2006 Conference General Sessions

ACCESSIBLE CALL CENTERS: AN ESSENTIAL LINK TO JOB OPPORTUNITIES

 

 

Presenter(s)

Mary Jean Smith
SSB Technologies/BART Group Street

1489 Chain Bridge Road Suite 204

McLean VA 22101

Day Phone: 703-637-8955

Fax: 703-734-8381
Email: mary@bartsite.com

 
Presenter #1
Paul Rosenfeld
SSB Technologies/BART Group Street

489 Chain Bridge Road Suite 204
McLean VA 22101

Day Phone: 415—624—2710
Fax: 703—734—8381
Email: paulr@ssbtechnplogies.com

Presenter #3

Scott McCormack

SSB Technologies/BART Group Street

489 Chain Bridge Road Suite 204
McLean VA 22101

Day Phone: 703-442-5023

Fax: 703-734-8381


This workshop will explore two case studies that describe a comprehensive solution for creating call center work environments that are accessible for persons with disabilities.
BART Group, an adaptive technology firm specializing in adaptive technology solutions for the blind and low vision population, was contracted by two major corporations to offer expertise that would make their call center work environments accessible for employees with disabilities. Both corporations were seeking to tap into a resource pool that has historically been extremely under utilized, and both companies have experienced success in the goal of securing dedicated and enthusiastic employees that just happen to also have a disability. Traditionally, the unemployment rate for the blind hovers around the 70% level. The challenge was to create a total program solution that would address issues from training to attaining call ratios that would match or exceed call ratios of non disabled employees. The goal was to define the elements of that program so that it would be repeatable at call center locations all over the country. The creation of this program has met with some difficult challenges and training dilemmas that are an opportunity to pool the resources of national disability organizations, local agencies, other disability resources, corporate management teams, and the BART Group. The end result continues to be a project, spearheaded by some very dedicated call center managers, and offers a unique and valuable partnership whereby blind employees will gain meaningful employment and call centers will gain employees that traditionally have a high retention level, even though the call center agent position has traditionally had a low retention level.

History
The Marriott program was started in Santa Anna California under the direction of Kellie Perez with a training class of five students several years ago. The program was deemed to be successful by both the Marriott call center management team and the blind employees. Enthusiasm for tapping this pool of employee resources was shared with reservation centers across the country and several other centers showed interest.

Another corporation, Delta Airlines, also wanted to create a call center that would be accessible for employees with disabilities that could be utilized at all of their centers. BART Group’s technical expertise, arid creative consultation, helped to build a successful outcome for both of) these corporations. Today, both companies continue to be dedicated to
• hiring and supporting disabled agents, and are enjoying the benefits of this talented and enthusiastic group of employees.

Issues and solutions
The initial request for input from Bartimaeus Group involved the implementation of training materials for a blind/low vision class in San Antonio, TX. The training coordinator was attempting to put together a class for blind students and was experiencing some problems. Sighted employees at the call centers are trained on an intranet curriculum that is downloaded onto computers in a training room. This course work is supplemented with classroom instruction. Quizzes and tests are then taken on the computer to monitor the learning process. Attempts were made to incorporate the blind trainees with the sighted employees but this did not work due to several problems.
• The training material was not accessible to JAWS (a screen reading software)
• The blind students could not keep up with the class without the on line training material and they needed more individual training time
• Quizzes and tests were not accessible and no substitute was available that could he used by the trainee without one on one assistance
• Efforts to recreate a special class using alternate material and more one on erie assistance resulted in an extended training class

Other issues also surfaced. These included everything from advertising for the positions, interviewing, networking resources, and coaching company executives, trainers, and managers. The blind employees needed additional training with mobility, dress, note taking, and other corporate culture issues.

Both corporations were using JAWS screen reading software, and they needed a comprehensive program to script JAWS and to update those scripts as changes were made in the software
that agents were using. Additionally, decisions needed to be made about use of Braille displays. This decision alone has many elements, from how to deal with multiple brands of displays, corporate ownership versus individual ownership, budget, liability and scripting issues. Braille displays are also difficult to manage from a space, storage, and liability standpoint. The advantage of using a Braille display is that it puts dead space time on par with sighted colleagues. Using only JAWS an agent has to listen to information in one ear and listen to the customer in the other, making dead space time longer.

Adaptive equipment is often purchased from each reservation center budget and budgets are tight. Therefore hiring a blind low vision agent does have additional cost when compared to a sighted agent. This leads to creating corporate policy to address these budget issues. Additionally, since many call centers do not use assigned seating, adaptive work stations create seating and shift flow issues that need to be addressed.

Other issues that PART helped create solutions for included:
• Defining working relationships with partners so that corporate needs could be met in
finding job applicants, and training them so that they are job ready for the corporate
environment.
• Training for management on adaptive technology, blindness culture, blindness issues,
mobility, and inclusion in the work place.
• Peer to peer training information so that work relationships among peers would be
enhanced.
• Information on resources for partnerships to enhance the opportunities for companies
in finding the right fit in employees and the right support for the employee.

• Ways to standardize training, policy, and employment practices so that they could be easily used from center to center across the country.
• Financial resources that would make adaptive equipment available without impacting each center’s budget.
• Resources to help management with conflict and mediation issues with their blind low vision agents.
• Education on guide dogs, and information on the various guide dog schools so that partnerships can be formed to better support guide dogs in the work place, their handlers, and their interaction with sighted peers.

Partnerships are very important to the success of training classes. One company has developed a lead in class that takes up the first four weeks of the training regime. It addresses issues for blind agents that are important to them as they enter the workforce. This four week class dovetails with the training curriculum for the call center.

Another essential component is to manage the JAWS scripting that is needed to keep software accessible. This can be done by someone internally or hired from the outside with a company like BART Group. Training with the programming team minimizes the complexity of this task and is highly desirable. When corporate programmers are given more direction to code the software programs in ways that would make it accessible, the amount of scripting needed is minimized. The standardization equipment (both hardware and software) is extremely important.

Both companies have been successful in hiring, retaining, and incorporating blind agents into their call centers. These employees have proven to be a valuable asset. The overall retention rate has been high, and their job performance and attendance excellent.

BART Group is an expert in providing total solution packages for accessible call center environments. A blend of corporate consulting, and IT expertise in the adaptive technology arena has helped corporations create success stories that are repeatable in their call centers across the nation. As adaptive technology experts in the field of accessibility solutions we have provided our corporate clients with a partnership that is creating accessible call centers: an essential link to job opportunities.


Go to previous article
Go to next article
Return to 2006 Table of Contents


Reprinted with author(s) permission. Author(s) retain copyright