Making Strides One Step At a Time With Progressive Vision Changes 

Person stands outside with yellow lab in harness.

When Chari Chauvin began her career at Nike more than 22 years ago, it never occurred to her that she would have to adapt to vision changes. Then again, no one can expect the unexpected. 

It was 12 years ago when Chari, who is a Senior Operations Manager at Global Apparel Samples, experienced peripheral vision loss and was diagnosed with a severe form of glaucoma. 

“I noticed in my chart notes it said ‘end-stage glaucoma,’ which was pretty terrifying,” she recalls. “In six months, I went from driving to riding a bike to work because I had to relinquish my driver’s license. And within three or four more months, I started taking Orientation & Mobility training to learn how to use a white cane.” 

The decline was rapid, Chari says. She’s clear that she doesn’t want to seem negative, but she also believes in being honest about her experience to help others. 

“Over the course of three days, my wife and I experienced a temporary panic. I imagine a lot of people do when they get a new diagnosis,” Chari says. “Then after that, I said, ‘Okay, we just have to put one foot in front of the other and move forward.’” 

Learning to adapt at work 

Chari admits it’s kind of funny – vision changes or not – that the way her job works means she never actually sees the samples of the products in development. Her job is computer-related, and although Chari was aware of screen reading software, she knew that having style numbers of samples read to her wouldn’t be effective. She reached out to some organizations and software providers. But, as she says, “When you’re newly diagnosed, you don’t know what you don’t know.” 

Today, Chari still has enough vision to see a computer. She learned through trial and error that using a laptop with large magnification works best, along with plenty of light.  

“Because my peripheral vision is so narrow, I can’t use a large screen,” Chari says. “Everything takes me longer to do, but it is what it is.”  

Addressing the emotional side of vision changes 

Finding ways to do her job was only part of the adjustment she had to make. Chari admits there were emotional challenges at work – such as colleagues she’d known for years walking right past her when she started using a white cane, not realizing she could still recognize them.  

“I think they were afraid to approach me – it was as odd for them as it was for me,” she says. “I’d never known anyone who was blind, either, so I learned not to take it personally. It’s just someone else’s discomfort.” 

But there was no denying a sense of isolation, which is hard for anyone, especially for someone who thrives on connection like Chari. It’s obvious she’s a problem-solver because it didn’t take Chari long to realize one way to bridge the connection gap: getting a dog guide.  

“When I started using a dog at work, people started asking more about the dog than they did me, which is fine – at least they’re talking to me. We can start a conversation,” she says. “Getting out there and having the confidence with a guide dog was really instrumental for me.” 

Nike headquarters has a large campus where Chari can take her dog guide, Haviland, out during lunch. There’s even an enclosed area where Haviland can get off her leash and run around. There, colleagues eager to pet her can do so, which they can’t when she’s working as Chari’s guide.  

“I want to give back to Haviland what she does for me, so I want to make sure she has all the exercise she wants and needs,” she says. “We walk in the morning before work, we walk or she plays at lunch, and we walk at night.” 

Staying active and connected 

Considering her long career at Nike, it’s no surprise that Chari loves sports. For example, she used to play tennis competitively. Now, one sport of choice is dragon boating. Although she’s sidelined for now with a shoulder injury, she is part of a team of boaters with low vision and is led by a sighted person at the helm.  

“I’ve been away from it for a couple of years because of my injury, but I learned so much about how to conduct myself and interact with others,” Chari says. “The people I’ve met through dragon boating, as well as the staff and volunteers at Guide Dogs for the Blind, are part of my support system and feed my soul.” 

Chari also participates every year in a walking race called Hood to Coast – the largest relay race in the United States. There’s a team of walkers who are low vsion, and she trains every year with a sighted guide who accompanies her on the approximately 200-mile walk. 

There’s no question that Chari had to adapt when her vision changed. But she doesn’t consider any of it to be negative. 

“It’s difficult to adjust, and there are difficult times, but overall my life has changed for the better,” she says. “I don’t know what the future is going to be, but I’m living in the moment. I’m working through things. I love being a positive influence on people when I can – and I’m happy.”  

Learn more 

Chari has even more to share about her career experiences and adapting to vision changes mid-career. Join the APH ConnectCenter for a CareerConversation on February 1, 2024 at 6:00 pm EST. as we interview Chari and provide time for the audience’s career-related questions! Register here.