New episodes of the Penny Forward podcast will return on September 12th. In the meantime, we’re rerunning some of our most popular episodes from season 1. We hope you enjoy this interview with Tommaso Nonis. Tommaso lives in Italy, has studied abroad twice, interned as a translator in the European Parliament, and now translates Freedom Scientific products from English to his native Italian. We also discuss why buying things on sale might not always save you money. The Penny Forward podcast is about blind people building bright futures one penny at a time. Subscribe using your favorite podcast app, ask your smart speaker to play the podcast, “Penny Forward”, check out the Penny Forward YouTube channel, or listen to all of our past episodes or read transcripts at pennyforward.com
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Male Announcer: Welcome to the Penny Forward podcast. Penny Forward is a community of people who are blind, their families, and friends who share an interest in financial independence. Visit
to learn more about who we are, and what we do. Join us now, as we get to know people like us, who are working towards their own success. Here is your host, Chris Peterson.
Chris: My guest today is Tommaso Nonis. He is a translator. He knows multiple languages, and has worked in the European parlament, and is now working as a technical translator, translating Jaws from English to Italian.
Chris: Tommaso, thanks for being here.
Tommaso: You're welcome. It's a pleasure for me to be here as well.
Chris: Well, I was excited to meet you last week on Clubhouse and I'm really excited to share your story. So let's jump right into it. Tell me about yourself.
Tommaso: So, I am a mixture between a localization and language hobbyist and professional, and a technology hobbyist. And all my life, I've looked into combining these two passions together into something that would make my job as cool as possible, and something that I would be really loving to be doing. And that's what I am achieving so far. I think the fact that I've gone abroad and done stuff and moved a lot has really opened my world up and my views of it as well, enabling me to be as productive as I now think I am, even though there's no end to what a person can achieve actually.
Chris: So let's go way back, tell me about how you got started.
Tommaso: Around high school, I've always been passionate about both learning languages and technology. But I would say it was my parents' like push to drive me to go towards languages, because I was not that great an achiever at math, I would say, but I still wanted to have technology play a vital roll into what would be my job. So I went for a language career, and I studied English, Spanish, and Portuguese, and I attended interpreting and translation school, and I graduated into simultaneous conference interpreting. So, people who are interpreting generally sit in a booth, and they simultaneously translate vocally what the original speaker is saying. I completed my studies and was offered an internship at the European parlament. And that's when I realized that I could do something that also included technology and programming, and so I started learning Jaws scripting and other kinds of programming on my own, and knew that would be a part of my job sometime. And the opportunity arose because a little company in Luxemburg, where I was doing the internship at the European parlament, was looking for somebody who had experience in translation software. And I told them about accessibility and blindness specific issues, and they seemed to be interested. So I got enrolled in this six-month internship to try to improve the accessibility of this platform for blind and visually impaired individuals. This did not go as expected, but still, it allowed me to dig deeper into the technology and programming aspect, which, by that time, I had, let's say, a little bit left behind. And so I worked three years in a company that was into digital marketing. And so I translated software which related to digital marketing, and marketing automation, and newsletters and all of that. That also gave me a great boost into my tech skills, because I had to translate programming guides and other stuff, so I learned as I went. I learned as I translated. Until one day when I called the Italian dealer for Freedom Scientific, which, for those who don't know, is the main brand that produces technology for blind people in the world. I had detected by that time some errors in the translation of that program into Italian. And so I volunteered to do some fixing of that to make the Italian version of the program more appealing to Italian customers. He wasn't able to give me a salary up front, but he told me we could be colaborating for a certain amount of money per month. And so, two and a half years after this, I actually was offered a contract, and now I am the official localizer for the Italian market of Freedom Scientific. And also I do activities such as scripting, small programs, and product demos. And so I think it's a perfect job that combines these two passions into one actually, in an environment where I can really, really vibe I think.
Female Announcer: We'll continue our interview in a moment. But first, ...
Byron Lee with birds singing in the background: Boy, it's a beautiful day outside. I think I'll mo my lawn.
(Sound of lawn mower.)
Byron: Boy. When I finish with this yard, I've really got to get working on some more podcasts. Got to remove some silences, got to take out some "ums," got to remove that annoying whistling sound in the background.
