Penny Forward

Penny Forward Podcast Episode 25 Bill Boules

July 18, 2021 Chris Peterson Season 1 Episode 25
Penny Forward
Penny Forward Podcast Episode 25 Bill Boules
Show Notes Transcript

This week on the Penny Forward podcast, we’re rerunning one of our most popular episodes, an interview with Bill Boules. Blind since childhood, Bill has worked in the blind rehab field for over 20 years. He is the first in the world to be certified in all four core areas of vision rehabilitation and has presented at every conference and convention imaginable. He also hosts the “Field of Vision” podcast, where he talks about topics related to blindness, rehab, and everything in between. Visit Bill’s web site at We also talk about some of the different roles in the financial services industry and how to know who you can, and cannot trust. The Penny Forward podcast is telling stories about people like us who are working toward their own success and sharing quick tips to help us manage our money better. Listen by searching for “Penny Forward” using your favorite podcast app,  ask your smart speaker to play the podcast, “Penny Forward”, check out the Penny Forward YouTube channel, or visit

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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 toward their own success. Here is your host, Chris Peterson.


Chris: My guest today is Bill Boules. Bill has two masters degrees, and has worked in the field of blind rehab for over 20 years. He's presented at every conference and convention available, and has a lot to say about how blind people and their rehab counselors can work together to get the most out of the rehab experience. Bill, thanks for being here.


Bill: Thank you.


Chris: I want to learn how we, and rehab counselors can work together to have the best outcomes, but first I want to learn something about you. So tell me about yourself. You were visually impaired as a child, right?


Bill: Yeah. I was diagnosed at a really young age with retinitis pigmentosa, so it was like under the age of three. I went to a child development center with other kids that had vision impairment, and I started my education pretty early. Learning how to play and do things like other kids.


Chris: What was it like growing up with RP? That's abnormally young to be diagnosed with RP, isn't it?


Bill: It is. You have people that are diagnosed at that age, or right around 5 years old, and then there's many people that are diagnosed later in life. I didn't realize that I was different for a long time, and a lot of it had to do with the child development center. I would go there, and my understanding of it was that it was like normal schooling. Even though every kid in the class had some sort of vision impairment. So I wasn't told that, "Hey," you know, "you're visually impaired" or "you have this trouble with your eyes." I was told, "You're going to school. And here are all your friends." And, you know, we just all were what we were. And it just kind of worked.


Chris: So at what point did it dawn on you that there was something different?


Bill: I think when I had to learn braille when I was in kindergarten. I went to public school, so I did not go to school for the blind, but I went to a resource room where there was a teacher for the visually impaired, and she taught me braille. And a lot of the other kids in my class did not learn braille. They weren't learning things in the resource room. We were special, because we were separated out and sent to this resource room. And by "special," I mean we were different.


Chris: How did that feel?


Bill: For the most part, it didn't register as being a bad thing, and I don't think it was. I just think it was a different thing. So, it felt as if you had a group of kids that went to this resource room that established relationships. And you were still, you know, you were friends with all these kids. Then you'd see all the other kids in public school that weren't visually impaired and you would interact with them. But very often, you kind of separated yourself off with all the visually impaired kids. So it was something that you don't really think about, but it was definitely different, and you knew it was different. You knew you hung out with your own group of kids and that there was something different about it.


Chris: And what was your family's attitude towards your visual impairment?


Bill: So I was raised by my Dad, and the attitude basically was that he didn't want me doing what sighted kids would do. He didn't want me really riding bikes, he didn't want me playing baseball, ... He was afraid that I might hit someone with a baseball bat, or that I might run someone over with the bike. Or, "Oh, you'll get hurt. You'll hurt someone." Like his whole point of it was to be protective, to kind of separate me out, pull me out, and not have me be included with what the rest of the kids were doing. I had to fight for that independence. That was something that, you know, he would tell me, "No. Stay home." Or "No, stay here." Separate you out from everyone else, but I would fight to be included. I would be very rebellious. I'd go anyway. You know, I'd go to play baseball. I would try baseball. I would try riding bikes. And I always tell people stories about being visually impaired and riding bikes in New York City. It was a lot of fun, but when you think about it as an adult, it's terrifying. 'Cause I was doing things with a pretty significant vision impairment that I really shouldn't have been doing, but was trying anyway.


