Blind Entrepreneur Finds Success in Chemistry

Headshot of Hoby Wedler smiling outdoors

When he discovered organic chemistry in high school, Hoby Wedler, Ph.D., knew it would be his calling. Initially, he wanted to teach – and he did, for a while – but his career path took some fascinating turns to bring him where he is today. 

At first, some people didn’t think someone born blind could learn or teach organic chemistry. According to Hoby, who was born with microphthalmia, organic chemistry is one of the most visual fields of chemistry. However, the combination of an inspiring assistant, a teacher who went from skeptical to supportive, and Hoby’s perception of organic chemistry ultimately led to him earning his Ph.D. in Chemistry. 

“Organic chemistry is all about fitting atoms together and connecting them with bonds to form molecules, which is a lot like fitting together puzzle pieces,” Hoby says. “If someone explains the molecular structures to me adequately, I can use all the skills I’ve used as a blind person to travel around streets and intersections – which are just bonds and atoms – so it made sense to me.” 

Advocating for the career of his dreams 

Hoby admits it wasn’t always easy. For instance, his high school chemistry teacher was encouraging but was concerned that he’d ultimately have his “dream shattered,” as Hoby puts it. However, once he explained to his teacher that chemistry is a cerebral science that requires even sighted people to create different ways to visualize many aspects of the field, he says his teacher became a tremendous ally. 

Collaboration 

He continued using a similar approach throughout his studies, believing that what you deliver to others is what you get back. That’s how Hoby successfully collaborated with all but two out of hundreds of professors during his college studies. 

“I would say, ‘You’re here to teach me about chemistry, and I’m here to show you what we can do together to create a seamless working relationship with me as a blind student in class,'” he says. “And for those who took it to heart, we had a wonderful working system.” 

Advocacy 

Having been in a mainstream classroom throughout his education, Hoby learned to advocate for himself early. He says his parents set high expectations for him and his sighted brother. Additionally, he had a Teacher of Students with Visual Impairments (TVI) and an Orientation & Mobility (O&M) instructor during his K-12 education. Plus, Hoby’s mother decided to become a TVI after he was born – already knowing she wanted to become a teacher of students with disabilities. She wasn’t his TVI, but she understood what he needed to succeed. 

Hoby learned his lessons well. For instance, he says his high school O&M instructor told him that he would have to learn to care for himself to live independently – grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning, and getting around town. Unsurprisingly, his interest in chemistry led him to enjoy cooking from an early age. Once he went to college, he was the roommate who did the cooking and cleaning. 

“They didn’t like to do it, and I was really good at it,” Hoby says. “Those soft skills you don’t normally think about are so important for going to school and being successful.” 

Pursuing his dream of teaching 

Originally, Hoby had his heart set on teaching organic chemistry. Before earning his Ph.D., he earned bachelor’s degrees in History and Chemistry, with a minor in Mathematics.  

Hoby began teaching while he was in graduate school and specifically wanted to teach undergraduate students so he could make chemistry a fun subject – not something a lot of students consider what he calls “a boring prerequisite.” Unfortunately, his students wanted a teacher who would present very visual lectures with elaborate animations. 

“I was spending so much time and money making my lectures accessible to my students and, in turn, making them not accessible at all to me,” he says. “It was hard, but that’s when my dream came to a halt.” 

Taking his career in unexpected new directions 

Fortunately, an entirely different career path began when Hoby started graduate school. A friend introduced him to filmmaker and winemaker Francis Ford Coppola. Hoby and his friend designed a program for Coppola called Tasting in the Dark, a blindfolded wine-tasting experience. Hoby enjoyed the work so much – traveling with Coppola’s team and introducing people to a different approach to wine – that it led him to discover a new passion.  

After graduating college, Hoby and his life and business partner, Justin, established their own company: the Wedland Group. They offer tastings and design products and experiences with all five senses in mind, helping clients reach new customers and improve their products’ taste and other sensory experiences. In particular, he enjoys translating ideas from science to marketing and sales teams. 

“It’s really full-circle, because I can apply my organic chemistry experience,” Hoby says. “It’s true that even if you’re blind, you can study chemistry – but it’s not the only thing you can do.”  

In fact, Hoby has launched other ventures of his own. He also works with several organizations, including as managing partner and CEO for a marketing agency called Senspoint. To their knowledge, he says it is the largest marketing agency in the world owned by a blind person. 

“I like being able to challenge myself,” Hoby says. “I believe that if you let your brain push you to new heights, to levels that you really want to see yourself go to, you can do whatever you want.” 

Learn More 

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