He is blind, but his courage and will to overcome hardships is truly an inspiration to many. The way he manages to commute through the busy streets of Manhattan every day, to work with the world’s smartest people in Google’s office, is just unbelievable!
Every day, Jack Chen, Google’s legal counsel, uses a cane and his hearing to commute from New Jersey to his office in New York City. Despite his impaired vision, he travels through two train stations, the subway, and chaotic sidewalks of Manhattan. Although Chen has managed to make his way through it, the busy street during peak hour is challenging for a blind man.
“Traveling to work is kind of like running 10 miles before you even get to the start of the marathon,” Chen told Bloomberg. “There’s always a lot of dynamic objects moving, people moving throughout Penn station rushing to get where they’re going—their noses are in their phone. They’re not looking at where they’re going so I have to compensate for that.”
As a child, he could see light, colors and vague images; but when he was 16 years old, after undergoing his eighth or ninth eye operation, he lost his vision completely.
“My optic nerve was damaged in earlier operations in one eye. In the remaining eye, during a critical part of the operation, my head involuntarily moved, and there was some hemorrhaging. My retina broke apart.”
However, the physical impairment didn’t stop him from pursuing academic and professional achievements or participating in challenging physical activities. He earned his degrees in computer science from Harvard and Berkeley, and later obtained his J.D. degree at Fordham Law School.
Chen figured out that working in the law field will allow him to interact with people more than computers, so he decided to study at a law school. After graduating from Fordham University, he worked as an attorney in New York law firms for five years.
In 2010, he began to work for Google as an associate patent counsel, and became the company’s product counsel taking charge of Chrome in 2014.
Earlier, Chen worked as a system engineer at Xanboo Inc., a New York-based start-up, producing home automation and security system, and also interned at AT&T.
Chen’s work as a lawyer involves mostly reading and writing. He has a computer with a screen reader and the VoiceOver function on his iPhone to read text, which helps him to work effectively. He’s usually standing at work.
To “read” faster, he has trained his ears to adjust the reading speed at 620 words a minute, which is incomprehensible for untrained ears.
It’s a challenge to work as a product counsel at Google because the company keeps producing high-tech and innovative products.
“The company develops the most cutting edge products, which comes with the added challenge of continuously finding ways of working with those technologies as a blind employee,” Chen wrote in a report published on the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB). “This effort has been challenging, but none of these challenges has stopped me from contributing to my team and making a significant impact.”
In addition to his academic and professional success, Chen has an active lifestyle. He has competed in five triathlons, which include two Iron Man triathlons consisting of a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and 26.2-mile run. To prepare for his races, he gets up at 3:00 a.m. to train before starting his long travel to the Google office.
In 2012, he climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, one of the Seven Summits that can be climbed without using special gear in Tanzania, Africa.
“I wanted to test myself but I didn’t have a lot of time to work on learning climbing techniques. I figured if I liked it, I could get into the gear later and try other peaks,” he told Bloomberg.
Chen has not been defeated by physical impairment. He compensates his weakness and earns his success through will, persistence, and diligence. He manages to conquer the difficulties some of which are also challenging for people without physical impairment. For his passion to serve people, he chooses an occupation which is not an easy one for a blind person. “Law is about trust,” he wrote in the AFB report.
“One must work extra hard to build trust and overcome stereotypes” of blind people.