Chris: When you have RP, you start out with a lot of vision and many people lose it gradually over the course of sometimes decades. How did that manifest itself for you?


Bill: I didn't notice any significant vision loss until I was almost out of high school. So, even though by high school you know that there was something different about you and you're doing things differently, I didn't really notice anything significant as far as vision loss goes until I was about to graduate. My last semester almost of my senior year, I had significant decrease in vision, and I was actually out for part of the semester. They had me doing some stuff from home. Doing my school work from home. It was almost like a mini pandemic just for me. I had a teacher that would come by, almost like being home schooled for a semester. And at the very end, I came back to school, and kind of joined in for graduation and stuff like that.


Chris: What was that like emotionally? By that time, did you have friends in high school that you were missing out on and things like prom and stuff?


Bill: No, I didn't have a whole lot of friends in high school. I had people on the wrestling team, I had joined the wrestling team and earned a spot on the wrestling team, but those were the people that I hung out with. I wouldn't necessarily call them friends, I would say that we worked together on the wrestling team and we accomplished the goals that we set to accomplish as a team, but there was a lot of stuff that they would do outside of wrestling, and I wasn't a part of it. Like I just felt different. I wasn't invited to a lot of things, but I think part of it was me. I think I kind of was very self-conscious of being visually impaired, and I think I kind of pulled away from a lot of stuff like that out of fear of being judged. I figured, you know, "If you're gonna judge me, I'm just gonna pull out before you have a chance to judge me." And it was a mistake. I didn't have a lot of friends, and I did not go to prom at all. I went to a wrestling tournament at the end, and wrestled with my newly lost vision, and that was it. I think very often I separated myself just because I was trying to make sure that no one excluded me. If I was gonna be excluded, it was me that did it.


Male Announcer: We'll get back to our interview in just a moment. But first, ...


Chris: Hi. This is Chris Peterson from Penny Forward. I use Superblink to produce my podcast because I want it to sound polished and professional, and they have the skills to make me sound better than I am. Visit

and check out what they have to offer. Maybe they can help you.


Male Announcer: Do you have a short success story that you would like to share on the air? Leave us a message at 952-856-0313. If you missed that number, you can always find it at


Chris: I think a lot of us go through a phase where we try to hide it, meaning our blindness or our visual impairment. Was that something that you experienced?


Bill: Oh yeah. Every day. So, they would force me to use a cane. And now, as a rehab specialist, I try to ... I guess, for lack of a better word, I try to force people to use their cane. I try to get people to understand how important it is to use their cane for safety and things like that. Well, they were trying to get me to do that. And I refused. Like I would take my cane whenever I would get on the public transportation to get home, I would have my cane with me to get on to public transportation, but as soon as I got home, like to my neighborhood, I would fold my cane up, and I would stick it in my backpack or whatever, and I wouldn't pull it out until the next day when I was away from my neighborhood, back like, you know, towards school. I was able to fake it well enough, I had enough usable vision to be able to fake it well enough, and I was under the silly impression that I was hiding it from people. Everybody knew. Everybody knew there was something up with me, and as a matter of fact, it would probably have served me better if I'd just used my cane. But there was a lot of ego there. You know? There was a lot of judgment of myself, and there was a lot of things that I wanted to do that I didn't think kids, and other people around would let me do if I had my cane with me. But, yeah. So I would fold it up, stick it away, I tried to hide it, I wouldn't read braille in public. If I needed to take notes or whatever, I wouldn't take notes in braille, I would try to fake it with large print or whatever, and it just made me look all that more blind. I mean that's all it did. And as a kid with an ego, teenager, you know, you don't realize it at that time. You think you're making it through. And you think people don't notice as much as they actually are noticing. You know, you actually draw more attention to your visual impairment.


