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Programs make work reality for those visually impaired

By Jo Lee Ferguson, Special to the News-Journal
Aug. 31, 2013 at 11 p.m.

Trina Brewster was terrified.

About a year ago, the Longview resident found herself in the hospital, suffering from complications of a disease she didn't know she had - diabetes.

When she left the hospital, she could hardly see. She had some vision in her left eye, but was blind in her right eye. The life unfolding before her was frightening. She saw her job, her self-sufficiency and her ability to get around fading away.

She had been working for a couple of years for Convergys, taking inbound calls as a professional sales representative.

"It terrified me to know that I would not be able to see," Brewster said.

However, the Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services provided her with adaptive equipment to help deal with her visual impairment, and her employer welcomed her back to work.

It's not the only time Convergys has been willing to work with visually impaired employees, and for that the company has been named the department's regional Business of the Year for hiring workers who are blind or visually impaired.

"They were very supportive of me, and they provided me whatever I needed," Brewster said of the company. "When I first went back and told them I could not even see my monitor, they told me, 'Hey that's OK.' "

She was assigned to help new hires until the company was able to set her up with a large keyboard and "huge" monitor that would make it possible for her to see what was on the screen and to type. The company also allows her to work part-time, Brewster said, and she was able to select a shift that allowed her to ride Longview Transit buses to and from work.

"I certainly thank Convergys very much for allowing me to still be employed," Brewster said.

Recognizing such employers is the goal of the department's Business of the Year award.

Field Director Donna William said her agency considers employers for the recognition if they have hired at least one of the agency's blind or visually impaired clients.

Convergys has had at least three visually impaired employees at various times, she said.

"Not every business hires visually impaired people," she said. "(Convergys has) been very nice to work with, very open about diversity."

Williams has worked for about 39 years with the Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services, which oversee programs for people with disabilities. She said companies are more receptive to working with blind people than in years past, but it's still not easy to find organizations willing to employ blind and visually impaired people.

"In the bigger cities like Dallas and Houston and Austin, it's somewhat easier there, but we just continue to check with different businesses," Williams said. "Some of them are very open, but I would not say it's just a lot of businesses that are open to that. So (Convergys is) special, and we want to recognize them."

Diversity is a core value of Cincinnati-based Convergys, said Brad Wallace, senior manager for employee relations with Convergys in Longview.

"We have enjoyed partnering with DARS and employing several of their consumers," he said. "We feel honored to not only receive the DARS Employer of the Year award but also to work daily with their consumers. They have truly brought value to our company."



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