stressful, since my depth and light perception seemed to constantly fluctuate. For many years, my vision loss was imperceptible to most people who didn’t know me well. As my vision started to decrease at a quicker rate, I learned that I have a ring schetoma, which means that I have usable vision in the form of a ring. This ring is being eaten away from the center and the periphery. Currently, I don’t rely on my vision much, but once in a while, if I’m lucky to be looking at something at the right angle, I can see more than usual.
APH CareerConnect: Describe the role Braille has in your life and where you learned to read and write it.
Joel Isaac: I initially learned braille in my 30’s through the Braille Institute in Southern California from a great teacher, Steve Bauer. Since I was still primarily using my vision to read, a few years later when I felt my skills slipping, I went back to another braille institute and reinforced what I had originally learned through another great teacher, Monique Mariani. In between instructors I stumbled upon the Braille Bug website and still have a bookmark for the contractions (just in case I forget).
I still struggle with braille. I don’t read it as fluently as some others that learned to read braille when they were young. I mostly use braille for labeling, though once in a while I’ll keep up my reading skills by slowly reading a publication like the Braille Forum or Access World. I hate to admit it, but I usually get frustrated after about an hour and then turn on the voice on my screen reader to finish up.
APH CareerConnect: What method(s) of transportation do you use to get to/from work and to/from other places?
Joel Isaac: Mobility is very important to me. I use a cane regularly, but I have been trained to work with a four-legged guide. In fact, I still have a retired Seeing Eye dog at home that sometimes tells me she wants to wear a harness and lead me through an adventure.
My dog and my cane both have advantages depending on the situation. Some are a better fit for some situations. I’ve learned to listen more while walking to the taps of my cane and be more sensitive to the pull of my dog.
Sometimes I get rides to work. Other times I get the opportunity to walk and take trains. It really depends on what is available to me at the moment.
I’ve used a couple of different devices for wayfinding. It wouldn’t be surprising to find me holding the handle of a harness or a cane in one hand and an iPhone or Android phone in the other. I love BlindSquare and use it almost every day to gain an idea of what’s around me and to figure out how to get where I’m going. I also use Google Maps and Ariadne GPS pretty regularly. When all else fails, I ask for directions.
APH CareerConnect: What advice do you have for young adults losing their vision?
Joel Isaac: Losing anything is a terrible prospect, but losing something like eyesight is especially traumatic since we learn early on to be heavily dependent on visual info. You don’t have to be alone in adjusting to vision loss. Many have survived as they’ve transitioned to zero vision, and some have thrived beyond their vision loss. Find a support network. This doesn’t have to be a formal thing; it could be friends and family. It’s all about getting the support you need to be able to move forward.
APH CareerConnect: What advice do you have for young adults who are not employed?
Joel Isaac: Moving into the workforce can be scary, but the potential rewards are endless. Starting a career will change your life. It will allow you to grow in ways you can’t imagine. Consider what you like to do, then consider whether that activity can work into a career.
APH CareerConnect: Share about your life at home and being a father of a young child.
Joel Isaac: I’ve met many who wouldn’t consider having children because they feel that they won’t be able to handle it or they don’t want to affect their current lifestyle. Diminished eyesight isn’t a barrier to raising kids. There have been a lot of successful blind and visually impaired parents. You just have to approach it in a way that makes sense to you and your family. For me, child rearing is a roller-coaster. It can be scary and exciting, and extremely rewarding all in the same moment. It’s the greatest thing I’ve been a part of.
APH CareerConnect: What are your interests outside of work?
Joel Isaac: My interests are similar to most people and can be wide-ranging. I enjoy spending time with my family, travelling, and creative pursuits like playing music and gardening. I have a passion for technology, financial processes, and spirituality and how these can improve our lives. I am involved in our local consumer advocacy groups here in the Bay Area and have recently become the President of our local American Council of the Blind (ACB) affiliate.
APH CareerConnect: Why did you decide to attend the AFB Leadership Conference?
Joel Isaac: A friend forwarded me a flyer for the conference in late 2014. I read through the agenda and was excited by the eclectic range of topics that well-represented the interests of people with visual impairments. I felt that I needed to learn more. What better way than attending in person?
After attending the conference and considering all the experiences and knowledge I gained, I was very much struck by concepts like dedication, commitment, and life’s work. I met so many people during the conference that embody these concepts in their goals of supporting us, as people with visual impairments on our path to success.