Chris: Is there anything that happened to you that changed your views on that?


Bill: Losing vision in my senior year, I didn't have a choice at that point. It was either "you're gonna use your cane," or, "You're gonna be staying home, and even the few friends that you do have, you're not gonna be able to hang out with them." So I just had no choice. It wasn't that I made this decision, there wasn't like an "ah hah" moment where you go, "Okay, I probably should be using this cane. Everyone else was right. It was, "Something changed. So now I have to use my cane." And in actuality, I should have been using the cane all along. And I should have been addressing my vision impairment all along. cause, like, again, everybody knew. I wasn't hiding anything from anyone. And so here I am now, fast forward a bunch of years, I'm not gonna get into how many, but you fast forward a bunch of years, and you're that guy that is telling kids that they need to be using their cane. You're that guy that's telling people who just started losing their vision that, you know, "This is gonna be the way that you move around for the rest of your life. You need to get used to it and start using it." I don't get that aggressive about it, but I have to do what's right for the people that I serve. So, I remember that stuff whenever I try to work with somebody. I think back to where I was as a young guy who needed to use a cane, for example, and was choosing not to.


Chris: So tell me about your experiences with college, with choosing a career, and with voc rehab.


Bill: My experiences in the beginning weren't good. So, in college, for example, I went to college, I attempted college, immediately after high school. It's what was expected of me. And the environment was night and day different from what it was when I was in high school. You are a lot more on your own, obviously, in college. You don't have people coming up behind you saying, "Hey, Bill. Did you do this assignment?" Or "Did you prepare for this test?" Or "Do you have your books in large print, or audio?" At that time I needed them in audio. "Do you have that stuff?" No. Nobody comes behind you to ask you that stuff. You must immediately be thrown into the deep end of the pool, and you have to start doing that stuff for yourself. You have to, in that day, at that time, you would have to ask for your accessible materials well in advance. You had to go to the department for the classes that you were gonna take and ask them, "Hey, what book are you gonna be using next semester?" And you had to do it a semester in advance. They would get mad at you if, for whatever reason, you had to change your class. Which, you know, that's reasonable. Right? They did all this work to try to get you chapters in your book ready, and you, for whatever reason, had to take a different class that had a different book in it. So, you had to be very responsible. And you still do, but we didn't have, like, downloadable books. There wasn't some database that you could log into and grab the book you needed. It was the mid 90's, computers were around, but they weren't in every single home like they are now. They weren't in every single pocket like they are now. You had to ask for that stuff well in advance, and it wasn't something that came to you in like digital format. It was a packet of cassette tapes, and you had to listen to them. It was somebody that had recorded your book for you, whenever they were able to get it in time. Sometimes it was delayed. And so you had to talk to your professor about that kind of thing. So, you know, I'm using that as an example to say that there's a lot that changes the minute you leave high school.


Chris: So how did you decide on rehab as a career?


Bill: I got a degree in social work. That's where my college led me. I got a degree in social work. And it wasn't really working out, as a blind male, getting a job in social work. Social work is dominated by females. And yeah, there' are some blind people doing social work, but I was having a hard time finding a job. And I think a lot of the jobs in New York City at that time, for a social worker, were in things like children and family services. And, you know, I just didn't fit in for lots of reasons. Throughout college, my attitude had changed. I became a lot more comfortable in my own skin. I was a blind guy. But it still wasn't easy to find a job. Like I wasn't able to locate employment with a social work degree.


Chris: Did you have a vision of what you wanted to do with a social work degree?


