In this blog series, we share people’s incredible Salesforce certification stories. Although TJ McElroy tragically lost his sight during his time in the Marine Corps, he proves that you can overcome adversity with hard work and determination. TJ is a Certified Salesforce Administrator who instructs other disabled veterans at the Vet Workshop. TJ has been married for 29 years, has a daughter, Jacky, and 5 year old grandson, Jaxon.

I don’t think you can ever truly get used to being blind. There are things that I realize now I took for granted before, like using a computer. Thankfully, advances in technology do make things a little easier. I use a screen reader, a machine that reads whatever is on your monitor, in my everyday life. Or something as mundane as travel‒it’s  probably something that most people don’t even think about, but being unable to drive and not having any bus routes close to where I live means I rely on other people for a ride. And when you get a job, most bosses expect you to at least turn up every day!

I’m a tank mechanic by trade. They are the most awesome machines created by man. I love to know how things work and always thought I’d own a hardware shop when I left the Corps, so I could tell people what everything was used for. That’s how I think my connection with Salesforce came to be. Because I enjoy learning about how it works, and teaching others about it. Even if the functionality can be challenging for someone who can’t see‒like I can’t actually "drag and drop" something‒but that doesn’t mean I can’t tell other people how to do it.

My involvement with Salesforce started about three years ago, when I was training to be a blind relay operator for deaf veterans at the Vet Workshop. This is where they teach a group of blind veterans the skills needed to help and assist hearing disabled veterans to communicate with the world. It was there that I was invited to participate in their first Salesforce Administrator training course. There were four of us in that first class, and we’re all still involved with Salesforce today, so that’s saying something.

When I decided to become Certified, it took me three attempts to pass my Salesforce Administrator exam. It was frustrating because I felt I knew more than what the test scores were telling me. Imagine having to sit for an exam of 60 questions, but not being able to look at the questions yourself. Instead someone has to read each one out loud to you and then read each of the multiple choice options, all within 90 minutes. It was tough. I was affected by their tone of voice, their emphasis on different words.

After highlighting my issue, Salesforce allowed me to take my screen reader to the testing center. We still had a few teething problems, as pushing the Ctrl button during an exam kicks you out, and I use Ctrl to mute my screen reader when I’ve heard the answer I think is correct. But after the proctor logged me back in several times, I finally became the first totally blind person to become Salesforce Certified.

That’s the best thing about working with Salesforce: the people. There is always someone willing to help out, and the platform itself is being constantly fixed and updated. If you highlight a problem, it gets looked into. Sometimes it just takes a small change to make a huge difference, especially in my case.

Today, I’m a Salesforce Instructor. We have a 75-80% pass rate for our courses, and I think a lot of that has to do with the camaraderie of us Veterans hanging out and learning together. Over the 16 week Salesforce Administrator course, we build a relationship that moves from instructor to friend. And having a sense of humor in the classroom always helps, too.

Next, I want to focus on the Developer side of things. It’s a logical step for me, as I really enjoy programming. Well, I do collect text editor software as a hobby!

I was in the Marine Corps for 11 years, 7 months, and 5 days. I got to travel the world and work with tanks. I didn’t plan on a career as a Salesforce Instructor at all, but now I get to work with like-minded people every day, am constantly learning new things, and am making a positive difference to the lives of other disabled Veterans. As the saying goes, "We cannot control the wind, but we can adjust our sails."

TJ’s Certification
Salesforce Certified Administrator August 31, 2015

If you’ve been inspired by TJ’s story, learn more about how you too can become a Salesforce Certified Professional.