realtor photo of jim blacksten

Meet the San Francisco Bay Area’s First Blind Realtor

Today on Nearsighted, we welcome the first blind realtor in the Bay Area, Jim Blacksten.

Belo Cipriani: Where are you from and where do you live now?

Jim Blacksten: I was born in Oroville, California. I attended junior high and senior high school in Chico and I graduated from Chico Senior High School.

I currently live in San Francisco. My office is at Berkshire Hathaway Home Services (BHHS), Drysdale Properties, 1715 Polk Street, San Francisco, CA 94109.

Also, I have lived in Burlingame and in Daly City, California.

BC: What inspired you to become a real estate agent?

JB: Back in 2010, I was reading emails from people who decided to go into real estate — buying and selling homes. A number of these people just bought homes, fixed them up, and flipped for profits. Many of them made very good money, and they performed a lot of their work online. I am inspired to do the same as a visually impaired person.

I am also inspired to build part of my business with U.S. service members and veterans in San Francisco, East Bay, North Bay, South Bay, and throughout northern California. I’d like to assist veterans, as buyers here in San Francisco, to find their homes.

Also, I’d like to eventually become a real estate investor, which is really what inspired me to secure my California real estate license.

BC: What were some of the initial challenges in selecting real estate as a career path?

JB: I have taken and passed nine courses in real estate from City College of San Francisco (CCSF), which qualifies me to obtain a broker’s license after working for two years in the field. I have also taken and passed the California real estate exam for realtors, and am under contract with Berkshire Hathaway Home Services as a realtor.

One large challenge had to do with the CCSF Disabled Students Program Services (DSPS) converting printed books and materials into a digital, readable format for my text-to-speech software program (JAWS), which is keyboard driven to read the text and charts to me. Also, I had the challenge of working with instructors to make sure they explained what materials were being printed by them (i.e. on the class blackboard, or on projectors in PowerPoint format).

Then, I had to find a brokerage firm interested in bringing me on under contract as a realtor, as well as a manager who would be ready, willing, and able to champion my cause. Fortunately, I had an instructor (Carol Jensen), who taught the class I took in property management who believed in me, and what I could do. She introduced me to James Caldwell who is my manager today with BHHS.

BC: What adaptive technology do you use to do your work?

JB: I use the text-to-speech program Job Access with Speech (JAWS), which is a software program that is keyboard driven to assist me with reading the text information on the computer screen. Also, I use a device called a braille display, which converts the information on the computer screen into electronic braille, which I can read with my fingers. In other words, this BAUM Braille Display works as text-to-braille, and works in conjunction with JAWS. The BAUM Braille Display produces 40 characters of information at a time: I press the advance bar allowing me to read the next line of 40 characters, and so forth. Also, I have a unit called the Hims Notetaker, which is a personal data assistant with a built-in braille display of 32 characters. This unit has its own text-to-speech program that works in conjunction with the braille display for this particular Hims unit.

BC: How do clients respond to your disability?

JB: Thus far, everyone has responded favorably to me as a visually impaired person. I have also served as a Senior Accounts Representative as well as a consultant, and have met quite a number of clients, all of which were positive experiences. As long as I have a very positive attitude, and appear to know exactly what I am doing as a professional California realtor, clients and colleagues respond favorably. I have to say that Acura, my guide dog, in some cases, is a strong ally, and helps to break the ice in some introductory conversations.

BC: Do you know of any other blind real estate agents?

JB: I do not know of any other visually impaired persons that are realtors here in California. There are two others that I’ve heard of, though. One is located in the eastern U.S. and the other is in Canada.

BC: What projects are you working on now?

JB: I am currently working with Eddie Ramirez, who spearheads OneVet OneVoice and is sponsoring veteran home buyers workshops. We are scheduled to hold our first workshop this Thursday evening, July 23, 2015, at Mama’s Art Café on 4754 Mission Street, where Eddie Ramirez is a co-owner.

OneVet OneVoice is also working on bringing veterans together to be housed in a new building on Van Ness Avenue starting in October of 2015. We expect to assist in spearheading the home services section of this grand opening.

And, I am working toward becoming a successful listing agent.

BC: How may people contact you?

JB: Jim Blacksten, Realtor (CALBRE #01951334) at Berkshire Hathaway Home Services Drysdale Properties. I can be reached by phone (Cell: 415-297-3084; Office: 415-655-9007) or email (jim.blacksten@bhhsdrysdale.com or jimeblacksten@gmail.com). You can also find me on the web at www.jimblacksten.com.

Photo courtesy of Jim Blacksten

Belo Cipriani View more

Belo Cipriani is the award-winning author of Blind: A Memoir and Midday Dreams. He is a disability advocate, a spokesman for Guide Dogs for the Blind, and is currently the national spokesman for 100 Percent Wine -- a premium winery that donates 100 percent of proceeds to nonprofits that help people with disabilities find work.