Mac Biggers is a Technological Service Specialist and a CWA 1037 Shop Steward at the NJ Commission for the Blind & Visually Impaired. As a specialist for the past six years, Biggers has focused on providing technology services to blind students and their educational staff.
Can you explain to us what your job entails?
[MB] – I evaluate students to determine what technology they need so that they can compete with their sighted peers. If I decide that technology is necessary for a student, I train them and the educational staff on the product and how to use it. A lot of the time, we use everyday technology that has built-in accessibility features. Some items or iPads and laptops with magnification or speech features allow them to access everything their sighted peer can. I like the fact that I get to share my love of technology and my life experience of going blind and losing my eyesight as a kid. By using these insights, I also am able to help educate schools on how to best work with kids who are blind.
How long have you been a Shop Steward?
[MB] – Officially for three years. Although I have always been known as a troublemaker and making sure my thoughts are heard.
What kind of challenges do you and your coworkers face on the job? How do you overcome them?
[MB] – I would have to say that the biggest challenge that we have in the workplace is people not understanding what we do or even why we do things the way we do. We overcome this by sitting down and educating people on what and why we follow specific procedures.
What have you learned from your time as a Shop Steward, both as a communicator and in the relationship with your coworkers?
[MB] – The thing that I feel I have learned the most is the need just to listen. Not everything is an issue sometimes, people just need a wall to rebound off of. When it comes to relationships, you need to be able to respect everyone, though, no matter how much you agree or disagree. Being that neutral party and helping people talk through what is going on usually solves most problems.
You are involved in the community. Can you tell us a bit more about that?
[MB] – As a blind individual, I am very active in the blindness community. I am a president for one of the local chapters of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB). The NFB is the largest advocacy organization with 50,000 members. I feel this is because it is all in our name, the National Federation of the Blind, not for the Blind. We are a collective movement helping people with the same issues. I have grown up having to self-advocate and having parents tell me that I can do whatever I want. Some of these include running the 2002 Para Olympic torch, participating in sports for the blind on a national level, and traveling coast to coast advocating for the blind.
What made you get involved?
[MB] – I think my involvement started when I was young. I was a shy kid growing up, but as it got harder and harder to see, my parents could advocate for me. Soon I realized that my parents weren’t always going to be there, and in order to survive in the sighted world, I needed to speak up. The first time I remember putting my foot down and advocating was in elementary school when one of my teachers didn’t want anything to do with me and didn’t want to help accommodate anything. My mom said, let’s transfer you into the other class. I told my mom no if I transfer and let her win, I don’t help myself or anyone else after me. Well, let me tell you that elementary school really got to know me. I think I was also the first blind kid who advocated to ride his bike to school and won the school district’s argument.
Do you have any pearls of wisdom for union members who may be considering becoming a Shop Steward?
[MB] – The most important words that I have are to be passionate and humble in all that you do. Be able to put your thoughts and feelings aside and try to put yourself in the shoes of others.