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VIA client Kaily Zenquiz Santiago was born prematurely in Puerto Rico with retina dystrophy, but it wasn’t until she moved to Buffalo that she received her diagnosis. It left her color blind, with difficulty determining dark colors and details.
“I was around 7 when they told me,” Kaily said. “My mom was mortified, scared, not knowing what to do.”
Luckily, Kaily’s family was determined to have her succeed and set her up with a Teacher of the Visually Impaired and Orientation and Mobility Instructor.
Connecting to the Commission (NYSCB) and facing obstacles
She utilized this training through high school until college, where she connected with the New York State Commission for the Blind (NYSCB) and began working as a pre-school teacher.
But working at the pre-school was met with challenges. “A lot of my staff members would forget that I was visually impaired, even my supervisors,” she said.
Shortly after, Kaily was hit by a car while crossing the street, forcing her to leave her job. She decided to focus on school and received her bachelor’s degree in Human Services. “I wanted something a little more toned down from working on my feet and running around with kids.”
For Kaily to utilize the experience she learned through college, NYSCB suggested an office job that still allowed her to connect with individuals in need.
New opportunities with VIA
Through the partnership between NYSCB and VIA, Kaily utilized VIA’s Work Experience Training and Workforce Development program. There she was connected with 211 of Western New York. Kaily began referring callers to services, such as 211, food pantries, emergency assistance programs, and assisting SUNY Buffalo’s call directory.
“At first, I was nervous because I’ve been a pre-school teacher, talked to parents and all that, but I never dived into referring them to services. I like it; I’ve learned so much and feel more confident in myself,” she said.
Kaily quickly fit into the role and felt more comfortable speaking with a wide variety of callers. “I try to be as caring as possible and listen to them. Sometimes they want to vent and talk to someone who can help them out.”
Since her start, Kaily has received a sense of gratification serving those in need while achieving a higher sense of belonging in her work environment.
“I feel like I’m at home here. The working environment is amazing. The staff is so kind and helpful. I can use my zoom text without feeling embarrassed or ashamed. I can use my gadgets without feeling different.”
Thanks to support from NYSCB and VIA, Kaily is jumpstarting her future. Now, Kaily has begun a graduate program at the University at Buffalo and is married to her long-time partner.
A message from her manager
“There is no limit to where Kaily can go in the future. Selfishly, I hope she stays with us forever. Knowing that may not be the case since Kaily is currently working toward her Master’s Degree, I value the time she’s with us in the Contact Center and make sure every day is a learning experience for her. Kaily has two children, goes to school full time, and works with us part-time. It tires me to say all that, let alone accomplish it day-to-day. I imagine when she finishes school and moves on to her career, it will give her more time to enjoy all the things she wants, and she is finally getting married!”
Supervisor, 211 WNY / VIA
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About VIA – There is no denying a diagnosis with vision changes or visual loss can present challenges. However, it does not change who you are, what you believe or, what you want to accomplish.
For over 100 years, VIA: Visually Impaired Advancement has provided rehabilitation and social services to individuals in Western New York who are visually impaired. We pride ourselves on being a comprehensive resource for people experiencing vision loss or who are legally blind to help them adapt to new ways of independence. Our team of vision professionals will customize services to help you manage vision loss at any age.
To learn more, visit viawny.org.