(A dog starts barking.)
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We're really great at cutting audio. But maybe you should cut your own grass.
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Chris: I'm curious to learn more about your time at the European parlament. I've seen some coverage of the United Nations where people are translating in the booths like you were describing, and I would like to know what that's like, and how software fits into that.
Tommaso: So, at the European parlament, as a matter of fact, I was not translating in the booth. I was just translating written documents. And one of the great issues, which is still unresolved by this day, is that the accessibility of software for translators such as those that translators use to speed up their work, is really a barrier for people who are blind. Because it's built upon custom technologies and custom interfaces which are undigestable by the software that we use to use computers basically. So I've always had to find work-arounds, and alternative solutions to pretty much everything I had to do. And you get to translate a lot of documents there from legal to technical to parlamental interrogations, there are a variety of documents that you get to translate. But the idea is that it really props your translation skills up. It really prepares you for the job markets, but it does so in an international environment. So what I really got to enjoy was meeting people from all over Europe. Really, I made friends from the UK, Ireland, Germany, Austria, France, anywhere. The Netherlands, and so on and so forth. And so it was really an eye-opening year for me. Because the first time I was really living abroad, for myself and also for my family. It was really something that they were a little scared about, but we managed. I hope I've answered your question, (chuckle.) To the best of my knowledge.
Chris: Well yeah. I learned a lot because I had not thought of the document aspect of something like a parlament or anything. I imagine you learned a lot of vocabulary doing that.
Tommaso: Yeah. But the vocabulary I learned was very, very specific. I mean it's not something that you use outside of that.
Tommaso: Because most of the vocabulary you learn is about internal procedures, internal rolls within the European parlament, types of meetings that are held there, types of climate agreements, and what not. You know, things that are very, very specific to that industry. But what it really teaches you is not the vocabulary itself, but how to search for things. How to learn new stuff. Because as a translator, you get to translate a wide array of topics. And even though a golden rule in this industry is to specialize in one or two key areas, you never know what's gonna be thrown at you. So you've got to be prepared, and know how to search for the terminology that you need.
Chris: Well that's really, really interesting, and really important, I think, in just about any career.
Chris: Tell me about studying abroad. I would think that that would be very intimidating as a blind person.
Tommaso: Yeah. It depends a lot on the family. As a language student, I've always wanted to do that. And my family was very, very, very supportive. I mean, one thing that you must have clear is the independent living skills need to be there. And one thing that I literally crushed against is that, at the time, for example my mobility skills, I wouldn't say non-existent, but very close to that. And I had to really, really, really focus on mastering that to be able to succeed. To tell you the truth, I was already studying far away from my home town, there is no university there, I had been doing that for two years. But jumping abroad was something that was really, really, really different. I was really on my own there. The advice I would give to somebody is to be prepared, and to do extensive research on the organizations for blind people that there are. The support that you will get there. The training that you will get there. So try to buy yourself as much time as possible to search for all this information, because it's gonna be vital if you want the intimidation to fade away. To subside, you know.
Chris: A lot of us rely on asking people for help on the street. Say, looking for directions to something.
Tommaso: Yeah. Sure.
Chris: Is that difficult when you're traveling abroad and maybe you're not a native speaker of the language?
Tommaso: It is. So, to tell you the truth, I had two experiences abroad. I did nine months in Spane, and then I had the year in Luxemburg. And they were quite different because in Spane I knew the language. I knew it quite well. So that was not a problem. But in Luxemberg, although people speak English and French, which were the two languages I was most using, a lot of native speakers speak something called Luxembergish, which is ... It's a language, but it's more considered a dialect. And really, only the people there know it. A lot of experts don't even bother to learn the language because it's, especially in the city center, it's ... everyone gets by with French and English. But in my case, I was living really far away, and many times I got into situations where I wasn't understood at all. And boy, that was frightening. You need to be patient. If someone doesn't understand you, you have to keep asking, and somebody will eventually come to the rescue, but yeah. There have been situations that were really scary.
Chris: Talk to me more about how you turned your internship into an actual career. What was it like going from that internship to that first job that you talked a little bit about at the beginning?
