“I signed up on eBay back in 1999,” recalls Charlie Richardson. “I was in a post office and overheard someone talking about eBay as an auction site.” He got started buying things, then sold a few items casually over the years, until he took a class on eBay selling.
“The NFB [National Federation of the Blind] sent out an email about an eBay partnership to find a new avenue for income,” he says.
At the time, Richardson was running a store in the Capitol building in Albany, New York, through the Randolph-Sheppard Vending Facility Program, which “provides persons who are blind with remunerative employment and self-support through the operation of vending facilities on federal and other property.”
But on a whim, he sent in his resume on the day it was due, and was accepted into the class.
It was a weeklong class with 15 students, two certified eBay trainers and support staff for accessibility issues and technology support. Richardson says he found the process of listing items pretty easy.
“I had no difficulty with it – making a listing, and all that,” he says. He learned to use the eBay iPhone app, which he says “makes some of what we do easier.”
“I can leave feedback in a cab, or in the grocery store – I can carry eBay around with me all the time.”
The class had a robust follow-up program, with weekly conference calls and mentorship to get each participant to Top Rated Seller (TRS) status. But initially, Richardson didn’t ramp up his selling activity. It was the busy season at his regular store, and he didn’t have the time to devote to eBay selling. But when the mentorship phase of the program kicked in, and he was told he could just drop out if he wanted to, he instead threw himself into it.
“I got the fire under the burner – I met the criteria for TRS 45 days into it,” he says.
He started with a rare coin collection that he had amassed in the ’90s, and then branched out to other things.
These days, Richardson considers himself semi-retired: He left the vending program, got married and moved to California. He and his wife run a side business on eBay that keeps them busy and brings in some extra income.
“She’ll say, ‘What are we going to list today?’ ” Richardson says. They might get merchandise from the local Goodwill (like used purses for $4, which they’ll sell for $20), or from eBay, or from an online liquidation site. His knowledge of rare coins comes in handy, like when he bought a rare 1916 Mercury dime for $150 and sold it for $290.
As a blind user, Richardson says, he’s been impressed by how responsive eBay has been to problems with accessibility.
“It’s nice to have someone in that accessibility department who works to keep things accessible,” he said. “With a lot of sites, we tend to have to go into lawsuits to keep things working. In the Internet, I think the larger merchants are starting to realize that the disability community is a big part of their market.”