Bill: You know, I did what a lot of people do with a social work degree. You hear other people getting one, so you have to have one too because it's gonna leed you to a job. And at that point, my goal was to be employed, at something. It was to be employed. And working as a social worker, it just wasn't going anywhere. Like I wasn't able to get jobs. I had some internships, I had some of the things that we call like a paid work experience, where they give you a job that could hopefully leed to something, but there was nothing open that I was being looked at for, and when I would apply, I wasn't able to kind of articulate what exactly I wanted to do. Everyone says "I want to work with people." Like that's the biggest answer that you get. Now that I interview people and hire people, it's the biggest answer that you get from people. It's the most commonly given answer. "Well, I want to help people." Well, that doesn't quite give the person doing the interviewing exactly what you want to do. That's a very broad stroke that you're taking when you say you want to help people. So, no. I didn't really have an exact idea of what I wanted to do. I knew that I wanted to make it easier for people with disabilities that came up after me. So, I wanted to work in the field of disabilities somehow.


Chris: What changed?


Bill: Nothing. It wasn't anything that necessarily changed, it was ... I couldn't find work doing that, and so I got a job working at social security. And I was answering the phones at the 800 number. You know, when you call the 800 number and you have to wait and somebody answers the phone, and they sometimes help you and they sometimes don't?


Chris: Yeah.


Bill: I was one of those people. And I made it my goal to help every single person that called. I wanted to do the right thing by every single person that called. So I worked there for several years, and I eventually wanted to get a promotion to work in the social security office where you process disability claims and actually interview people. And help them push their disability application. I wanted to do that. And that started to work out, but then I saw a solicitation, like an advertisement, for a national expert on screen readers like Jaws. So I applied for that, and it was an opportunity to go to Central Office in Baltimore. And they gave me the opportunity. They accepted me for that job. And so I went to Baltimore, and I lived in Baltimore for almost 2 years, working with the national accessibility team for Jaws. And I was a pretty good Jaws user. I had a natural kind of talent to be able to teach people how to use Jaws, so it was a really good fit for almost 2 years. And at that point, I decided that I wanted to get into assistive technology. I had a passion for it, I had a talent to teach people how to use it effectively, I had a talent to learn how Jaws works with hardware, like braille displays and other technology that's out there at the time, and so I wanted to work more in accessibility, helping people with disabilities, but with assistive technology. And there were no permanent jobs for that. There was only this opportunity that they were giving people, and they wanted people that were fresh from the field. So once that term expired, they were going to send me back to my original job. And they did for about three months. And that's when I started looking around the country for jobs in accessibility, and Alabama came through. I interviewed for the job at the department of rehab services in Alabama, and by the end of the interview, I was extremely confident that I had done well, and I got acall from them the same day, and the guy left me a voice mail, and this was back in the older days of cell phones. I didn't check my voice mail until Monday. So I had no idea. I went the whole weekend wondering, "Am I gonna get this job with Alabama? Am I gonna get this job with Alabama?" And Monday morning I check my voice mail and there he is, asking me to call him back and it was a message from the prior Friday. And I called him back, and his words, exactly, were, "What do we have to do to get you down here?" And those words were awesome. Because it made me feel that I had accomplished a goal that I had set for myself. And it was one of the first real goals. Like, yeah, getting a job was a real goal, but this wasn't just a job. This was doing something that I loved, doing something that was kind of new in the field because there weren't a lot of assistive technology specialists at that time, and so I was gonna be handed the ball, finally, and be able to do something with that ball. And what came later was ... I feel like I scored a lot of touch downs. I feel like when they gave me that ball, I took that ball and ran with it, and did really, really well.


Male announcer: We'll continue our interview in just a moment. But first, ...


Chris: There are many different types of people in the financial services industry, many of whom you can trust. Finding the right person depends on what you need. If you are deep in debt, and you need help improving your credit score, a credit counselor might be the right person to talk to. If you are having trouble making ends meat, and you'd like to start developing better behaviors and putting money away to build an emergency fund, then a financial coach might be able to help you. If you have good behaviors already and are ready to start investing for your, or your child's, future, then a financial planner is definitely going to be able to help you out. There are also some people that you should not trust. Some people have lofty claims to help you get rich fast. Those people are not trustworthy. Others have lofty claims to help you get out of debt fast. Or without having to pay anything. Again, you can't trust those people. They're going to take your money, and you will not be satisfied with the results. There's nothing wrong with asking for help, especially from someone you can trust. And there's lots of people you can trust in the financial services industry, but be careful. Because there are, unfortunately, some people that you should run away from.