Tommaso: Well, it was quite a tense moment. Okay, because during the internship, I was offered a very well-paid job in the Netherlands, but I had family issues. My parents were not well at the time healthwise. And so the situation was really serious, and I wasn't feeling comfortable being away while my parents were really, really, really risking. And so I had to give that up, and I stayed six months unemployed, but the fact that I earned so much oxperience from that internship allowed me to go to some job seeking portals, for example Indeed, and get an interview in approximately four months of constant job hunting, and then I was able to pick up my first job from there, back home basically. But it was that which allowed me then to meet the guy who would be my employer now.
Chris: Did you go to a lot of other interviews?
TOMMASO: I had three in total, because no other company had responded. Because, you know, I first opted for the strategy of disclose blindness at first, and that might have thrown off a lot of companies. I don't know, I suspect, I can only make speculations here, you know.
Female Announcer: We'll continue our interview in a moment, but first,
Chris: Have you noticed that at some stores, there's always a sale going on? This is a lesson that I've taught my kids over the years. When we're watching TV or listening to the radio, there are some stores who are always advertising a sale. They do this to get your attention because they want you to come in and buy things. And it's great, if you need something that happens to be on sale. The problem is, sometimes you can buy things that you don't need just because they're on sale. So, next time you hear about a sale going on, think hard about whether you need to buy something. Because it's always going to be possible to find it at a good price.
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Chris: Tell me more detail about the job search. You spent four months you said.
Chris: You looked on Indeed, out of that you had three interviews.
Chris: Do you have a guess for how many jobs you applied for? And what was it like doing that job search?
Tommaso: Oh it was really, really, really frustrating. Because when you go from being employed and going every day to your job, being active, you go from that to being stuck at home basically. It was a lockdown period for me actually, because that's what it was. In today's terms, we would call it locked down. So I was really searching, searching, searching, searching, because I knew that the sooner I found something, the sooner I would be able to leed an active life again. And also a major impact obviously was played by the fact that I had to give up this opportunity that was thrown at me. So it was a difficult time, but you need to, first and foremost, have someone really, really, really go through your cv. And I say that, knowing that someone might say, "Why do I need somebody to do that?" Well, because no matter how well your formatting skills are and stuff, it's always good if you have someone who can really tell you how it would look to a sighted person. And that's your first business card, your first ticket that you present to people. So that's a fantastic head start. And then, what really, really, really made a difference was that I taylored my CV'S and my cover letters to what I was searching for. So I was really able to taylor that to the job search. And at first, it was really, really, really demoralizing not having anybody respond. Especially in the freelance market, because I was also investigating that. But then, eventually, someone will answer. That's my pledge to people.
Chris: During that time, was there any sort of income at all? Were you making any money? Or getting any money from any services or ...
Tommaso: I was earning what you guys call in the US SSI or SSDI. I don't know the difference between the two, but the Italian equivalent of that, I was earning.
Chris: Okay, so you had some help.
Chris: And was that true also when you were in school?
Tommaso: Yeah. Absolutely. And also, one of the lucky things that we have is that that's also untouched when you work. So, if you work, you still have that.
Chris: And about how much do you get from that?
Tommaso: seven, eight hundred Euros.
Chris: Is that a lot, or a little? I don't think people know.
Tommaso: It's enough to afford a decent apartment, but with nothing left. You cannot even ... If you pay your rent, a month's rent, let's say, you cannot buy food with that alone.
Chris: Okay. I think that's pretty similar to what life is like in the states.
Chris: Are there apartments for people that are on lower incomes that you can take advantage, or how do you get by with that?
Tommaso: Yeah, but I've really not ever investigated that because when I was in such a time, I was always living with my parents, so that's something I am not able to give you a good answer to.
Chris: Sure. So, you said that you still continue to receive that once you're working. Is there anything that would cause you to lose it? Or is that universal?
Tommaso: I was reflecting on losing it when I was going to go abroad. Because six months abroad and you lose it. Which might not even be a concern for some people who are not looking to go abroad, but for me, it was. And so, the answer is, as long as you stay in the country, you get that.
chris: Okay. So it's unique to Italy then, anddifferent European countries will have, or may not have, different programs.
