Logistics specialist conquers blindness
July 26, 2011
NEW CUMBERLAND, Pa. - Diagnosis with an incurable eye disease 27 years ago hasn’t stopped one employee from doing his job for 24 years. Enthusiasm to support his customers, along with the help of technology, co-workers and a devoted dog have contributed to a successful career.
In 1984 Kevin Turnbaugh was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa, an eye disease in which there is damage to the retina. He was completely blind in 14 years.
Turnbaugh, a logistics management specialist for the Army Security Assistance Command’s New Cumberland, Pa., office, said the satisfaction that comes from serving his country and the foreign military sales customer is what he likes about working at USASAC. Turnbaugh has been with USASAC for his entire government career. His job includes tracking the financial status and closure of CENTCOM region FMS cases, repair and return of items and non-standard item requirements.
“I truly feel that I am contributing to the mission of USASAC in what I do,” he said.
Turnbaugh works on a computer equipped with Job Access with Speech, a software package designed to aid the visually impaired via text-to-speech capability. He also uses a scanner which transcribes documents that can be read to him through the computer.
“I also use email more than any other form of communication, so I can hear the information more than once if necessary and store the messages for future reference,” he said.
One of the challenges Turnbaugh faces at work is when a program cannot be used through JAWS. Since 2000, all federal computer systems, websites and other automated systems must be compliant for access by the handicap as part of the Rehabilitation Act, section 508.
“Many of the systems are either older than 2000 or have been developed without the 508 requirement being considered,” he said.
This creates a challenge for Turnbaugh when trying to complete tasks, but his co-workers are always willing to help out.
“I have a wonderful group of co-workers who never think it is a pain or bother if I ask for some kind of assistance in the daily duties,” he said.
Co-workers describe Turnbaugh as enthusiastic and dedicated to his work.
“Kevin has an untiring energy and is a productive and effective member of the USASAC team,” Deb Lebo, technical program specialist at New Cumberland, said.
“He never gives up,” added Lori McCarthy, a central case manager at New Cumberland. “Several of the systems we use for everyday work don’t ‘talk’ to his computer, so the other members of the team have to pitch in and get the info for him.”
In addition to adapted computer software, scanners and help from co-workers, Turnbaugh has one more special tool to assist him at work: an 8-year-old English black Labrador retriever. Turnbaugh and his guide dog, Jodi, have been a team for close to seven years. Jodi, a trained seeing-eye dog, takes Turnbaugh anywhere he needs to go within the USASAC office and adjoining spaces such as the local credit union office or conference center. She patiently lies under his desk until Turnbaugh needs to leave.
“She is my sight, my mobility and my security for being able to perform various tasks, simple or difficult,” he said.
Having a dog in the office might be considered a distraction to some, but Jodi is trained to seamlessly fit into the office environment and is strictly disciplined. This type of working dog is taught to ignore typical interruptions and only follow the commands of their handler.
“Interaction with Jodi is kept at a minimum so that she doesn’t become distracted,” Terrance Brightbill, CENTCOM branch chief at New Cumberland, said.
“Like Kevin, Jodi is dedicated and committed to her job of supporting Kevin. Unless they are maneuvering the halls of USASAC, no one would even know Jodi was in the office,” Lebo said.
Despite Jodi’s strict work ethic, Turnbaugh does give her breaks throughout the day. In particular during his lunch break, Turnbaugh and Jodi go for a walk from one end of the building to the other.
“It gives her the chance to do something other than just stay under my desk for most of the day, and gives me a break from the stresses and strains of the desk as well,” Turnbaugh said. “Someone is always saying ‘Hi’ to Jodi on our walks, and then they remember to say ‘Hi’ to me too.”
“Everybody likes Jodi. And they would probably like to make her the USASAC mascot.”
In Turnbaugh’s spare time he enjoys writing about historical events, biblical issues and current events. He has had two books published this year called “Time Witnessing” and “Critical Condition.” He is working on a third book.
“Life is what you make it, with or without sight,” Turnbaugh said. “I am not the only person who is, or has gone blind, and I look at it as a problem that one must deal with in life.”