Friday, August 31, 2012

My Story - Marion McFadden

Marion McFadden

I opened the ledger, preparing to post transactions from my client’s check register. Instead of seeing dollars and cents, a white, fuzzy circle appeared on the paper. I blinked and rubbed my eye, but the problem remained. This was not a ‘bolt of lightning’ event. I lived with congenital glaucoma and sight in one eye for the first thirty years of my life, and during that time had surgeries for a detached retina and to reduce eye pressure. Now, after being self-employed for a year, I realized my occupation as a bookkeeper and tax accountant had reached its end.
So … what now? My income had ceased, but the expenses – house payment, groceries, car payment, shoes and clothes for three small, growing children – continued. In the following months, my wife Linda and I experienced frustration, sometimes almost panic.
But there were silver linings in the dark cloud that loomed over our family. Linda’s job provided some income. I was approved for social security disability. We received wonderful spiritual support, and some financial aid, from our church family. A member of our church worked for Oklahoma Rehabilitation Services, and led me through the testing and evaluation processes. He believed I could learn computer programming!
However, in 1967, there were no colleges or universities in Tulsa, where I lived, willing to accept a visually impaired programming student. The rehab counselor told me a special class for blind or visually impaired persons would begin that fall. But it was located in Oklahoma City, and I needed basic skills in Braille. He gave me contact information about the class, but did not feel I could qualify for the fall semester. My spirits plummeted when he said I should wait until next year to enroll! 

I struggled with Braille that summer, and went to Oklahoma City for an interview. An opening for one student remained, and I was allowed to take the entry exam, which I passed. Surprised, my counselor completed the steps for Visual Services to sponsor me. 
In September, 1967, I joined eleven men and women to learn the intricacies of coding a computer program. Our instructor was excellent, and the students were friendly and helpful. I soon realized most were far ahead of me in mobility and proficiency in Braille. I was a ‘group of one.’  Hour by hour, day by day, week by week, we learned about hexadecimal and binary numbering systems, bits, bytes, and how data is processed inside a computer. Then we wrote programs to produce usable output!
Although I now had goals and direction, attending classes a hundred miles from home for nine months was difficult. Linda needed me at home to help raise our children, and we missed each other tremendously. I commuted by bus most weekends from Oklahoma City to Tulsa, and back. In retrospect, we should have sold or leased our house, and moved to Oklahoma City.
During the spring semester, I was given the opportunity to code a test program for a company in Tulsa. Based on the program and its output, I was granted an interview. I told the Human Resources Manager and the Data Processing supervisor that I liked the new skill I had learned, and that my background in accounting should enhance my effectiveness as their employee. When I mentioned I used my portable electric typewriter to code programs, one manager asked how I could type without seeing the keyboard. I told him I used the ‘touch system,’ as sighted people do. The other manager asked if I felt confident I could find the men’s rest room, not the women’s. Although I did not feel good about the interview, I was hired.
At first, the dozen or so programmers I worked with considered me an oddity. Whoever heard of a blind programmer? I understood my role as a trainee, but was determined to succeed. I carried a huge responsibility, not just for myself, but also for those who graduated from the programming class with me. If I failed…. As my skills improved, I was accepted as a fellow programmer.
A year later, several employees, including myself, were laid off. Over a period of months, I sent over 100 resumes, and traveled to Kansas City and Dallas for interviews. When I went to an appointment in Tulsa, in response to a newspaper ad, the interviewer refused to take my application when he or she discovered I was legally blind. Oh, that black cloud again!
Finally, another silver lining appeared. A friend told me she heard a manufacturing plant in Broken Arrow had a computer. She did not know if they needed a programmer. I went there, took a psychological test, and was called several days later for a second interview. I was offered a job. The manager told me they planned to put an ad in the classifieds the next day. To my astonishment, he asked how I knew they were looking for a programmer. Coincidence? Fate? I believe it was more than that.
The working atmosphere at Braden was much more satisfying than at my first programming job. Instead of coding single programs, I was responsible for designing and implementing a series of programs. My first assignment was a new payroll system. I interviewed several clients, coded and tested programs, and followed up with changes and corrections. My accounting background certainly helped with that.
In 1998 I retired as a systems analyst from Braden Winch Company in Broken Arrow, after working there for twenty-nine years. During that time, computers and related technology evolved dramatically. The mainframe components changed from vacuum tubes to transistors to printed circuits. Instead of programs being typed and keypunched into cards, I created code at a CRT keyboard. Before there was an American Disabilities Act, the managers provided me with the latest hardware and software, which magnified and produced audible output of the CRT screen content.
After retiring, I took advantage of an offer by Tulsa Community College for a tuition waiver to senior citizens. I audited two classes in creative writing and have written a novel and several poems. I enjoy reading, traveling, listening to music, and interacting with my family and church friends. Overall, life has been good to me and Linda, my wife for more than 55 years.