- Associated Press - Sunday, July 3, 2016

FREDERICKSBURG, Va. (AP) - It wasn’t necessarily Trenton Williams’ vision problems that made it hard for him to keep a job.

It was his reluctance to tell others about them.

Williams is legally blind, but he can make out shapes and details a few feet away.

In the past, he didn’t always mention the vision issue during job interviews for fear he wouldn’t be hired. Or, if he got the job, he later left because he couldn’t do the work - and didn’t want to ask for accommodations.

Williams doesn’t want people to assume his mind is impaired along with his sight.

“I only tell people when it is completely necessary,” Williams said. “I don’t want to look needy, I want to be independent.”

The 38-year-old’s determination to get past his limitations has earned him praises.

Williams, who works for Rappahannock Goodwill Industries, recently received the SourceAmerica William M. Usdane Regional Award, which honors an employee with a significant disability for outstanding achievement and exceptional character.

Williams was selected from among 20,000 employees in the Eastern region, which includes 12 states and Washington, D.C.

“He has succeeded to a degree that few do,” said Donnie Tolson, president of Rappahannock Goodwill Industries. “He has done so with grit and determination to make the best of his situation and to provide for his family.”

Williams learned basic life skills for the blind in his 20s, when his vision started to deteriorate. Then, more than three years ago, he got job training at RGI and was assigned to a janitorial crew at Fort A.P. Hill in Caroline County.

Every weekday, he polishes tables and cleans restrooms, takes out the trash and puts the shine on stainless steel accessories.

He even does windows.

His supervisor, Barry Applewhaite, makes small adjustments for Williams that make a big difference. For instance, there’s a mark inside a cleaning bucket to show how high fluid should go.

Williams can’t see the tiny line, but he can easily view the larger one Applewhaite scrawls with a magic marker.

“Out here, he’s like my right-hand man,” Applewhaite said. “He’s very valuable. If I need to go into another building with a crew, he can direct people here. He’s a very solid worker.”

Williams works in one of the new compounds on base, the Asymmetric Warfare Group. He’s part of a crew that covers about 30,000 square feet in seven buildings.

He’s glad those around him know about his genetic degenerative disease, retinitis pigmentosa, and that he has trouble adjusting from bright lights to dim ones, or when going from inside to outside.

“It feels a lot better that it’s out and it’s known,” he said. “When I miss something, I can be coached and not reprimanded.”

Clearly, Williams is thorough in his work. When he polishes a table, he does one swipe along each edge, then works in long sweeping motions, from one side of the table to the other.

He always puts spray cans and cloths back in the same compartments so he can find them next time. Different mop heads - a thinner one for linoleum and thicker for tile - appear yellow, but he’s learned to tell them apart from their stripes.

Williams is “ecstatic” to work full time at tasks that some might consider menial. Before RGI, when jobs weren’t as steady, he and his wife, Treda, had to live in a hotel room for two years with their three children.

Now, the family is in a townhouse in Olde Greenwich in Spotsylvania County.

“Man, I’m so glad I’m out of that situation,” he said about all of them being crammed into one hotel room. “It makes me feel like a man that I can take care of my family. I’m very excited and I’m proud.”

So are his associates at Goodwill, who Williams said seemed more excited than he was about the regional award. Williams also was named the local agency’s employee of the year in 2014.

While Williams is “extremely personable,” he’s not particularly comfortable “being the center of attention and object of adoration,” Tolson said.

Yet he agreed to share his story, despite his past reluctance to talk about his disability. Tolson believes he’s the shining example of the one in 10 Americans with a disability who can succeed at work, if given the chance.

“All they need is someone or some institution to believe in them and help them along the way,” Tolson said.


Information from: The Free Lance-Star, https://www.fredericksburg.com/

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