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Opportunity Awaits

Keith Vick has had a nonlinear career path: from mechanical engineer to part-time student to patent lawyer and philanthropist. Much of it was shaped by his hearing loss that he turned into opportunities.

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Written By: Kirsten Ballard

Keith Vick has had a nonlinear career path: from mechanical engineer to part-time student to patent lawyer and philanthropist. Much of it was shaped by his hearing loss that he turned into opportunities.

His parents discovered he was hard of hearing when he was two. The Rotary Club paid for one of his hearing aids while his parents paid for the other.

“If memory serves, each hearing aid cost several hundred dollars; which in 1972, was a significant expense for any family or nonprofit organization,” he said. “Since then, my parents regularly donate to the Rotary Club, which is a standard I have tried to, but not yet lived up to.”

Vick went on to attend and graduate from The University of Texas at Austin with a B.S. in mechanical engineering in 1994. For the next 10 years, he worked as a field service engineer servicing semiconductor equipment at different locations around the country.

Then he began tripping over tools and equipment. After one too many stumbles, he visited a doctor.

“I visited Dr. Higashi-Reynolds in Colorado Springs and found out my field of vision was slowly becoming more restricted due to retinitis pigmentosa. Dr. Higashi-Reynolds also determined, much to my surprise, that the vision loss was related to my hearing loss. The condition is Usher’s Syndrome, which is a very rare autosomal recessive disease,” he said.

His engineering career was effectively over. “A blind person could not safely work around dangerous equipment,” he said. “I explored alternative career paths. A personality test indicated I was a fit for patent law and computer programming. I picked patent law because I enjoyed studying regulations that popped up during my engineering career – odd, I know.”

He needed to continue to work to support a family and began attending Fordham Law School part time in the evenings. He spent the next four years working in a law firm while attending school at night.

“Much of my legal education was funded by the Alexander Graham Bell Association, George H. Nofer Scholarship, and the State of New York Rehabilitation Commission,” he said.

After graduating, he relocated back to Colorado where he passed the Colorado bar exam and the patent bar exam. Vick is now a patent attorney at Ollila Law Group in Colorado, with a focus on patent prosecution.

It’s a writing-intensive job that rarely requires verbal communication. When Vick needs to converse with examiners or paralegals, he does so one-on-one in a quiet environment or over an amplified telephone. His hearing loss is mostly corrected by his hearing aids and has had a limited impact on his career.

Still, he focuses on paying it forward. He donates to the Foundation for Fighting Blindness and asks friends and relatives to donate in lieu of gifts. “Hopefully, someday, continued success will allow me to fund a scholarship for a disabled law student attempting to establish a second career while working full-time to support a family,” he said. “It truly is a difficult but very rewarding experience that shapes a person to the core.”

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Una oportunidad en el camino

Keith Vick ha tenido una trayectoria profesional no lineal: desde ingeniero mecánico a estudiante a tiempo parcial, abogado de patentes y filántropo. La pérdida auditiva definió parte de esta trayectoria, que convirtió en oportunidades.

Sus padres descubrieron su hipoacusia cuando tenía dos años. El Rotary Club costeó un audífono y sus padres costearon el otro.

«Si no recuerdo mal, cada audífono costó varios cientos de dólares, lo que en 1972 representaba un gasto significativo para cualquier familia u organización sin fines de lucro», dice. «Desde entonces, mis padres realizan donaciones periódicas al Rotary Club, que es algo que he intentado, si bien todavía no he estado a la altura».

Keith estudió y se graduó en la University of Texas, en Austin, obteniendo una licenciatura en ingeniería mecánica en 1994. En los 10 años siguientes trabajó como ingeniero de servicio de campo en el mantenimiento de equipos semiconductores en diferentes lugares del país.

En un momento dado, empezó a tropezarse con las herramientas y los equipos. Después de demasiados tropiezos, decidió consultar a un médico.

«Acudí a la consulta del Dr. Higashi-Reynolds en Colorado Springs y me enteré de que mi campo de visión se estaba volviendo cada vez más restringido debido a la retinosis pigmentaria. El Dr. Higashi-Reynolds determinó también, para mi sorpresa, que la pérdida de visión estaba relacionada con mi pérdida de audición. La afección se llama síndrome de Usher, que es una enfermedad autosómica recesiva muy rara», dice.

Su carrera en ingeniería había terminado definitivamente. «Una persona con ceguera no puede trabajar con seguridad con equipos peligrosos», añade. “Exploré trayectorias profesionales alternativas. En un test de personalidad se indicaba que tenía actitud para el derecho de patentes y la programación informática. Me decidí por el derecho de patentes porque disfruté estudiando los diferentes reglamentos que aparecieron durante mi carrera de ingeniería, lo que resulta raro, soy consciente».

Necesitaba seguir trabajando para mantener a su familia y comenzó a asistir a la Fordham Law School a tiempo parcial por las tardes. En los cuatro años siguientes trabajó en un bufete de abogados mientras acudía por la tarde a la facultad.

«Gran parte de mi educación jurídica la financiaron la Alexander Graham Bell Association, la Beca George H. Nofer y la Comisión de Rehabilitación del Estado de Nueva York», explica.

Después de graduarse, se trasladó de nuevo a Colorado donde aprobó el examen de acceso a la abogacía y el examen de acceso a la abogacía de patentes. Keith es actualmente abogado de patentes en Ollila Law Group en Colorado, con un enfoque en el proceso judicial de patentes.

Es un trabajo que requiere un gran trabajo de redacción, pero rara vez una comunicación verbal. Cuando Keith necesita conversar con examinadores o asistentes legales, lo hace presencialmente en un entorno tranquilo o mediante un teléfono amplificado. Su pérdida auditiva la compensa principalmente con los audífonos y ha ejercido un impacto limitado en su carrera.

Aun así, tiene un gran interés en realizar una contribución a la sociedad. Realiza donaciones a la Fundación para la lucha contra la ceguera (Foundation for Fighting Blindness) y pide a sus amigos y familiares que hagan donaciones en lugar de regalos. «Con suerte, si sigo teniendo éxito, algún día podré financiar una beca para un estudiante de derecho discapacitado que desee estudiar una segunda carrera mientras trabaja a tiempo completo para mantener a su familia», concluye. «Es realmente una experiencia difícil pero muy gratificante que moldea a una persona hasta la médula».

Para ayudar a los estudiantes a acceder a la universidad, considere realizar una donación a AG Bell en https://www.agbell.org/Donate.

Para mas infomación, visite a AG Bell International aquí.

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