Finding Joy and Career Fulfillment in Self-Expression

Person sitting for a professional photo with a dog guide in harness.

Ann Chiappetta, M.S., has heard people say everyone has three careers. Although she reveled in her first two careers, she’s clearly thriving in her third and current career as a poet and author.

Her first career was in retail, initially in the textile industry and then at an acrylic design company, where she learned to design acrylic displays and furniture.

“I loved that job,” she says. “It was the last job I had before I lost my vision, and I had to leave because I could no longer see the drawings and things I needed to do my job.”

That didn’t stop her from pursuing another career as a family therapist. She put her Master of Science degree in Marriage and Family Therapy from Iona University to good use, spending 15 years as a therapist before retiring in 2019.

Along the way, Ann was always writing. She wrote extensively in college – not only to earn her undergraduate and master’s degrees but also to take English classes – and even in her therapy work, writing clinical notes.

“Even before college, I’d been dabbling in poetry and had some success, with my poems being published by small press, magazines, and more,” she says. “Taking English classes in college was also something very creative that I loved – and I just kept doing it. I always made sure I had writing time between work and family. And in 2016, I released my first poetry collection, and I haven’t looked back.”

Adjusting to vision changes

When Ann became pregnant with her first child at age 28, her doctor told her the pregnancy “ripened” the retinitis pigmentosa (RP) she didn’t know she had. Within six months, she lost about 60% of her vision. Today, she only has light perception due to RP and macular degeneration.

“It was rough for me and my husband, Jerry,” she admits. “The part that kept me going was caring for my baby. I had to put my big-girl panties on and do it for him.”

Like many new moms, Ann had a lot of help from people in her life. But thanks to her ophthalmologist, she was immediately referred to her local Commission for the Blind.

“If it wasn’t for him, I probably wouldn’t have done that because I didn’t know I could,” she says. “I was assigned a counselor and a mental health counselor, and someone came to my house to teach me everything from cane skills to cooking to caring for myself and my family. Those concrete skills really helped me learn to live without vision at a time when it was critical for me to do it.”  

It wasn’t until her late 30s that Ann decided to get a dog guide. Until then, she says she didn’t think she was “blind enough,” but her Orientation and Mobility instructor said, “Of course you are.”

Ann got her first dog guide in 2009 and now has her second, Bailey, a big yellow Labrador.

Reimagining creativity

Although Ann has been writing for most of her life, her website says she “often refers to her love of words as a natural compensation after losing her vision in 1993. Once a designer of acrylic displays and furniture, Ann trained her creative senses to flow from the visual to the literary arts.”

She admits it took time and discipline, but expressing her creativity was essential.

“What’s at my fingertips are the words,” Ann says. “Writing has always been very grounding for me, so I make use of touch and my other senses to stay creative and help people appreciate whatever I try to bring to life.”

She has published a number of books – poetry, a memoir, a poetry, and nonfiction essay collection, a short story collection including two stories with protagonists who are blind, and a young adult fiction novel. Details on buying these books are available on her website.

Ann is also proud to be part of an anthology of work by writers with blindness or low vision called Artificial Divide. “Having my story included with these esteemed and talented people is very exciting,” she says.

She is the 2015 recipient of the Westchester Disabled on the Move Spirit of Independence Award and the 2019 recipient of the Guide Dog Users, Inc.  Lieberg-Metz Award for writing.

Ann makes herself available to help others when she’s not writing by sharing her lived experience. She promotes awareness and equality for people with disabilities through visits to high schools and gives talks to help others with blindness or low vision learn about stress – using her training as a therapist.

“Losing your vision is an adjustment, but your brain does compensate,” Ann says. “It’s a learning curve to make the switch over in your head, but I rely on my other senses, my listening skills, and my appreciation of the environment around me to find the beauty in things.”

Learn more: 

Ann shared even more about her career for Career Conversations: