|Chris Booher successfully manages a demanding workload despite being blind.
You may have seen Chris Booher in the elevator or in the hallways of the Neuroscience Center (6001 Executive Blvd.). When you walk into the NIMH grants management office, you are likely to meet him. He is warm, friendly and helpful. Booher is part of the Administrative Fellows Program (AFP), a 2-year internship using and enhancing skills in analysis, leadership and management to support the NIH administrative community. Currently, there are approximately 100 people participating in this program.
Grants management, one track AFP offers, is challenging and very detail-oriented. As the office responsible for awarding and administering all NIMH grants, it is the foundation of the institute. What makes Booher unique is that he is successfully managing a demanding workload and he is blind.
He has retinitis pigmentosa (RP), a genetic degenerative disease that affects the rods and cones of the eye, causing a loss of night and peripheral vision. In advanced stages, it can cause a loss of central vision leading to total blindness. Diagnosed in middle school, Booher was not affected by RP until his undergraduate years in college. During graduate school, his RP had progressed to the point that it was affecting his studies and other aspects of his life. Needing advice from others who had also lost their vision, Booher joined the National Federation of the Blind (NFB).
“Before this,” he said, “I didn’t know anyone who was blind.”
He became active in NFB. He learned how to travel independently with a long white cane, read and write Braille, use specialized computer software and perform everyday activities such as cooking and cleaning using techniques he learned at an NFB training site in Louisiana. Still involved in NFB activities, Booher participates in community outreach efforts to educate the public about blindness and speaks at NFB student seminars encouraging blind teens to be informed and self-assured consumers. He feels that the most valuable element of his NFB experience has been his increased sense of confidence. It was this newfound confidence that led him to pursue his M.B.A.and eventually to find a position at NIH.
While Booher has some residual vision, he employs job skills learned at NFB to do his job. In addition to screen-reader software, which recites the information shown on his computer, he also uses optical character recognition software that reads aloud typed documents or PDFs that have been scanned into the computer. These programs give him the ability to perceive every detail of information on a grant application, even alerting him when there is missing information in required fields or when an application is complete.
When asked what his life has been like at NIH, Booher said, “It has been a wonderful experience. The people are great and they’re open to working with someone who’s blind.”
This openness and commitment to diversity were key factors in Booher’s choosing the grants management track. The staff’s willingness to accept him and to give him a chance made a positive impression on him. And he continues to be a positive presence at NIMH.