by Bob Branco

One year ago, I was hired by a car dealership to order car parts and handle customer inquiries on the computer. Throughout the past year, computer engineers appeared at the work site to determine whether it could be adapted properly for a blind person.

Several days ago while I was sitting behind my desk at my job, I received a visit from my vocational counselor from the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind. She received a written report of a meeting that took place on May 19 with the regional engineer from MCB, a contracted engineering consultant and one of my bosses. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss adaptations for my job. The report wasn't very positive. Apparently, there is nothing that can be done to adapt a speech system with Quick Books or All Data, programs used by car dealerships.

Regarding the job itself, I was told to think positive despite MCB's findings. There may be some manual steps to be taken which may require my boss to talk into a dictating machine, but my ability to use the billing programs may not be utilized.

Before there is any misunderstanding, let me clearly state that I don't blame anyone at MCB for this problem. If there isn't any way to adapt Quick Books or All Data for a blind person, then I can't hold any one person or agency responsible for that fact. I have called several computer software companies across the country, and they have pretty much confirmed MCB's findings. I know that the blind are encouraged to call software companies if the agencies can't help. However, while talking to these companies, I almost have to be a computer engineer myself in order to speak their language. I can honestly say that I know nothing about the mechanics of high-tech software. I'm just a consumer. When I'm on the phone with these companies, they ask questions that require a certain knowledge of these mechanics. It's almost like my going to a brain surgeon for help while he asks me if my cerebrum and my medulla oblongata are functioning properly.

Having said all that, there is still the issue of my keeping busy all day while I'm working. As a blind employee, I know I can't speak for all sighted people, but I'm sure that most of them would like to be busy throughout their work day instead of listening to a radio waiting for the phone to ring. The blind population feels the same way. My bosses would like me to keep busy, not only because it makes me feel better spiritually, but because I'm an employee. Employees are supposed to give their bosses productivity. When a boss hires someone, sighted or blind, he is making a financial investment, hoping that the returns are favorable for the business. Even though my bosses understand my situation and have been close friends of mine for nearly 15 years, I'm sure they hired me with a certain degree of expectation, otherwise they would have hired someone else.

I suppose if my bosses wanted to have me sweep floors or wash cars, I might be a bit more productive than I am now. However, they know that I am over-qualified for that. When I was hired over a year ago, I was given three titles: receptionist, parts manager and office manager. As a result of my current situation, I feel that I am more of an expert on local politics, Boston sports, radio talk shows, rap music and soap operas than I am about car parts.

What would you do, starting tomorrow, if you were faced with these problems? Write to me at 359 Coggeshall St., New Bedford, MA 02746, call (508) 994-4972, or e-mail me, [email protected].

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