Tommaso: Yeah. Some have even more, and some don't have anything at all. I know, for example, the UK has something, but you need to prove that you're not able to carry out certain tasks on your own, which I don't think is a good thing, because it encourages people not to be independent. Not to do things. Not to ... because that money might still be necessary even though you know how to do stuff. Because there will always be places for which you need to take a cab, for example. And not having that really hurts. And there are countries that give you that, as long as you are not able, and prove that you're not able, to carry out tasks on your own.
Chris: There's a big debate, at least in the US, about things like this, and one of the feelings is that, "Hey, if you give people this money, they won't feel a desire to work." Clearly that wasn't the case with you. Have you ever felt that way? That you just figure, "I'm gonna stay at home and I don't really need to do anything?"
Tommaso: I'm not that kind of person. It's really out of me. I felt so desperate, for one day out of work. Imagine how I would feel not working. It's just my will to give something to society and be recognized for it. It's just too strong to even ... It didn't even cross my mind. You know?
Chris: Do you think that having that source of income has been helpful to you in getting to where you are now?
Chris: Do you think you would have been able to do it if you had not had this?
Tommaso: I would, but I wouldn't be affording an apartment here, very close to work, which allows me to basically go on foot to work every day now. Which is quite an interesting thing in this period of pandemic and working from home, which I'm not. I'm not working from home. I consider myself very lucky to have had this, and this allows me to not work from home. At least not the whole week. I work from home one or two days a week, but I live very close to where I work, and this allows me to get dressed and in ten minutes, be in the workplace. Which I would have not allowed myself if I had not had this income along side the salary.
Chris: So you talked about a lockdown period earlier, and you were talking about your unemployment, but in Europe, the idea of lockdowns was a real thing, especially at the beginning of the Covid pandemic.
Chris: And Italy was a place that we saw a lot of stuff about in the news here, that the lockdowns were very, very, very strict. So tell me about what it was like to be working, and just living as a blind person, through that lockdown.
Tommaso: It was tough. Also, because I had been working from home prior to that for a year. Because there was a particular point where I had to go to the office and I couldn't because there was a very, very, very large, like 3 or 4 lane intersection, with no traffic light or anything that would allow me to cross safely. So I was pretty much dependent on people either being there when I nheded to cross, or taking taxis. And that was a huge hit on my financials. So I requested working from home already in 2019, so when this struck, I was already working from home for a full year. And when I was in lockdown, the novelty of that had faded off way, way earlier for me. And I had to go back to my parents at that point. I really felt like I was back at the starting square. And it was really, really tough. I had some company because I had my parents there, obviously, and we were in a big house, but the dream of being alone, living by myself, doing all my things, as a thirty-year-old would do. Having that cut off of me, that was really, really, really intense. And now, we are in a second lockdown. We cannot leave the house. But I have earned the skills that I have learned to be there, even on my own. So I can live my life, even though we are in a second total lockdown. Not as harsh as the first, but it's still a lockdown.
Chris: Tell me what a lockdown involves. I gather that at one point, you weren't even able to leave to go get groceries.
Tommaso: Only one person in the family was allowed to. And they had to have a written document stating when you left, when you planned to return home, and if the police stopped you, you had to show that.
Chris: And were some of the transportation options that you would normally depend on available during that time, or during this one?
Tommaso: They were, and they still are, but at least at the time, if you didn't have a valid reason by your employer, saying that this person must work from the office, you had to be working from home.
Chris: Okay. But there were ways for you to go out and buy food?
Tommaso: Yes, only that was allowed. Even like walking around the house was not permitted during the very first lockdown. Then they lifted that, but there were people like in the gardens taking photos of bypassers that would just go for a walk and showing that to police. That was really attrocious. Like, the escape goat. You know?
Chris: Wow! That's a little scary. I don't think that those of us in the united States, we never had anything quite that serious. I don't think we can imagine it. What did that do to the European economy do you think?
