Originally created 11/18/02

Man sees with devices on job



Will James, the snack shop operator at the Richmond County Sheriff's Office, said that he lives a normal life despite being visually impaired. In fact, Mr. James said, he breaks a stereotype sometimes associated with blindness.

"Most people think that blind people do nothing but sit at home and collect checks - and that's not me," he said. "I am able to get out and do for myself as well."

Mr. James, a native of Augusta, has worked at the sheriff's office snack shop since 2000. The job is part of the Georgia Co-op, which allows blind people to be self-employed while working at federal and county buildings.

Sandy Thomas, who runs the shop at the Augusta-Richmond County Municipal Building, said operators pay bills and order merchandise and are paid a percentage of the profits.

Mr. James said he gets along fine with people at the sheriff's office, and sometimes gives people directions.

"When people first meet me, they don't see anything wrong," he said. "As I'm doing now, I look at people when I talk to them. Plus, it shows you're paying attention."

Mr. James concedes that it took time to get used to working around people he couldn't see.

"When I first got here, I learned where everything was and went from there," said Mr. James, who can make out shapes and memorized the layout of the store. "It seemed to be a bit overwhelming, but I didn't let it bother me."

Mr. James uses equipment - a scanner and a bill identifier - that make his job a little easier. The scanner, which is mounted on a shelf, beeps to tell Mr. James when someone approaches.

The other device, called a Note Teller, tells him the denomination of a bill. Although Mr. James doesn't know how it works, the device deters fraud.

Before the machine, "I had this fellow buy a hot dog and told me he was giving me a $10 bill. It turned out to be a $1 bill, and by the time I figured it out - when someone asked for change for a $20 - it was too late," he said. "It made me feel angry that somebody would do that to me here, especially at a police station."

Throughout his life, Mr. James has had to deal with adversity.

He was born 3 1/2 months early and lost his sight at age 5. Despite his disability, Mr. James said he lives the life of a normal 29-year-old man. He works regularly on computers and has operated an Internet rock variety radio show since 2000 called Living on the Edge.

Denise Thompson, his fiancee, said she is very proud of what he has accomplished.

"It does the heart good to see him be independent and have a life like everyone else," she said. "He's not one to sit back and let life pass him by."

Although Mr. James doesn't plan to make the snack shop a career, he said the job has helped him become independent.

"It teaches blind people the responsibilities of making it in the world," he said. "This can be done. You just have to work through it."

WILL JAMES

AGE: 29

OCCUPATION: Operator of Richmond County Sheriff's Office snack shop

FAMILY: Father, Francis W. James, 76; mother, Shirley James, 64; brother, Edward James, 32.

QUOTE: "Most people think that blind people do nothing but sit at home and collect checks - and that's not me."

Reach Albert Ross at (706) 823-3339 or albert.ross@augustachronicle.com.