Donka student, Marcus Montalvo, had been training in-person but switched to virtual training in March. He is grateful for Donka's ability to continue his training so that he is on track to graduate this fall.
Donka Student Feature: Marcus Montalvo
When Marcus Montalvo began experiencing vision problems, he never imagined that he would be totally blind in one year. “I was diagnosed with diabetic retinopathy – I hadn’t taken real good care of myself and it caught up with me,” he explains. Eventually, Marcus had to give up his work as a bartender – a job he loved and had been doing for over 10 years.
Diabetic retinopathy – a complication of diabetes where blood vessels in the eye are damaged – is unfortunately a common occurrence. Marcus, having been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 3, was at an increased risk due to the longevity of his illness.
After losing his sight, Marcus was referred to the Bureau of Blind Services (BBS) – an extension of the Illinois Division of Rehabilitation Services – and received mobility training to help him navigate his world without sight. He uses a cane to help him get around. Although offered a service dog, he feels he is not quite ready to take on that responsibility while still adjusting to so many changes in his life.
Once Marcus completed mobility training, his BBS counselor referred him to Donka to hone his Microsoft Office skills, as he hopes to work in the technology end of the culinary arts field and perhaps own his on bar or restaurant one day. “While working at the bar, I was always interested in the back of the house activities, so when I came to Donka I was really interested in learning Word and, especially, Excel,” says Marcus.
After almost a year of Donka training, Marcus expects to graduate in September - thanks to Donka being able to switch his training from in-person to virtual in March to comply with COVID-19 restrictions. Ann Byrne has been his Donka instructor.
Marcus describes Ann as an inspiration. “I am still amazed that she has been blind all her life and still worked as a programmer and now a teacher. She is so quick and can talk me through any challenge I have. She is so supportive and can really understand what I have been through. She even helped me with an iPhone problem at 9:30 one evening!” he explains.
Ann is teaching Marcus to use JAWS, a voice-activated, assistive technology (AT) application for people with blindness and visual impairments that interfaces with other computer programs. Using just his voice, Marcus has strengthened his Word and Excel skills and is currently learning Outlook – which has frustrated him a bit. “There has been a glitch is getting Outlook to recognize my Gmail, but Ann is talking me through it.”
As recommended by Ann, Marcus purchased his first iPhone to assist with his daily activities and movements. She favors the iPhone because of Apple’s accessibility features and the quality and responsiveness of its help desk support.
Marcus describes his Donka experience as fun and considers Ann and the staff his friends. “Since going blind, I have felt kind of alienated from everything and everybody. But the people at Donka have helped me feel like a part of something. I even went with Leanne to Dr. Scholl’s and talk about my training – and that was a great experience. I know that I will always be able to reach out to them for help – which is great to know,” he states.
Following his graduation, Marcus plans to work with his BBS counselor to access career and job placement services. His immediate goal is to – hopefully – get a job working with Apple’s accessibility help desk. He also plans to take more specialized classes through BBS, including a cooking class so that he can continue with an activity he enjoyed before going blind. He is also enjoying using his favorite iPhone apps: Apple Music and DoorDash.