By Stephanie Bostaph, Communications Specialist, Disability.gov
Determination is one word Master Sgt. Jeffrey Mittman epitomizes. As an account manager for National Industries for the Blind (NIB), he not only dedicates his time to increasing employment opportunities for others, but also refuses to let people’s misconceptions about individuals with disabilities get in the way of his own success.
Born and raised in Indiana, Jeffrey spent 21 years in the U.S. Army. After multiple tours overseas, including a deployment during the first Gulf War, he was stationed in Iraq as an advisor to an Iraqi battalion. On July 7, 2005, Jeffrey was severely injured by a roadside bomb. He lost his left eye, central vision in his right eye, his nose, most of his teeth and badly damaged his right arm.
Throughout the next few years, Jeffrey underwent multiple reconstructive surgeries and rehabilitation, first at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., and then in Indiana. Realizing that he had to carve out a new career path, Jeffrey started to participate in the Blinded Veterans Association’s (BVA) Operation Peer Support program, where he met other Veterans who had been blinded in active duty.
His involvement with BVA also connected him to other professionals, including NIB’s Chief Executive Officer Kevin A. Lynch. Initially, NIB offered Jeffrey a professional internship. He was later hired as a full-time, remote employee. “It’s common for people with disabilities to withdraw into our own communities, but it’s really important to reach out,” shares Jeffrey. “People are willing to give you an opportunity once they see your performance.”
Today, Jeffrey spends more than 50 percent of his time travelling in order to develop strong customer relationships and business opportunities for NIB across the nation – in the last 18 months alone, he has taken more than 44 trips. “Sometimes people don’t understand how someone who is blind can do the project,” says Jeffrey. “I always reply, ‘You didn’t know I was blind until I showed up.’ It turns on a light bulb for them.” Most potential customers are receptive if he can prove the value of NIB’s products and services, something he does by researching their needs and taking them to NIB’s local facilities to demonstrate firsthand what employees can do.
Technology has changed a lot of work environments, enabling employees to be more productive. Since Jeffrey has limited use of his right arm, he taught himself to type one-handed and uses assistive devices, such as digital magnifiers and speech recognition software, to assist with everyday tasks. When he travels, Jeffrey uses a white cane to help him navigate public places. “There’s a solution to almost everything. You just have to find it,” he explains.
Jeffrey says the great motivator in his life is family. When he is not working, Jeffrey enjoys spending time with his wife, Christy, and their two daughters – but he jokingly admits he can tell when they are ready for him to take another trip.
This fall, Jeffrey will pursue his second Master’s degree in Business Administration at Ball State University. He firmly believes that his experience is meant to serve as an example, demonstrating that traumatic events may shape – but do not have to determine – an individual’s life course. “You have to start somewhere, and you may not like your first job. But once you prove yourself, people realize you are capable of anything.”