If you contact the customer service department of a government agency or a
major U.S. company, or order something over the phone, it's likely that your
call will be answered by someone with a disability, working from their home. It
could be on a farm in Iowa, or a small town in the Vermont Mountains. It's one
example how computer technologies is giving disabled people easier access to job
Ed McCann is one of more than 300 disabled order entry clerks in 42 states
who are working for the Internal Revenue Service, the IRS. "The calls that come
in for forms and publication orders to the IRS come to me, and I take
information for processing those forms. People who call me are sometimes not
really clear on what exactly they need and I'd give them the assistance and
guidance determining what they would need."
McCann answers those calls from his home. The 35-year old former computer
instructor has Arthrogryposis Multiplex congenital, a rare form of arthritis
that limits his ability to move. He began working for the IRS from home a year
and a half ago.
41, Steven Singley has been working from home since last year. He spent the
nine years before that working at the call center of a department store. A car
accident 20 years ago left him a quadriplegic, in a wheelchair with only limited
movement in one of his arms. Getting to his workplace everyday, he says, was the
most challenging part of his job.
"To be able to get up out of the bed, I had to have help from people to get
me dressed. Then I had to get out of the house, and either get a ride in a van
to my workplace or on a bus. I only lived about a mile from where I worked. So,
I traveled on my wheelchair on good weather days."
He says working from home has made his life easier, and technology has made
"Once I hooked up on my computer, I can type with my right arm that has
enough movement to be able to type, one key at a time with the typer. It's a
tool that has a rubber tip on the end and I can hit one key at a time. I put my
phone next to me, and a trackball - it's similar to a mouse - that sets over my
arm rest and I can move the curser around."
Singley received training to start working from home through Alpine Access, a
firm that provides call center services, relying on a home-based workforce.
Alpine CEO Garth Howard says technology is bringing jobs to thousands of
"We really focus on peoples' ability not their disability. The technology is
actually quite simple. All that they need is a computer, high speed Internet
access and a telephone with headset, and they are ready to work."
"We have a number of people who have mobility impairments such as
spinal cord injuries, Multiple Sclerosis, Muscular dystrophy." M.J. Willard is executive
director of the National Telecommuting Institute, which finds on-line jobs
Americans with disabilities can do from home.
She says that employment option is not limited to people with physical
impairments. "They may have chemical sensitivity. They could have lupus. They
could be recovering from cancer and chemotherapy treatments. They could have a
stamina issue that they really need to work part-time, three or four hours a
She says call-takers typically get one to six weeks of virtual training,
using the same technology that will help them do their jobs. "For example, there
may be 15 students. They are all connected with their instructor so that they
can hear her over their headsets. But they're also looking at their computer
screens, and they can see the screen of the instructor, so they can watch her as
she does each and every step. And she can turn around and role-play with the
group. She can say, 'John, now you're going to be the agent and I'll be the
customer,' and everybody in the class can now see John's screen. So, it's just
as if they were in a regular classroom except they are all across the country.
And as they come toward the end of the training, the students are taking several
calls and the whole class is listening in and the trainer is critiquing how they
are doing each time. At the end of the whole process they graduate. They go
right on the phones and they are taking calls the next day."
While hiring the disabled to work from home with call centers is still a new
trend, Willard says many employers have been happy to discover this untapped
"One of the problems call centers have is people don't tend to stay for a
long time in these jobs. They move on. We are able to say, look, we bring a
population to the table that doesn't have a lot of options, so if you allow them
to work from home you're going to get very little turn-over, you'll get very loyal workers, very
motivated workforce. And it isn't unusual that you find people that are a bit
better qualified for call center jobs than what they would ordinarily find."
Alpine Access CEO Garth Howard agrees. He says instead of moving to a new
building or leasing an additional space, employers can easily find skilled
at-home workers. And for those workers, getting such a job can be a life
changing experience. "Everyone likes to work and be productive. Many of these
disabled people are able to perform a service that's needed and useful and also
have social interaction of dealing with a customer. So everybody comes out a
Industry executives expect job opportunities for home-based disabled workers
to grow over the next five years. And as new computer technology becomes more
available, and more affordable, they say this model could be replicated, giving
disabled workers around the world a chance to be productive and independent.
spinal cord: 脊髓
Multiple Sclerosis: 多发性硬化
Muscular dystrophy: 肌肉萎缩症
turn-over: The number of workers hired by an establishment
to replace those who have left in a given period of