Ax finds his dream job working 20 hours a week at Blackstone Audio
Before Ax Prince was hired at Blackstone Audio, manager Saresa Whitley spent hours on Braille labels matching the dots from the template to what was printed. It was part of the quality control check. For her, however, it was a time-consuming and inefficient system.
“It took me a lot longer to try and do what Ax does in just a few seconds by actually reading the Braille,” Saresa said. “He has saved us time and has the skills to make sure we are putting out a quality product.”
Ax, 32, is blind and experiences autism. He had several jobs before the Oregon Commission for the Blind helped him get employment at Blackstone Audio in November 2015. Ax is a joyful man who plays piano, sings and beatboxes in his free time.
Ax is the Quality Control Braille Technician for Ashland-based Blackstone Audio, the largest independent audiobook publisher in the United States. He works as part of a team responsible for managing the contract that Blackstone holds with the Library of Congress’s Talking Books program. Through a national network of cooperating libraries, National Library Services administers a free library program of Braille and audio materials circulated to eligible borrowers in the United States. Ax’s job is to sort the audio book materials and check for any errors on the Braille labels.
“I really like that I can sit all day rather than standing,” Ax said. “It’s something I like to do. And I really like my coworkers.”
The Library of Congress team (or LOC team) is a tight-knit group. They have embraced Ax as their friend and coworker.
“Ax has brought unity to the team,” said Saresa, Library Production Supervisor for Blackstone. “People that used to not get along so well now put aside their differences because they see the challenges that Ax has had to overcome in his life. Yet he still comes to work smiling, joyful and excited to work. He is the glue that holds the team together.”
Daryl Ackley with Ackley Counseling & Employment Services provides Ax’s current long-term supports. Ax works mostly independently now, with Daryl checking in from time to time. Daryl was a Vocational Rehabilitation counselor for the Oregon Commission for the Blind when he first met Ax at age 15, when he was in high school. At that time, Daryl helped Ax to secure several work experiences and helped him with some life skills.
“I believe everyone should work and that individual community employment is really what everyone should have a right to, and has the ability to achieve,” Daryl said. “Seeing Ax now in a career and doing something he really likes doing and making money, it’s really rewarding.”
Ax had several jobs over the years. He wanted a job closer to his home in Ashland, where he feels more comfortable. The Commission for the Blind hired Diane Paulson to develop a job for Ax.
“I was looking not just for any job for Ax, but one that fits his skills and attributes,” Diane said. “I was originally thinking of him for Blackstone’s recording studio since he is so musical, but this opportunity came up for the Talking Books program that matches Ax’s talents and also met the employer’s needs.”
Jane Hagle, Vocational Rehabilitation counselor with the Commission for the Blind, said Blackstone has been an ideal job fit for Ax. He currently works 20 hours per week.
“Ax really wanted connection; he really craved it,” she said. “He is a wonderful human being who just really wanted to be part of a team.”
When Saresa told Jane in summer of 2016 that the Library of Congress was switching to a different form of Braille, called Unified English Braille (UEB), for its future audio books, the Commission for the Blind secured a tutor for Ax to help him master a series of classes through the Hadley School for the Blind. He is now officially certified in Unified English Braille so he can continue his work for Blackstone’s Library of Congress team.
“He is a really hard worker,” Saresa said. “He has caught several errors that we brought to the Library of Congress’s attention, and many more mistakes from the embossing machine. The work he does is extremely important.”
Ax’s coworkers can’t say enough about their team member. Sarah Gill, the crew leader on the Library of Congress team, said she and Ax call each other “home skillet” as nicknames.
“He is the most vibrant, happy, easygoing person I’ve ever met,” she said. “I don’t think our team would be complete without him.”
Coworker Martha Valle appreciates Ax’s musicality and energy.
“He listens to any music, doesn’t matter, he loves it,” she said. “He loves it here and we love him.”
Chelsea Whitley, another team member, said Ax helps to keep the team from being too stressed during busy times.
“No matter what the music, he is always dancing and if there is no music on, he dances to his own beat,” she said.
As for Ax, he has found his perfect job match.
“I prefer to be right here,” he said, smiling widely and grabbing his manager Saresa’s hand. “Blackstone is the right job for me.”
Jane Hagle was Ax’s VR counselor for the Oregon Commission for the Blind. Diane Paulson was the job developer and initial job coach for Ax. Corinne Vieville was Ax’s tutor for the UEB training. His personal agent is Deirdre Rapp with Creative Supports. Daryl Ackley with Ackley Counseling & Employment Services provides long-term supports.
You can view a video of Ax at his job.
You can also view a photo slideshow of Ax at work.