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Local software empowers blind call centre agents

Read time 1min 50sec

Blind people can now pursue careers as call centre agents, thanks to a software solution developed by a blind programmer in Pretoria.

Using the proprietary scripting from a screen-reading program called Job Access With Speed (JAWS), the software allows a computer to read any output to a blind call centre agent.

"I used the proprietary scripting to enhance the working experience, making it more accessible so that even if you get a package that doesn`t work with speech out of the box, it does if you sit down and script it," says Deena Moodley, a computer lecturer and access technology specialist at the National Council for the Blind. He is also the sole African representative on the World Blind Union Technology Committee and the only person in Africa who knows the JAWS scripting language.

"We`ve customised the dual-channel headsets, so that the agents can listen to the computer with one ear and the caller with the other," says Moodley. "The caller will never know that they are speaking to a blind person."

The program is in use at Opticall, a Pretoria call centre where 15 students are working in a simulated training environment. The commercial centre will go live in the next couple of months, with its first outsourced client being the Services Sector Education and Training Authority. Individual blind employees have already been set up with the system at a number of sites, including Advanced Software Technologies, the SABC and Momentum Life.

Moodley says this is the first training facility of its kind in the world, and it has already attracted international interest. "We currently have someone here from the UK who wants to take the idea back there.

"With companies moving towards call centres, this has provided an ideal opportunity for blind people to move into this career, as they make very good telephonists. We hope this will open up a whole lot of new career opportunities for blind people."

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