Tommaso: It created masses of unemployment, masses of closures, masses of despair. More so than the economy, like young people are now really suffering. Because we are in a second round of this mess, and people have not been going to school for a full year now. And this really worries me. And I would not have wanted to be a blind person going to school at that time, because everybody was like doing school through the internet, but who knows what a blind person would have had, if everything would have been accessible? And also, you know, a lot of blind people have loneliness problems normally. Imagine now. I mean, it's something that I don't even dare think about. So I consider myself lucky to be the age I am in these challenging times. So you were saying in the US it was not so strict?
Chris: It was not so strict, there were a lot of people that were classified as what we called "essential workers" that were still going to work, but there were still a lot of people that were being encouraged to work from home, and I was fortunate enough to be able to work from home, and I still am. But they weren't keeping people from going for walks or things like that. And of course, the consequences of that is that the US has had some pretty severe outbreaks of Covid. I think the rest of the world has had some pretty serious outbreaks too, but we fall towards the bottom of the response.
Tommaso: Yeah. I imagine that other countries were like staring at us in dismay when we were the first to be hit so hard by Covid-19.
Tommaso: It certainly was something that made the news pretty prominantly I recall. So were you ever worried for your job, or your standard of living during any of this?
Tommaso: Yeah, because I was furlowed for half the day. So I would work only four hours, and four hours I would have state aid. But someone got fired, actually. So I was like, "Is it gonna be me next?" Yeah, I certainly felt that.
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Chris: So tell me, Tommaso, what do you think is next for you? How do you see yourself moving forward from what you're doing now to whatever you plan to do next?
Tommaso: Well, certainly having something on my own which involves technology, and especially translation technology and accessibility, is something that I've been investigating. That requires really a lot of effort, but it's something that I'm really, really, really gonna investigate and try to put to fruition. But of course, I'm really enjoying, for now, the job that I'm having because I started this January, so it's quite new for me, it's not even two months, but I would really want to focus my energy on thriving and language and technology.
Chris: How have other people played a roll in your success?
Tommaso: Oh, I've had a lot of help, and especially from other blind people who were successful and always encouraged me not to give up, not to fall into stereotype blindness related jobs. Because you have to know that here in Italy, blind people, there are two or three jobs that almost all of them do. And I've always followed the advice of those who've tried to tell me to aim for my own dreams, and try to make them come true. And that was really encouraging to see other blind people having reached these kinds of goals. And, yeah. This is the answer I would give you.
Chris: You've given a lot of advice to people throughout our talk, but if you had to distill that into just a minute or two, what would you want to say to other blind people, that might not be as far along as you, about how to keep going?
Tommaso: You know, first, I would want to be somewhat provocative, even though I'm not gonna be liked by somebody. So, really work hard, really get out there, try to make yourself to own your social skills, your relationship skills, and your manners, your ways of being with other people. Because that's gonna be fundamental. And above all, apart from the usual, you know, try to fine tune your skills and everything like that, do not let yourself be engulfed in the blindness only bubble. So be with other blind people, learn from them, teach them what you need, but also, present yourself to the big world outside. Because that's gonna be where your opportunities come from.
Chris: Wow. That's really quite profound. Tommaso, I want to thank you for being here today. It's been really enjoyable, and is there anything you want to tell people before we leave?
Tommaso: Oh, well, I really hope that I can be of some significance to people who might not be as far along as I am, but also, I would love to learn from people who have gotten much further along. Because that's also absolutely possible that it can happen. And I would really like to thank Clubhouse for giving us the opportunity to meet. And I think that that's, for job seeking especially, for networking purposes, that's something that blind people should really keep an eye on. Because the audio format of it, and the number of people that there are, means that there is quite some opportunity there. Don't you think?
Chris: I definitely think so. Yes. We met on Clubhouse, and I've had a ton of other encounters with people that are probably gonna end up on this podcast at some point, because there's just so many great stories to tell. And thanks for sharing yours, Tommaso. Thanks for being here.
Tommaso: My pleasure.
Male Announcer: We hope you've enjoyed this week's episode of the Penny Forward podcast. Penny Forward is a community of people who are blind, their families and friends, who share an interest in financial independence. Visit
to learn more about who we are, and what we do. Until next time, from all of us in the Penny Forward community, thanks for listening.