VocalVision and Junior Blind Help Visually Impaired Agents Go to Work

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With the Platform 3 contact center software, on-screen prompts guide employees through functions that include answering and transferring calls, making notes, and bringing up scripts, Payne says. Of course, visually impaired employees can't read the computer screen.

"Reading it out loud gives students at Junior Blind the ability to navigate our system fairly seamlessly," he adds.

Borja, who leads six classes a year made up of eight to nine students, says the new software writes maps that allow JAWS to find buttons that can't be read aloud because they're designated by images, which JAWS couldn’t recognize.

"After you've typed in an extension number or when you're ready for the next page on a script, that's designated by an arrow," Borja says. "And [before] JAWS couldn't see the arrow because it was just a picture or an arrow."

In addition, students can use a headset configured with two soundcards to hear JAWS in one ear and the caller's voice in the other, Borja says.

"When you split them up it makes it easier to understand," he adds. "When I worked at Earthlink for five years doing tech support, we didn't have this. I had to run two headsets and it's not easy."

At press time, the organization had placed 32 students from its training program in customer service or call center jobs, says Bonnie Hongo, job developer at Junior Blind. Students meet with her after they finish the course.

Hiring companies can bring in the VocalVision program at relatively little expense. The federal government offers employers tax breaks when they hire people with disabilities, which can more than make up for the expense, Hongo says.

Though the JAWS program itself generally costs around $1,400, about 99 percent of the time employers do buy it, Hongo says. If an employer doesn't purchase the program, the California Department of Rehabilitation, a division of Blind Field Services, will purchase it for the new employee, Burdett says.

Many employers who use the Platform 3 software also consider purchasing the VocalVision call center voice-prompt software, she adds, so that visually impaired workers aren't stuck with a two-headphone arrangement like Borja experienced earlier in his career.

"Our role is to partner with the state of California to give people the training to return them to work," she says.

Most of the jobs students found pay around $10 an hour, she says.

For her part, Burdett would love to see even more recently trained students placed in jobs. She envisions a partnership with a large company or agency through which Junior Blind students provide call center work.

Visually impaired employees have been shown to stay at jobs longer than their counterparts, Burdett notes.

"So for fields with high turnover, like at call centers, we could fill a partner's ongoing needs," she adds. "We could have 20 individuals who are available at any time. We can fulfill their needs with people who are ready to go."

Susan Carmichael, human resources specialist for HR outsourcing firm In­sperity, thinks Burdett should have little problem finding that kind of partnership.

"Once an employer sees that a worker with a disability can do the job, they understand what a good fit it can be," Carmichael says. "Employers see that they want what every other employee wants: to be independent and provide for themselves."

App at a Glance

Since deploying TCN's VocalVision technology, pairing Jobs Access With Speech (JAWS) screen-reading software with TCN's Platform 3 cloud-based contact center software, Junior Blind of America has had the following the results: 

  • 70 visually impaired students have completed their contact center training program in L.A.; and
  • 32 of these students have been placed in contact center jobs.

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