It was a beautiful fall day when I traveled to Bloomington, Indiana to meet Kristy Bex. I traveled to meet Kristy to learn about her very first job at Employbridge and how assistive technology made her very first job possible.
When talking with Kristy, I learned that she was born in Bedford, Indiana. She and her brother grew up there and spent a lot of time in their local church. She graduated from Medora High School and is now married with two kids and two dogs. Kristy was born with retinitis pigmentosa. During her school years, she had low vision and needed large print. A few years out of high school she lost all of her vision. Kristy told me she has never been able to work due to transportation and “learning to adapt my every day life” since completely losing her vision. Once she began to adapt to her life without vision she had children, which kept her very busy. Once both of her kids started school full time she decided she would like to work outside of the home.
Kristy was not sure if she would be able to figure out her transportation needs or find an employer that was willing to work with her disability, but she decided that she would see if she could find something that would meet her needs. She contacted Vocational Rehabilitation to find out what resources would be available to her to find employment. Vocational Rehabilitation is a state agency that assists individuals in obtaining or maintaining employment.
Vocational Rehabilitation then referred Kristy to work with an Employment Consultant, Liz Rybachek, from Life Designs Associates to assist with her job search and also referred her to Easterseals Crossroads for an assistive technology evaluation. An assistive technology evaluation is a one-on-one evaluation to determine what type of assistive technology is available to meet a person’s specific needs to be able to work or live independently.
Upon arriving, I was greeted by Belva Smith, CATIS, Assistive Technology Specialist, at Easterseals Crossroads who has been working with Kristy on getting the assistive technology in place so she can do her job independently. We went back to Kristy’s workspace where I met her and her job coach. Belva said, “This is Kristy and she is kind of amazing. I met her 17 months ago and she was using an iPhone and a computer that was not functioning very well. Her goal was to get her very first job.”
At the time of her job search, Vocational Rehabilitation was not able to purchase a computer for her until she was working so she borrowed one from The INDATA Project’s Equipment Lending Library. The Equipment Lending Library is an assistive technology loan program. Through this program, assistive technology devices are available to be borrowed for free for 30 days by anyone who lives in the state of Indiana.
Belva assisted her in putting NonVisual Desktop Access (NVDA) on the borrowed computer, which is a free, open-source screen reader. A screen reader reads aloud everything shown on a computer screen. Kristy worked with that for a few months and then got Talking Typer to increase her typing speeds. Talking Typer is an onboard keyboard that can be used with VoiceOver that offers keyboard tutorials to help increase typing speed and accuracy. She worked on improving her skills with using a computer while she began her job search.
A few months later, Kristy contacted Belva and said, “I think I have a job.” At the time, Belva was in the hospital recovering from a fall and Kristy decided that she wanted to wait for Belva to recover so she can help her with the assistive technology that she would need to be successful in the position. While she waited for Belva to return to work, Kristy began mock interviews with her employment consultant, Liz.
Once Belva returned to work, Belva recommended that Kristy get a computer with JAWS, which is a computer screen reader program for Microsoft Windows that uses text-to-speech output to read the screen to a blind or visually impaired person. Vocational Rehabilitation was able to purchase the equipment for Kristy and Employbridge allowed them to work in a cubicle onsite so Belva could train Kristy on JAWS and see if it would work with Employbridge’s systems.
In July, Kristy was offered the job as a SAS Search and Support Coordinator in the call center. Employbridge is a staffing agency that takes calls from people looking for employment for temporary positions in warehouse, manufacturing, and clerical. Kristy is responsible for taking the pre-screening calls and scheduling the interviews with 4 or 5 of the companies that have them do the hiring. She pre-screens the callers to determine if the caller is a good candidate for the position. She then schedules their interviews. She also assists temporary employees with other needs such as retrieving a lost password for their account or getting their checks if they did not receive one.
Employbridge allowed Belva to be there to help with JAWS as Kristy received her training. Kristy would sit and observe with a keyboard and Belva would observe the training so she could teach Kristy how to use JAWS with the company’s systems. For Kristy to take one phone call she would go through many screens. At that time, Employbridge was using Google documents and Google calendar and it was not accessible. The company knew that they would be switching to a new system called SWISS, which was accessible with JAWS. While training, Kristy has had to switch between using NVDA and JAWS depending on which was compatible with the systems they were using. The company has switched systems a few times while Kristy has been in training. They are now running a database that is completely accessible to her. Belva said, “Her determination and memory is unbelievable. She just continued to preserve through every change. She also has a very supportive manager. He was getting pushed to get her on her own towards the end of her training, but spoke with mw to make sure she was ready as he did not want too much pressure on her and wanted her to be successful. “
Belva said, “This was a challenging case for me because I had to figure out how Kristy could listen to JAWS and a caller at the same time. I had to figure out how I could get JAWS in one ear and the caller in another ear. I was struggling to figure it out and in the meantime Kristy Goggled it and figured out how to get JAWS in her right ear and the caller in her left. Again, she is just amazing.”
Kristy is now working successfully full-time. A lady she goes to church with and a few other people carpool and they take her to work. Kristy’s goal is to eventually work from home. Belva said, “As a mother of two who lives 30 miles from here, it is so impressive to see how successful she has become in this position. I know that Liz, her manager, and myself are so proud of her. Her reviews since she has been taking calls have been stellar. It’s just incredible. I’m just so proud of everyone who has backed her to make this possible. Her VR counselor, Cecelia, is amazing. Liz is amazing, and her manager has been so supportive. He is amazing too!” Liz said, “She really is amazing. She has become my new BFF and it’s amazing to see how well she has down and also how she has really opened the door for other people with disabilities to be considered for employment here.”
I asked Kristy if she had any advice for people who may be in a similar position and she said, “My advice would be to be persistent and know that it can take time. You have to have patience. Keep working at it even when it seems impossible and if you can work with Belva then you should definitely work with Belva. Assistive technology has allowed me to communicate more effectively through social media and to be able to successfully work at Employbridge”
Kristy said, “Belva has been great at helping me learn my computer and the JAWS screen reader. She has helped me grow and become more independent as a person. She has been there for me through my employment journey. She helped my employer and even myself understand my disability and what all I am capable of on the job. I greatly appreciate all the work she has done for me. She helped me so I could achieve my goals.”
Kristy is now settling in a routine and become very successful at her job. In the call center, she will be receiving 70-100 calls per day. She has been meeting her goals and has above average quality. She is working on increase the amount of time she is on a call. Each call should be under 6 minutes. She said, “My average is not at 6 minutes as there is a lot to do on a call if I have to do an entire app, pre-screen and notate the call. I’m working hard to get those calls down under 6 minutes. The job was a lot harder than I thought it would be. So much goes into the calls that come into this call center. I have to access 8 different screens and there are constant changes with the systems. It has kept me on my toes.
She also said, “Going from a stay-at-home mom to a working mom was hard, but my husband is picking up some of the slack at home. I get the kids on the bus in the morning before I leave for work and my husband is able to pick them up in the afternoon. I was getting depressed and bored at home and needed money. I really like my job and I will eventually be able to work from home. That will be so much more convenient for me, but I will miss seeing all the wonderful people here every day.”
Kristy said, “I would encourage people to learn as much about technology and assistive devices as they can and to not be afraid to get out of their comfort zone. I would tell someone, “Don’t worry about other’s opinions of you. You never know what doors will open.” Assistive technology has allowed me to use social media, get a job, and pay bills. It has opened up a whole new world to me. It has given me more confidence and has allowed me to do most things on my own. I wish I would have started using assistive technology way sooner.”