Watch CBS News

He worried about providing for his family when he went blind. Now he's got a whole new career.

Company helps the visually impaired get jobs
When he went blind, he worried he couldn't be there for his daughter. Now, they work together. 03:32

In 2005, Calvin Echevarria was on top of his game. He had two jobs, bought a house and was raising a 3-year-old daughter with his wife. But suddenly, it felt like it was all being taken away. He could no longer work as a FedEx driver because he was going blind.

He was diagnosed with diabetic retinopathy. "At first, like, 'Heck with the money, heck with the house we just got. I don't care about that. All I care is about my wife and my daughter,'" he told CBS News. "I'm like, 'How am I going to see my daughter grow?'"

Echevarria at first worked on developing independent living skills like walking with a cane. But he wanted to learn more — like skills that would be useful for a job. That's when he found Lighthouse Works in Orlando, a company that creates jobs for the visually impaired and blind.

"Seven out of 10 Americans who are visually impaired are not in the workforce," said Kyle Johnson, the president and CEO of Lighthouse Works. "And we knew that people who are blind are the most highly educated disability group on the planet. And so, very capable people, who want to work and contribute. So, we created Lighthouse Works to help them do that."

Calvin Echevarria at the Lighthouse Works office in Orlando. He was one of their first employees when the company began in 2011. CBS News

What began as Lighthouse Central Florida in 1976 has evolved. The organization originally focused on helping the blind and visually impaired learn independent living skills and enter the workforce. But in 2011, they created Lighthouse Works in Orlando, their own company that provides call center and supply chain services and hires people who are blind or visually impaired.

Echevarria says he was the first blind person he ever knew. But at Lighthouse Works, nearly half of the employees are visually impaired or blind, Johnson told CBS News. 

Echevarria works in the call center, where Lighthouse Works has contracts with several clients, including the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity; Lighthouse Works employees help callers trying to access unemployment benefits. 

Other Lighthouse Works employees work on supply chains, building products for a variety of clients. 

In his call center job, Echevarria uses a system called JAWS to "hear" the computer he uses. The system reads the computer screen to Echevarria in one ear as he listens to a customer call in his other ear. 

Calvin Echevarria listening to JAWS describe his computer screen at work. CBS News

"The voice of the JAWS, for many of our call center agents, is going so fast that people like you and I don't understand what it's saying," Johnson said. "I always say it's faster than the voice at the end of a car commercial."

Echevarria has gotten good at it — really good. He now listens to JAWS on an almost comical speed. 

"Since I used to see, it was very hard for me to listen because I was more visual," he said. "So, everything in my learning skills I've had to change from visual to being auditory now. It took a little while, but little by little, if you want something in life you have to reach out and grab it and you have to work on it. So, that's basically what I did."

Calvin Echevarria with his family. His daughter now works at Lighthouse Works. CBS News

He said what makes his call center job fun is that the person on the other end of the phone doesn't even know he's blind. And he said working in a fully accessible office space, with other visually impaired people who can relate to him, is an added benefit. 

"It gives me a purpose. It makes me feel better because I can actually be proud of myself, saying, 'I provide for my family,'" he said. 

His original worry was not being able to be there for his daughter. Now, he's her mentor, because she's an employee at Lighthouse Works as well. 

"You know, little kids come to their parents, and all of a sudden when they become teenagers, they go away and they hardly ask you," he said. "Now, we're going back again to those days that my daughter use to come to me all the time. And I still feel needed."

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.