VocalVision and Junior Blind Help Visually Impaired Agents Go to Work

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About 60 percent of the estimated 20 million blind or visually impaired U.S. adults were unemployed in 2013, according to the National Federation of the Blind. When those who have given up job hunting are included, that number can be as high as 70 percent, says Allison Burdett, director of rehabilitation and employment services for Junior Blind of America, which offers job training to visually impaired adults.

Identifying employment fields for the visually impaired and training them in those fields can cut into those unemployment figures, Burdett says, but new applications of existing technology can make it possible for the visually impaired to uncover completely new employment opportunities, in industries that were previously unavailable to them.

One such industry is the call center. Driven by computer-based workflows and telephone use, day-to-day operations required sighted employees, but a software deployment that allows computer prompts as well as words and numbers to be read aloud enables the visually impaired to do these jobs, Burdett says. The agency's Los Angeles location is home to a call center where its students learn customer service basics and contact center technologies thanks to this deployment. Indeed, Junior Blind has helped the visually impaired, with training, find employment in call centers and customer service, she says.

In mid-2014, Junior Blind began using TCN's VocalVision contact center technology for the visually impaired, a solution that pairs Jobs Access With Speech (JAWS) screen-reading software, from Freedom Scientific, with the Platform 3 cloud-based contact center software from TCN, based in St. George, Utah. It allows visually impaired employees and students to navigate TCN's Platform 3 cloud-based contact center software.

The paired software reads aloud images, such as arrows and other prompts, that weren't recognized (and thus weren't read aloud) by JAWS in the past, says Bert Borja, assistant technology instructor at Junior Blind.

The agency's Employment Services Program at its L.A. training center offers a seven-week course that uses a number of accessibility aids, including screen magnification software, to teach students contact center skills they can put on their resumes, Burdett says. Other aids might include adjusted lighting, voicemail or email messages instead of written memos, large monitors and scanners, and materials in Braille.

Initially, the VocalVision technology had been available on a limited basis to only a few groups, including Beyond Vision, a Milwaukee-based nonprofit providing employment opportunities to the legally blind, and Junior Blind. The voice-enabled call center software is now widely available, says Bryce Payne, TCN vice president of sales.

Though JAWS enables users to perform mouse functions with the enter key and the keyboard or number board, the software didn't recognize all contact center software prompts, Borja says, until TCN stepped in. The specially designed interface from TCN lets JAWS and the Platform 3 software communicate so contact center scripts, prompts, and the like are read aloud, Payne says.

"The system wasn't developed with the visually impaired in mind," he says. "But when we found call centers often use JAWS as a job option we began working with a JAWS programmer to develop script files so it can recognize some of the buttons and functions within our system."

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