Disabilities such as visual impairment should no longer limit a person’s career opportunities, especially in today’s global economy that’s powered by the Internet. It is this belief that has brought two organisations together to start a virtual telemarketing and communications centre to benefit such individuals.
“Technology has actually removed many of the barriers that impeded disabled persons from having sustainable and meaningful employment. Not only that, it has opened up access to the global economy. We have disabled people working for us from rural Malaysia, serving clients in countries around the world. This is already happening today,” says Thomas Ng, founder and chief executive officer of Genashtim Innovative Learning Pte Ltd (genashtim.com).
The company offers online learning and support services and labels itself as being “disability dominant” with 90% of its staff consisting of those living with various kinds of disabilities.
To build the centre, it is working alongside Dialogue In The Dark Sdn Bhd (did.my), an organisation that seeks to raise awareness about the visually impaired.
“We want to start a virtual call centre where the blind and in the near future, other people with disabilities, can operate from home or wherever they are, giving them greater mobility,” says Stevens Chan, founder and chief executive officer of Dialogue In The Dark.
According to him, among the challenges faced by the visually impaired when seeking employment is the hefty cost of voice activated software. This is a tool which they need in order to work on computers and mobile devices.
“We’re talking about one user license costing about RM6,000 per year. Because of this, software becomes one of the factors discouraging corporations from hiring the blind,” he explains.
Another common problem is the difficulty of travelling to their workplace.
“Commuting is a major problem for the disabled in many aspects: cost, convenience, safety and productivity,” Ng points out.
It is hoped that the creation of the centre will help to overcome such hindrances.
One of the first steps in setting up the virtual call centre would be to create an affordable screen reading software that can be easily operated by the visually impaired. This is made easy by leveraging on the resources from Genashtim’s existing NVDA (Non Visual Desktop Access) software.
A training programme would also be put in place to help the visually impaired staff hone their communication skills and to get them accustomed to working remotely.
“We will be very practical in our training,” Chan says. “They will be trained to interact with people. The blind hardly get to interact with sighted communities. Probably the only such people they interact with would be their family members or close friends.”
Apart from software enhancement, technical training and support, as well as training in soft skills, there won’t be any major costs incurred.
Expanding job horizons
In general, Chan says society tends to have a very narrow view of what those who are visually impaired are capable of doing.
“When someone sees a blind person, the mindset is that he is either a masseur, a busker, beggar or a tissue paper peddler,” he says.
But the reality is that the visually impaired community may actually even have a competitive edge over other candidates in the job market.
“They are more empathetic when it comes to their communication skills,” he says. “They would make good call agents as the key to becoming good in performing this role lies in the way you interact with your target customers.”
Besides this, Chan believes that the visually impaired workforce would be able to help curtail the current problem of high employee turnover rates that most call centres face.
He says: “Call centre staff usually will not stay for very long. But with the blind, they appreciate opportunities given to them and, given the right job, chances are they will remain in these roles for a long time.”
Chan himself is visually impair-ed, so the cause he champions is also motivated by personal experience.
He was a businessman who used to run his own marketing consultancy business. However, he lost his eyesight in 2007 after nine rounds of surgery. He suffered from glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy and cataract.
“Initially, I lived in denial and carried on with my business as if everything was normal. But eventually, I had to close down the work I had been doing. It was really tough,” shares Chan.
One of the biggest hurdles he faced at that time was the emotional struggles from coming to terms with having lost his eyesight.
“I was in a depressed state of mind due to suddenly not being able to see. This made me mentally and emotionally incapable of doing work.”
But these limitations were more of a personal perception than an unchangeable reality. Chan eventually rose from his despair and sought ways to help prevent others from experiencing eye problems.
“I wanted to create as much awareness as I could about the dangers of eye diseases. That was what pushed me,” he says.
Likewise, he feels that others who are visually impaired can achieve so much more, too.
“They can be trained to do almost everything. It’s whether society is willing to give them that opportunity.”