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Cashier runs busy shop, sight unseen
0409 Keel Daniel 1
Keel Daniel reaches for a pack of gum behind the shop’s counter. Daniel, who operates the store, said he knows where all the merchandise is even though he’s legally blind. - photo by Photo by Frenchi Jones
At first glance, the snack shop sandwiched between the sterile walls of Fort Stewart’s Winn Army Community Hospital appears normal.
There’s an assortment of treats, refreshments and a smiling cashier, Keel Daniel, 42, who welcomes customers as they filter through the door.
“Hi, can you tell me what you are having today?” Daniel asks as a shopper approaches the service counter.
He has a slightly non-traditional approach for handling transactions and customers needn’t look any further than the countertop to understand why. A sign posted there explains Daniel’s impairment.
He presses a few buttons on the cash register and the machine tells the customer how much he owes.
Daniel can speak fine, he said, but his vision is limited.
“I have retinitis pigmentosa,” he said. “It’s a disease that degenerates the retina.”
Daniel was diagnosed with RP when he was 13. Now, he is legally blind.
Some shoppers notice, but most do not.
“At first I did not realize it. I was surprised. I actually went home to tell my wife,” said Staff Sgt. Michael Correa, who frequents the shop. “I was impressed at how much he knows. For example, I can ask him where the Hostess cakes are located and he will tell me exactly where.”
The cash register helps Daniel to be more efficient, but he said he depends on the honor system, his memory and his heightened senses just as much.
“I try to take people’s word for it when they give me [smaller bills], but when they give me a big bill then that’s when I rely on my note teller. It reads the bills and tells me exactly what has been given to me,” he said. “Usually, though, if something’s wrong, I can tell it. I will get a feeling in my gut.”
Daniel has been a participant in the Georgia Department of Labor’s Business Enterprise Program since 1997.
The co-op program is funded by the state’s Randolph-Sheppard Act, a federal law that mandates a priority to blind persons to operate vending facilities on federal property.
Each participant must undergo approximately six months of training and testing, according to BEP counselor Michael Harrell, but not everyone is guaranteed a job.
 “The BEP is not a social program,” he said. “Everyone goes through an interviewing process.”
“We provide the initial merchandise inventory, the training, the petty cash and ongoing assessments if they need it, but they are basically a small business operation,” he said. “If they don’t make any money one month, they don’t make any money.”
Harrell said participants are required to put 12 percent of their earnings back into the program, which goes toward buying new equipment such as the cash register and note teller Daniel uses at the snack shop.
Currently, the counselor said, there are 12 blind vendors who operate 17 BEP sites for Chatham, Wayne, Camden and Liberty counties. Ten of those are on federal property, including Winn. 
Amy Rissot has been working with Daniel since he won the bid for Winn’s site in February.
She admits she was skeptical at first, but now says she has a deep appreciation for what the cashier can do.
“We were like, ‘How is that going to work? He can’t see,’” she said, “but he remembers everything. There is no limitation to what he can do.”
“Some people use their disabilities to get away with not doing stuff, but that’s not him at all,” Rissot said.
Daniel is quick to credit his parents for his sense of determination and solid work ethic.
“It helps when you have a military dad who puts his foot in your rear … and never lets you feel sorry for yourself,” he said with a grin.
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