Different Male announcer: Do you have a favorite budgeting, banking, or investing app? Tell us about it, at 952-856-0313. If you missed that number, you can always find it at


Chris: You've done more than technology, Right?


Bill: Absolutely. Yeah. I've done more than technology, but I specialize in pairing people with the right technology, and helping companies and agencies that were hiring people use the right technology and have the right fit. And I'm proud to say that I've helped a lot of people get jobs. And that's where the whole well rounded rehab thing came into play. cause it wasn't just about technology. It was about helping people build confidence, it's about getting people to believe in their own abilities as people who are blind, and little by little, I was allowed to do some really amazing and fun things for someone getting into the rehab field.


Chris: As a blind person, what would you say is the best way to work with rehab ... in a way I want to ask what the best way is to get the most out of rehab, but I also want to know, what is the best way to get rehab to get the most out of you?


Bill: So, the first thing is we have to be honest. And say that there are people that are extremely frustrated with the rehab system, and they're not wrong. There are some things that rehabneeds to change in order for it to work better for people. On both sides. Both the professionals, and the people that are going to rehab for rehab services. This is not even close to being a perfect system, and for a lot of people, it doesn't work. For a lot of people, they get really, really frustrated with it. So, my advice always is, when you go in to work with rehab services, even if you're working with them right now, right this minute, if you're a client of rehab services and you feel like your case is not moving forward, that things are a bit stagnant, you've got to go in and reset with your counselor. You have to go in and have a plan. There's got to be a plan in place. And it doesn't have to be a very detailed or elaborate plan, but the more information that you have about what you want to do, and how you're going to get there, is extremely important. A lot of people go to rehab services without really knowing what they want to do. And that's okay. That's what rehab is there for. They're there to help you figure that out. But if you have a plan, as to what you want to do, and how you're going to go about accomplishing it, that's a huge jump start for you with your rehab experience. And so if you want to go in, let's just say you want to work as a paralegal. Right? What does it take to become a paralegal? Well, you've got to go to school for it. But before you go to school, what are your skills like as a blind person? Do you need training in assistive technology? Do you need orientation and mobility, like someone to teach you how to move around your environment safely? Do you need some dayly living skills, like how to take care of your personal needs like grooming? Making meals? Working with your paperwork and things like that? There's lots of things that you might need before you go to school to become a paralegal. Right? And that's what rehab is there to help you do. They're there to try to help you float your boat smoothely, and try to help you through the choppy waters of getting yourself to the goal that you set.


Chris: I see a lot of people on social media and some of the groups that I participate in say, "Does anyone know what kind of jobs are accessible for me if I'm blind?" Or a similar question is, "I'm thinking about this career path. Will it be accessible?" What do you have to say to those kinds of people?


Bill: What I have to say is, "There's a lot of jobs in every field. Anywhere you go, there's a lot of jobs out there. Looking for a job that is good for blind people, the first thing you have to know is that blind people are everywhere. And blind people have different interests. And focusing on your interests and not as much on blindness is important. It's the key. You have to focus on what your interests are. When you are looking, it's a natural thing to be curious about what jobs blind people are doing, and that's natural curiosity. But you shouldn't, in my opinion, just focus on what groups of blind people are doing. So there's a lot of people who are blind that are working in social security. You may not like that kind of thing. You shouldn't be doing it just because other blind people are doing it. You need to focus on things that you want to accomplish, and that will get you to your goal. And sometimes it may lead through a period of time where you do a job that you're doing just because it's a job. And maybe because other blind people are doing it, but it's not gonna be a job, very often, that you're gonna want to do for the rest of your life. So you want it to be a way that leeds to your goal.


Chris: What about people on SSI or SSDI and are afraid to loose their benefits? What advice do you have for them?


