The Foreign Service Journal, June 2022

40 JUNE 2022 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL year term of my Fulbright grant, and we went through the same back and forth each time. I returned to the United States with my family in the summer of 1981 without a job, but with the expecta- tion of another offer to join USIA when the next class formed. As we hoped, an offer to join USIA arrived in September. What we hadn’t planned on was that I would be unconscious in a hospital in St. Louis Park, Minnesota, when my wife received the offer. I had suffered a traumatic brain injury in August, and the prognosis was uncertain. I remained unconscious for two months, with complications caused by meningitis. USIA person- nel assured my wife that they would hold my place on the entry register. Conveniently, a federal budget crisis gave me time to leave the hospital and undertake physical therapy. We hoped that a new offer fromUSIA would be the answer to our prayers. However, there was a possible complication: I was legally blind when I recovered consciousness. I couldn’t drive. I could see just enough to read one word at a time. When the next entrance class was formed at USIA, I was advised that my blind- ness meant that I no longer qualified for the duties of a Foreign Service officer. The EEO counselor at USIA intervened on my behalf, and the rejection of my candidacy was reversed. I finally entered USIA as a member of the class of May 1983. One Among Equals Think back now to Avraham Rabby, who was rejected five times between 1980 and 1990. Although I managed to get in the door before he did, there was no grand welcome to greet me when I showed up for training. I was one among equals, which was the way it should be and was what I expected. I didn’t look for any special treatment, and I wouldn’t have known what to ask for in any case. The policy of providing special accommodations and training hadn’t really developed yet in USIA—or, if it had, I didn’t know how to get it. In addition to the physical therapy that was part of my recov- ery, I took advantage of that period to resume work on my Ph.D. dissertation and to sharpen other skills that would prove useful in my Foreign Service career. One of the most useful things I did was take lessons in keyboard skills. A revolution in office management was taking place dur- ing those years, and the change had a major impact on the functions expected of all office workers. My first assignments in Washington and overseas were in office environments where secretaries and receptionists were prominent elements of the workforce. One example of advanced office technology was the IBM Selectric typewriter, which enabled a typist to correct a mistake by using a backstroke to erase the typo so he (or more often she at that time) could type in the correct letter or letters. Word processors were not yet in widespread use. New office technology swept over our embassies in waves early in my career. It was not just the IBM Selectric that disappeared, but the secretary who operated it. These changes had a major impact on the work of diplomats, who regularly received training in managing the new technology. I have a very strong impression that officers with visual dis- abilities were affected more by these changes than their sighted colleagues. That differential impact is counterintuitive. Tech- nological advances generally bring with them opportunities to reduce the problems faced by persons with physical disabilities. My experience, on the contrary, was that it became part of my job to discover technological innovations that would make me more effective in the workplace. I suspect that this has not changed, though I would welcome being proved wrong on this point. The lesson, whether I am right or not, is that employees are best served if they bring their knowledge about special skills and equipment with themwhen they enter the federal workforce. These concerns, however, are not the ones that stand out promi- nently as obstacles to a successful career in the Foreign Service. I want to focus on one incident in my career that raises warning flags for employees, particularly those with physical disabilities. A Bolt of Lightning I experienced frustrations more than 10 years into my career. Because promotion from FS-3 to FS-2 was slow in coming, I turned to the officer who had been my supervising public affairs officer (PAO) during my USIA Junior Officer Trainee assign- ment. I asked him whether he could pinpoint anything in my performance that would help me understand why I hadn’t been promoted. Was there something I should know about my “cor- ridor reputation”? I had a good relationship with him and knew I could trust him. His quiet response was like a bolt of lightning. When he was My experience was that it became part of my job to discover technological innovations that wouldmake me more effective in the workplace.