Kirk Remekie: Victory over Disability Leads to Career Happiness
At age 43, the Master’s degree Kirk Remekie earned this spring from the University at Albany symbolizes much more than his mastery of public administration. It represents a hard-earned victory over his disability and his determination to avoid becoming another unemployed statistic.
A native Jamaican, Kirk was diagnosed legally blind in his early 20s. At age 31, his sister, who lives and works in the Albany area, influenced him to enroll as an undergraduate at the University at Albany. Thus began Kirk’s educational journey that led to bachelors and master’s degrees, as well as a mentoring experience with New York’s lieutenant governor.
Technology and tenacity played important roles in his success. Kirk recorded his class notes electronically and later transcribed them onto a program called JAWS (Job Access with Speech), a screen reader program that allows visually impaired users to read a computer screen either with a text-to-speech output or by a refreshable Braille display. In addition, Kirk mastered navigating UAlbany's uptown and downtown campuses by memorization, taking a bus without assistance to and from each campus.
While acknowledging that more than 70 percent of the blind population is unemployed, Kirk refused to become a statistic. While working on his master's degree, he secured an internship under Lieutenant Governor David Paterson, with whom he shared his visual challenge. Paterson later became the second legally blind governor of any U.S. state.
While working on his master's degree, Kirk Remekie secured an internship under Lieutenant Governor David Paterson, with whom he shared his visual challenge. (Photo Mark Schmidt)
Working with Paterson, Kirk said, was a great motivator and challenge. Paterson served as a model of confidence; if Paterson could achieve that level of success, he could do the same. It helped him believe in himself and stay on target despite difficult hurdles.
Now, as a full-time employee at the New York State Department of Civil Service, Kirk continues to utilize JAWS to communicate via email and work from his computer. In his post, he supports the administration of the state’s merit and fitness system, working to ensure the fairness of candidate recruitment. Kirk also serves as a recruitment representative for the state's Workers with Disability Program, which allows thousands of persons with disabilities and wartime veterans to find positions in state service.
He credits fellow students, family, friends and UAlbany faculty for helping him stay motivated. In addition, he took advantage of the University's Project Excel, a federally funded academic support service for disabled, first-generation and low-income students.
Kirk proudly accepted UAlbany’s request to carry the Jamaican flag at commencement. He plans to continue to work at his current job after graduation with hopes of moving up within the department.
“Attending UAlbany has been a great experience,” Kirk said. “I’m just starting to appreciate all that has happened. Looking back, I think it’s a great achievement. I’ve overcome the odds.”