“Being blind has never stopped me from doing things that sighted people do,” said Karl Schaeffler, Set-Up Specialist at The Lighthouse for the Blind, Inc. Karl was elected as the 2020 Raymond. W. Haman Direct Employee of the Year.

Karl’s parents noticed he had a vision problem developing while he was in kindergarten. Karl had Leber’s disease, an inherited form of vision loss which affects the optic nerve. His parents put him into a junior high school where there were resources available for students who were blind, and later he went on to graduate from Temple City High School, where he ran track, and played football, soccer and other sports.

Finding employment was challenging for Karl, and while he was in college, he worked doing landscaping with his brother-in-law, traveling a couple hours by bus to and from Corona every day. “I’m very determined in my work ethic and that’s how I am in life,” Karl noted.

He eventually married in 1997 and later became a father. He would spend his days as a stay-at-home dad up until he relocated to Spokane, WA with his family in 2004.

Karl continued caring for his child at home, and for the next four years he did yard work for his church and cleared the sidewalks of snow. By a stroke of luck, his next-door neighbor happened to be a building inspector who had just recently completed a job at what would eventually become the Lighthouse facility in Spokane. He suggested that Karl visit the Lighthouse to see if there were any job opportunities. Karl went in for an interview in August of 2008 and was hired that same week.

“I was already independent before coming here, but the Lighthouse made me more independent,” Karl said.

He began as a Production Worker working on the easel line, then supporting the production of the first lines of SKILCRAFT/Quartet-branded wallboards the Lighthouse had just begun manufacturing in Spokane. He was eventually promoted to Senior Production Worker, and then to Senior Machinist, and he works today as a Set- Up Specialist in the easel department, helping prepare the various assembly stations for teams ranging from four to ten employees.

“What I’ve learned at the Lighthouse is that by working in certain jobs, it gives you a [confident] feeling to be productive in things that you haven’t done before. It makes me feel good to come to work.”

Taking advantage of Lighthouse training incentives through the Employee and Community Services program, Karl participated in both braille instruction and computer and assistive technology training to further his skills.

The self-determination at work Karl exemplifies also permeates throughout other aspects of his life. “Being blind is not about having a crutch or anything like that. It’s a disability, but for myself and others that I’ve known, it doesn’t bother them, it doesn’t deter them to get what they want, or do what they want to do. I’ve just tried and did the best that I can. People who are blind can achieve anything they want to do.”

When he’s not working hard on the easel line at the Lighthouse, Karl loves to travel, attend live music events, and working on his new house that he just purchased.

A medium portrait of Karl Schaeffler, a light skinned man with light brown hair past his shoulders. He is standing outside, wearing a blue beanie and a blue knit sweater.