Business Alum Overcomes Blinding Disease, Receives Accomplished Alumni Award

Foster-Patouillet

Associate Vice Chancellor of Alumni Affairs Lee Patouillet, left, presents Chad Foster with the Accomplished Alumni Award.

While Chad Foster was at UT, a rare genetic eye disease stole his sight, but not his ambition. He received his business degree in 2000. Now, with the help of computer screen-reading software that Foster programmed himself, he is breaking glass ceilings in the field of information technology.

Foster, who serves as a senior pricing strategist with SRA International, a global defense and IT contractor, returned to UT Thursday and was honored with an Accomplished Alumni Award.

The Accomplished Alumni award recognizes notable alumni for their success and distinction within their field. A variety of alumni have been featured through the program, including CEOs of major corporations, Olympians, authors, artists, musicians, US ambassadors, and civic leaders.

Foster-Family

Chad Foster poses with his wife and daughter, Evie and Juliana.

On Thursday, Foster shared his journey by speaking to students, faculty, and staff from the College of Business Administration, the Office of Disability Services, the Office of Alumni Affairs, Multicultural Student Life, Campus Disability Advocates, the Center for Leadership and Service, and the Office of Equity and Diversity. He also surprised his mother, Peggy, with an honorary Accomplished Alumni Award for her tireless efforts in “being my eyes.”

“She painstakingly read aloud and recorded every page of telephone-book-sized business management books for me, often until laryngitis forced her to stop. Often not having slept a wink, she would be at her bookkeeping job by 8:00 a.m.

“My mother’s sacrifice was a big part of my success.”

Foster taught himself how to build application programming interfaces for screen-reading software called JAWS for Windows, which “reads” out loud what appears on the computer screen.

Breaking glass ceilings that existed because he was blind, Foster has attained success in IT. He has been a consultant writing code, a marketing analyst, and a senior pricing analyst.

These days, he works primarily from his Atlanta-area home, with frequent jaunts to SRA’s Washington, DC–area headquarters. Foster spends most of his days and a lot of his nights sequestered in a minimalist office churning out multimillion-dollar bids and proposals.

With headphones plugged into a fifteen-inch laptop within arm’s reach of his sophisticated sound system, Foster listens to JAWS reciting at 123 words a minute, so fast that it sounds like gibberish to the untrained ear. The program filters through more than 9,000 lines of code that Foster has written and spews out Excel spreadsheets that a sighted person would be hard pressed to understand.

He is the only person in the world who is able to integrate a high-tech customer service application with JAWS—an extraordinary feat considering that the customer relationship management model is at the epicenter of gaining and keeping customers in business enterprises like the Bank of Montreal and the Government of British Columbia. Using technology, the system synchronizes sales, marketing, customer service, and technical support.

With such a specialized expertise, Foster is the force behind the doors of employment at call centers and beyond that are swinging open for the first time for thousands who are visually impaired.

For more information on the Accomplished Alumni program and other recipients, visit the Alumni Association website.

C O N T A C T :

Chandra Harris-McCray (865-974-2899, chandraharrismccray@tennessee.edu)