Bill: Well, especially for SSDI, there are programs in place that will allow you to work and still receive your social security benefit. That's not a gimic. That's not something that people say to try to trick you to get you off of social security. It's legit. There are rules in place, even for SSI. There are rules in place that if you're working, there are certain expenses that you have as a person who is blind, that are related to vision impairment or blindness that you can deduct from what you make whenever they're deciding as to whether or not you're gonna keep your benefits. Same thing with social security disability. There are programs in place that will allow you to keep all of your social security disability benefits while you still work. And those programs are in place for a reason. They're in place because there are people out there that are afraid to try. So it's almost like a safety net. You don't just get kicked off of disability because you got a job. You have the opportunity to earn money and figure it out before anything starts to happen to your social security disability benefits. And again, that's not something that people are saying to try to trick you, or to try to knock you off of social security. I'm a person who is blind. I wouldn't ever support a program that would do something like that to someone. So when we talk about these programs that are insentives to get people back to work, those insentive programs are legit.


Female announcer: We'll continue our interview in a moment, but first, ...


Male Announcer: When it comes to money, do you feel a little lost? When you're in an unfamiliar financial environment, and need a hand in understanding the lay of the land, Penny Forward is here to help. We provide affordable one on one and group financial education programs that give you the confidence to get out there and achieve your goals. Visit

to learn more about who we are, and what we do.


Female Announcer: Do you have a short success story you want to share on the air? Leave us a message at 952-856-0313. If you missed that number, you can always find us at


Chris: What would you say to people that maybe feel like you talked about feeling when you were in high school, that aren't comfortable with blindness?


Bill: It comes with time. You're not alone. I would say, number one, you're not alone. A lot of us have gone through it before you, and there's going to be people that go through it after you. You're not alone, and, this is not a race. There's no time limit. Don't set these time limits on yourself that, "I'm gonna do X by a certain date, or otherwise, I'm not any good as a human being" or whatever. A lot of people do that. They put time limits on themselves and time frames in which they want to accomplish things. Those are good for many things, but getting comfortable in your own skin is not one of them. You can't force it. It comes with time and it comes with listening to people. Hopefully people like me. Hopefully, if you're listening to this and you're struggling with how you are as a person who's blind, if you're going through some of the stuff that I described, I hope that you will give yourself enough time, enough patience, and enough grace to be able to go through it, and get through it, comfortably, or as comfortably as possible. You can't push yourself, and you certainly shouldn't be over-pushing yourself. It just gets more and more difficult because now you're not meeting the goals that you set for yourself as far as time. Right? And you start to panic, and everything starts to look all jumbled up, but a lot of us have gone through it, you're going to go through it, and there's going to be the people after you that go through it. So you just have to give yourself that time. You have to give yourself the ability to become comfortable in your own skin. And it doesn't happen over night. You're not gonna have it happen tomorrow.


Chris: I always wonder after I've completed one of these whether I forgot to ask a question. So I'm gonna ask you that right now. Have I forgotten to ask any questions? Do you have any advice that I should be asking you for that I didn't think to ask you for?


Bill: What I think is that when people decide to set a goal for themselves, and work with an organization like a department for rehab services or a commission for the blind, I think it is really important that you understand that there's so much information there, that we can't possibly cover in a thirty-minute podcast. There's so much info there. So what I gave you there was kind of like an overview. There's a lot of information there for people, and you should really do your homework before you work with those agencies, and make sure that you go in with a plan and that you go in ready to work and get your goals accomplished. Because it's going to be a lot more smoothe when you're ready. When you have a plan.


Chris: Bill, we’re out of time, and it's been really a pleasure. Where can people find out more about you or get in touch with you if they want?


Bill: You can go to

for everything related to what I do. It is my website, there's tons of free information on there, and hopefully, if you have questions, you can get in touch. There's a contact form on every single page of that website, and I'm here to help you guys.


Chris: Bill, thanks again.


Bill: Thank you so much, Chris


Male Announcer: We hope you've enjoyed this 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.