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Patricia Quiñonez: Success, San Francisco Style


By Robin Lisa Savinar

Growing up in Durango, Mexico with a visual impairment, Patricia Quiñonez, or 'Pati,' had to challenge the stereotypes of what society thought people with disabilities could and couldn't do.

She attended a school for the blind through sixth grade, and then transferred to a mainstream school, because there were no secondary schools for the blind in Mexico. Pati was happy because she wanted to attend mainstream school, and she excelled at her coursework. As a girl, Pati's parents took her to see optometrists. Neither the doctors nor Pati's parents understood her impairment. Doctors kept diagnosing her as being near-sighted. Pati thought the reason she didn't see colors was because she just wasn't paying attention. She would study items of different colors and try to memorize what the colors were like.

Pati came to the United States when she was 15 years old. Her father decided to move the family of 12 to the U.S. in the search for opportunity and a better life. He also hoped she'd be able to see doctors in the States who might be able to better understand and treat Pati's impairment. The Quiñonez family settled in the San Francisco Bay Area and has been there ever since.

Pati completed her secondary education in a mainstream high school in San Francisco and went on to earn her bachelor's degree in psychology at San Francisco State University (SFSU). "The hardest part about moving to the United States was that I had to try to be more visually-oriented because I didn't understand the language," said Pati. "In Mexico I was used to being an audio person...here I had to rely more on visual clues, so it was very challenging," she added.

After graduation Pati went back to San Francisco State University to be certified through the Rehabilitation Engineer Program. She knew she wanted to do adaptive technology training and equipment evaluation...and that's exactly what she did.

Pati started her career as a volunteer in the technology center at the Rose Resnick Lighthouse for the Blind & Visually Impaired, an organization that helps people of all ages overcome vision impairment through leadership in rehabilitation services, education, research, prevention and advocacy. (www.Lighthouse-sf.org). After a stint at a company called Accessibility doing adaptive technology training, Pati was back on board with the Lighthouse in a paid position as a vision loss specialist.

In her position, Pati assists seniors who are losing their sight. She works with instructors who teach people how to use canes, help individuals become reoriented with their home environments and public places they frequent, and assist them with skills such as learning how to operate appliances. Pati screens about 15-20 clients per month, pairing them with instructors, and providing them with referrals and resources for additional services. Lighthouse is doing special outreach in this area to Latinos and African Americans.

Pati is a very successful person who enjoys hiking and biking in addition to her love for her work. When asked about her idea of success she said, "Each step is a challenge, but each step also is a little success."