WALT CONE: COMMUNICATIONS ASSISTANT
by Donovan Cooper
Reprinted from the National Federation of the Blind of California newsletter, The Blind Citizen, Spring 1990.
Associate Editor, Donovan Cooper: Working blind people are important. So are the jobs they perform. And so it is important that we tell others of the work that blind people in California are doing. It is our intention to feature blind Californians and the jobs they perform in an ongoing series of articles entitled "Blind Californians at Work". The publication of these articles will demonstrate our pride in working blind people. It will extend to them our congratulations. It will let other blind people know of job opportunities and of careers heretofore thought to be unapproachable by the blind. It will provide useful information to both job seekers and employers. Thus, it may help to diminish the 70% unemployment rate among the blind. This unemployment rate is unacceptable, and we must do all that we can to reduce it.
Walt Cone is a relative newcomer to California (he recently settled in Ventura County). Walt is from Arizona, having lived there off and on for 36 years. His employment history includes approximately two years in radio advertising sales and several in food service as an operator of a snack bar. Walt has always been an avid Braille reader. You will see how this has contributed to his success in his new position. Walt is now working for AT&T in Woodland Hills, California. His job title is Communications Assistant.
In his job Walt facilitates telephonic communications between speech and hearing impaired persons and the general public. Speech and hearing impaired people may type messages into a computer terminal-like device called a TTD. When the message is intended for a hearing person, a communications assistant will receive the typed text through a similar device at the telephone company office and convert it into spoken messages. These messages are delivered over the telephone to hearing recipients. Likewise, the communications assistant will convert spoken messages into typed text and transmit this text to the speech- and hearing-impaired recipient.
Most communications assistants use a computer screen to read typed text that is sent to them. Since Walt cannot visually read a computer screen, he uses instead a paperless Braille display to read the typed text. He is then able to verbally deliver the message to the hearing recipient.
Walt says that good Braille skills are critical for blind persons wishing to perform this job. Synthetic speech output from the computer has been tried but was not successful. The communications assistant must pay attention to messages often simultaneously transmitted by both caller and the recipient. This becomes exceedingly difficult when one of those messages is delivered in synthetic speech while the other is spoken over the telephone line.
Walt says that with good Braille skills, blind communications assistants can be as effective as their sighted counterparts. It should be noted that a typing speed of at least 40 words per minute is also required for this job. Walt's employer is pleased with his work and will welcome applications from other qualified blind persons.
There are more job opportunities in this field than you might think, and the opportunities are growing. This is because of the volume of calls converted by communications assistants each day. There are now over 267,000 telephone calls converted per day by communications assistants and transmitted to and from speech and hearing impaired people in California. All communications assistants in California work at the AT&T Office in Woodland Hills. Persons wishing job descriptions, salary, and application information for this and other AT&T positions in Southern California should call (800) 526-4144.
Congratulations to Walt Cone. He is doing well and has opened the door to additional employment opportunities for the blind.