11 August 2008

Technology expands work-at-home options for disabled

As discussed in a number of past articles, people with disabilities who want to work have often been limited by the realities of company location or infrastructure. However, thanks to the explosion in affordable home PCs and the Internet, these same people now have more options than ever before to engage in meaningful, successful and gainful employment by working from their homes.

For example, in "NewsNet," the magazine of the state of Ohio's Rehabilitation Services Commission, two people with disabilities were highlighted who were successfully and gainfully employed from their homes with the use of their own PCs. One individual was visually impaired, while the second was dealing with a significant orthopedic disorder. The first individual was in her mid-20s, while the second person was in her mid-30s.

The visually impaired person became a successful employee for an Ohio medical trans- cription firm through a combination of her own hard work and the assistance of her ORSC rehabilitation team. After graduating from her local community college where she developed an interest in pursuing a career in medical transcription, the first young woman determined that there was also a career center in the area that offered (among other specialties) courses in both medical terminology and medical transcription, both job specialties which are still in demand today.

She was also able to secure her required textbooks on audio discs, while further using a program called Victor Pro to access the large amount of material which needed to be memorized. Moreover, this same young woman was able to take the majority of her needed courses at home. She even received her materials in a usable format via e-mail and took weekly tests with the assistance of a friend who read the questions to her.

After a three-month trial period, she was hired full time by a medical transcription firm. Her employer still characterizes her as "having the many qualities that I look for in an employee, such as confidence in her abilities. She has also overcome many obstacles by initiating solutions on her own. I was also impressed by her perseverance."

The orthopedically disabled young woman had been working for more than 15 years for the same company, which made the decision to close its operations in Ohio. Consequently, after finding herself out of work while disabled, she began work with the ORSC, who worked individually and creatively with her to find ways to accommodate her disability, while assisting her in securing gainful employment.

In order to ease her orthopedic difficulties, the ORSC, after securing her computer, was also able to load onto it a voice-activated software program called Dragon Dictate. This allowed the woman to direct her computer functions with her voice, rather than through the keyboard. Moreover, the ORSC also purchased access to ACT for the young woman. ACT was a sales software system used then, and was known for its assistance in helping its users to develop and build their sales in a wide variety of applications.

Armed with these tools, the woman was hired by a home-based sales firm which provided various sales support services to other numerous associations and businesses. Her employer has commented, "While she has never had structured sales training, her work in her previous job provided her with the significant attributes of attention to detail and self discipline -- critical keys to success in sales."

Like most employers, both of the ones just mentioned were seeking employees who are attentive to detail, are self-disciplined and have a strong work ethic, just like the attributes held by most people with disabilities who want to work, have employable skills and are ready to contribute their talents to a willing employer.

The ever-burgeoning availability of PCs, armed with the great equalizing force of the Internet, has opened up a host of new employment opportunities and options for many people with disabilities. It just takes an employer with vision to take advantage of this new tool for their growth and the opening of new hiring possibilities for people with disabilities. Of course, the person with a disability who has those attributes and the desire to work at finding and securing that job is still the key ingredient.

Paul Rendine is chairman of the Disability Advocates of Delmarva Inc. group. Call him at 410-860-1137 or send e-mail to paulrendine@comcast.net.

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