Although it Took Longer Than Expected, Doug Gilbert Stayed to Course to Graduation
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Although it Took Longer Than Expected, Doug Gilbert Stayed to Course to Graduation

If you ask Doug Gilbert ‘21O&M if he has a disability, he doesn’t hesitate to answer. “Yes, I’m too darn good-looking,” he said. 

That’s a pretty good sense of humor for a guy who got dealt a challenging hand by the pandemic, which he called “a real kick in the gut” at the time.

Doug GilbertAfter finishing all the academic requirements in the Orientation and Mobility (O&M) program at Salus, Gilbert was making arrangements to start his internship at the Joseph Kohn Training Center (JKTC) in New Brunswick, New Jersey, in February 2020. By the third week in March 2020, the pandemic shut everything down and stayed pretty much down in Gilbert’s world until the following September. 

That in turn backed up his gradation date for what would be an entire year. But Gilbert, who was born with low vision and has been a transit dependent person his entire life, persisted and will graduate with the spring Class of 2021 next week, then go on to pursue what will be his second career as an O&M specialist.

His journey started in the fall of 2018 when he lost his job at the New Jersey Travel Independence Program (NJTIP) at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, where he was teaching people with disabilities between the ages of 16 and 90 years-old how to use mass transit. State funding grants for the program had run out, and Gilbert was faced with what he was going to do next.

A graduate of Rutgers University with a degree in labor and industrial management, he had been working with blind and low vision people for many years as a travel instructor, advocate and a consumer. So pursuing advanced O&M training at Salus University seemed like the logical next step.

Gilbert met with Fabiana Perla, MS ‘93, EdD, COMS, CLVR, chair of the University’s Blindness and Low Vision Studies program, and she thought it was a no-brainer for Gilbert to go into O&M considering his background. 

Everything was going along smoothly until the pandemic. To stay busy in the interim until his internship restarted, Gilbert wrote an article for a local center for independent living about independent travel and blindness during a pandemic. He turned that into a presentation for the Southeastern Orientation and Mobility Association (SOMA) which  included a well-received roundtable discussion. 

When the internship opened back up in the fall, Gilbert was still scrambling because a program that is usually taught face-to-face was for the time all virtual.

“I was missing out on a significant part of the internship because there are a number of skills that can only be taught within arm’s reach for ethical and safety reasons,” said Gilbert.

Because he was still missing out on things, Jamie Maffit, MS ‘06, COMS, CLVT, director of the O&M program at Salus, contacted Gilbert in October 2020 and invited him to do a second internship at the Feinbloom Low Vision Rehabilitation Center housed in The Eye Institute (TEI).

Doug GilbertWhile it was a welcome opportunity for Gilbert to get back on the graduation schedule, it created more challenges for him as a low vision and transit dependent person.To get to TEI for the internship, Gilbert had to get a ride from his home in Hightstown, New Jersey, to Princeton Junction, New Jersey, take the train from there to Trenton, New Jersey, then another train to North Philadelphia followed by an Uber ride to TEI. He did that until just recently.

“That internship was the real touchstone that tied a loop onto everything else like a little bow,” he said. “It’s been a wonderful experience being at Salus.” 

Now that he nearly has those O&M credentials in hand, Gilbert said he is greatly relieved, feels like he finally made it and is looking forward to starting the next chapter of his life. His dream is to work with transition youth. 

“I think that’s where my heart is at. This is going from high school to the rest of their lives. Those little epiphany moments they have, especially when it comes to mass transit. ‘Wow, I can actually do this independently.’ That’s really the big reward,” he said.

The whole program at Salus, he said, has made him a much bigger advocate for BLVS people and the services that help close the gap between people with disabilities and those without disabilities. 

“We don’t want to be inspirational, we don’t want to be a big deal, we just want to be like everyone else,” said Gilbert. “We’d like to see a time when public accommodations and white canes are a ubiquitous part of the landscape. Or just another face in the crowd.”

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