Changing Perceptions About People with Disabilities While Working in a Fulfilling Career

A woman with dark brown hair smiles for the camera.

When Ronit Mazzoni works as a Genetic Counselor in a fertility and reproductive department, she brings a unique perspective as a person who is blind. While working with patients or students studying to become Genetic Counselors, she gives them a perspective they won’t get from anyone else there. That’s an excellent thing for a number of reasons.  

Blind since birth, Ronit says people with disabilities are often misrepresented in the healthcare field because disabilities are perceived as something that needs to be cured or treated. Not to mention that there are very few people with disabilities working in health care, she adds. 

“Sometimes I feel like I’m educating people passively, just by the fact that I’m there doing the work,” says Ronit, whose eyes were small and underdeveloped at birth due to bilateral microphthalmia.  

Her current job 

In her current job, she helps counsel families regarding options for testing embryos in an In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) cycle. She remembers one patient who wanted to transfer an embryo that testing revealed had a muscular genetic disorder. The mother wanted to transfer the embryo so her other child – who has the same condition – would have a full sibling.  

“There was this discussion in an ethics meeting about whether the mother should be allowed to transfer this embryo,” Ronit says. “We talked a lot about ableism – and I was on board with her transferring this embryo because she was fully informed and should have her autonomy. After all, who are we to say that this is not a life worth living?”  

She adds that it helped others in the clinic consider it from a different perspective, and speaking up about something she felt was relevant made a positive difference for that patient. 

Educating people about disabilities 

Ronit applies a similar philosophy when working with students in the training program. She feels fortunate that the program sees the value of having students learn from her. 

“It’s not just for the fertility education but also working with people with different abilities,” she says. “We’re working with people with disabilities all the time, so students need to be comfortable with that.” 

In her previous position, working for ten years at a county hospital, where she provided extensive pediatric counseling, Ronit also had opportunities to educate people about disabilities.  

“There, the goal was to figure out what we can do to help that child be as productive as possible and reach their fullest potential,” Ronit says. “I spent a lot of time talking to parents about advocating for their child in the public school systems because I had to go through that.” 

Pursuing achievement from an early age 

Ronit’s parents helped set her up for success with early intervention services and sent her to a preschool for children who are blind. There, she received valuable education such as early braille exposure. Her parents later moved the family closer to a school with a resource classroom created mainly for children who are blind. Ronit says the ultimate goal was mainstreaming her, starting early in kindergarten. 

Throughout elementary school, she learned braille, Orientation and mobility (O&M), and other skills, gradually increasing her time in a mainstream classroom. She was fully mainstreamed in middle school and high school.  

“I learned how to advocate for myself at an early age because once I went to a school with no resource classroom, I had to learn what I needed and how to ask for it,” Ronit says. “I was also involved in my own Individualized Education Plans from fifth or sixth grade on.” 

That self-advocacy proved helpful once she went to college, where there wasn’t even a disability office. She had developed an interest in genetics while taking an AP biology class in high school, and her passion for the field continued to grow. Ronit earned her bachelor’s degree in Human Biology from Scripps College in Claremont, California, and received a master’s degree in Genetic Counseling from Northwestern University in Chicago.  

Persevering no matter what 

Ronit says she wasn’t fully prepared for how challenging it would be to find a job. It took her more than a year to secure her first one. For the second, she had to volunteer for six months before she was given a paid position. Her current job requires her to demonstrate how to use assistive technology like JAWS to work with technology such as electronic medical records. 

“I was always told by other blind people that once you get your first job, you won’t have any trouble getting another,” Ronit says. “I don’t know why they said that. It’s a lifelong challenge every time you want to change jobs.” 

She emphasizes that she doesn’t want to discourage anyone but thinks it’s important to understand the reality – even if they have years of experience.  

“There will be failures,” Ronit says. “But always remember it doesn’t have anything to do with your ability. Just have perseverance and keep trying.” 

Learn More 

Ronit has even more to share about her career experiences. Join the APH ConnectCenter for a Career Conversation on May 2 at 6pm Eastern as we interview Ronit and provide time for the audience’s career-related questions! Register here.