Editor’s Note: Parents of children and young adults who are blind or low vision can take note of Gena Harper’s transformation from a young person who was self-conscious of blindness to an adult who is self-confident and successful. It is common for young people to desperately want to fit in with their peers. For this reason, APH FamilyConnect recommends helping children who are blind or low vision meet many peers who are also blind or low vision!
From Self-Conscious of Blindness to Self-Confident and Successful: Meet Gena Harper
Gena Harper works at Morgan Stanley Wealth Management as the Senior Vice President of Wealth Management and the Senior Investment Management Consultant. She provides custom financial planning and simplifies it for her clients. Her role consists of marketing to acquire clients, complex financial analysis and planning for individuals, investment research, plan implementation, ongoing monitoring, and constant communication with clients.
Gena is also an athlete. She made the US National Para Cycling Team in 2012 and won a bronze medal in an international competition for downhill skiing. She cycles, surfs, runs, bikes, rafts, rock climbs, skateboards, and practices yoga.
Success in her industry and in athletics has given Gena the opportunity to mentor and inspire others in public platforms, and it is well received. She was the first recipient of The Glaucoma Foundation Award of Merit, and the recipient of the Women of Vision Award, the American Foundation for the Blind Kay Gallagher Award, and was recognized by Morgan Stanley as one of the 15 outstanding women professionals in 2015.
Oh, and yes, Gena has congenital glaucoma.
Reading the accolades of Gena, it’s clear she is energetic, intelligent, a high achiever, and ambitious. It would be easy to assume she’s fully embraced herself and her low vision since childhood; one would think she’s always been driven and determined, a confident risk-taker who will go the distance no matter what it takes. But that’s not so.
Gena publicly shares that she grew up wishing her eye condition away. She didn’t want to use the cane, didn’t want to use assistive technology in public, and didn’t want to share that she had congenital glaucoma with others. She found it a source of shame and embarrassment. Gena says, “I lived in denial. I didn’t want to be blind…I went to great lengths to hide that I was blind.”
How, then, did she develop into a woman with confidence?
During her college years, Gena ran into a barricade at a construction site and fell down the stairs. No longer could she convince herself the cane was unnecessary. She determined to attend the Orientation Center for the Blind, a living skills center, where she learned to use a cane, read braille, and live with greater independence. There, not only did she learn skills, she met people who were blind who she found “cool” and inspiring. Additionally, for the first time in adolescence, she participated in sports.
Gena shares her time at the living skills center was a pivotal point in her gaining self-confidence. She understood for the first time that people who are blind or low vision are normal people. And there, too, she developed athletic skills. For the first time she recognized she could do something better than most sighted people, ski. Prior, she believed people with sight were inherently better than she.
Gena realized she wasn’t less-than or less skilled or less equipped or less capable than those with sight. Whatever she wanted to do, she could learn the skills to accomplish. And she realized she enjoyed the challenge of figuring out how to do hard things.
And when it came to full-time employment, Gena believed she could accomplish her goal of financial advising. She persevered through training and skill development through mentorship and networked her way to employment.
Gena shares her advice to mentees, “I tell them that if they put themselves out there and they believe that there’s always a way, and they work really hard, they take the road less traveled, if they’re ingenious by using tools and technology, that they will have an amazing life and that they will always find a way.”
Gena understands that blindness doesn’t have to hold one back from a life of adventure, competition, independence, or career success.
You can watch the previously-recorded Career Conversations with Gena Harper to hear Gena’s advice to individuals who are blind or low vision about how to find jobs, network, and be persistent when meeting obstacle after obstacle in a job search. She also shares advice on conquering job interviews including how to be confident, friendly, engaging, and directly answer the questions potential employers are thinking but not necessarily comfortable asking.
Are you unfamiliar with Career Conversations? They’re a monthly discussion where APH ConnectCenter staff and guest cohosts will welcome, introduce, and engage with working blind and low vision professionals from all backgrounds. Doctors, lawyers, teachers, Musicians, Scientists, and many others step onto the APH CareerConnect stage on Zoom. Each interview begins with a discussion on how our featured working professional started out and ended up in their career, including how advocacy, determination and confidence played a role throughout their successful journey.
Previous Career Conversations include:
- Career Conversations with Lucy Greco (Accessibility Evangelist with the University of California, Berkeley)
- Career Conversations with Gena Harper (Senior Vice President-Wealth Management and Senior Investment Management Consultant at Morgan Stanley Wealth Management)
- Career Conversations with Tai Tomasi (APH’s Director of Accessibility, Diversity, and Inclusion)
- Career Conversations with Kiran Kaja (Accessibility Program Lead at Instagram)