07/04/2010 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

An Advocate for All of Us

When Sandra Martin lost her eyesight two decades ago as a result of juvenile diabetes, she was a stay-at-home mom with a newborn daughter to care for. "I taught myself how to do things on my own, things like walking with the cane," she says. "But I was really dependent on other people."

Sandra recalls the moment when she realized she needed to take charge of her own life. "Someone told my 16-year-old daughter that she'd be taking care of me for the rest of her life," she explains. "That's such a big responsibility for a child, to think that they'd have to take care of their parent."

Determined to become more independent, Sandra spent the next eight months studying everything from typing to assertiveness. At age 39, she didn't have any computer or typing skills but she was determined to get them. She also learned how to use a guide dog.

But even after intensive training, Sandra spent five years actively searching for employment. She was most determined to get someone to believe in her, and trust that she could do a good job and be a benefit to a place of employment.

When she turned to Goodwill, she met with an employment counselor who advised her on her job search, accompanied her on interviews, and helped with her résumé. With that training, Sandra became equipped to seek out a job that was right for her skills and her background. Within a few months, the Visually Impaired Persons (VIP) of Southwest Florida hired Sandra as an outreach coordinator. Her advocacy work has made Sandra one of the most visible advocates for people with visual impairments and disabilities in Southwest Florida. Her hard work helped to establish a Lighthouse Outreach Center in Naples, FL, a nonprofit that works with VIP to support people with visual impairments and their families. As the result of Sandra's advocacy work, voters with visual impairments can use adaptive voting machines in Collier County, FL, and busy intersections have been made accessible with pedestrian signals to keep people with visual impairments safe. Every day, Sandra works to improve the lives of people with visual impairments and disabilities, and she dismisses any negative stereotypes that people may have about employing people with disabilities

Fully blind for 30 years now, Sandra says, "I welcome opportunities to tell organizations and businesses how they can help to enable a visually impaired person to function in the world with dignity and confidence."

Sandra is an advocate for all of us. Her story is inspiring to people in similar situations and shows employers the benefits that people with disabilities can bring to the workplace.

This week, Gibbons will highlight a success story each day in honor of Goodwill Industries Week, May 2-8.