Fri, Aug 03, 2012 - Page 3 News List

FEATURE: Technology aids visually impaired workers

WIDER WORLD:Special software enables more visually impaired people to work as transcribers, broadening the job market from the traditional jobs in massage parlors

By James Lee  /  CNA, with Staff writer

Wearing a pair of big black headphones, Lin Shu-chi adjusted herself to a comfortable position and started to type swiftly what she was listening to, word by word, sentence by sentence.

One may find it difficult to believe that Lin, 38, is blind, especially after seeing her skillful use of the computer. Starting from booting up her laptop computer to opening files and starting transcription, Lin does not need any help to finish the task.

The software that reads the screen allows Lin to listen to every move or click she makes, and to use the computer like people who can see.

“Thanks to advanced technology, visually impaired people can use the computer to browse the Internet, search information and what’s more, dictate and transcribe for a living,” she said.

Reversing the stereotype that visually impaired people can make money only by working as masseurs or masseuses, Lin said she can make an average of NT$7,000 to NT$8,000 a month, good enough for her own expenditures.

“I simply wanted to find something to do during the daytime, and I found it easy to get this job,” Lin said.

The Taipei-based Technology Development Association for the Disabled said that Lin is not a rare case, and that a lot of visually impaired people prefer to work at home and to have a flexible working schedule.

Since the association launched a transcription team in 2009 to help visually impaired people find job opportunities, it has trained and helped 60 people learn the skill, said Eric Yang, the association’s public relations director.

The number is small as many people, even the visually impaired, find it hard to believe blind people can do this job, Yang added.

However, people who are visually impaired can learn this job skill thanks to free training, including on general computer use, input methods, software installation and using applications, he said.

The team transcribed 504, 829 and 1,019 hours of recorded files in 2009, 2010 and last year respectively, including lectures, telephone interviews, or some TV and radio programs, the association said.

However, it only received 448 hours of work during the first six months of this year, a slight decline over the same period a year earlier, the association said, urging more people and groups in need of transcription services to contact the association.

“We’d like to help people pursue and realize their dreams,” Yang said.

There are 60,000 visually impaired people in Taiwan, but less than half have joined the job market, according to government figures.

In Taipei, for example, there were 6,157 visually impaired residents as of June, but only 3,022 of them have jobs, said Yeh Chao-ling, an official with the Employment Service for the Disabled Division.

Nearly half of the visually impaired people who have jobs are masseurs and masseuses, while others are doing administrative work or word processing. Still others work as telephone operators or in the telephone-marketing field, Yeh said.

In order to provide them with more job opportunities, the city government, along with other local governments, offers free training courses to help those interested in joining the labor force, Yeh said.

Under the city government’s incentive program, the association is now hiring 12 visually impaired people and training seven more.

Chang Yu-ling, 42, who lost her sight to diabetes five years ago, has been on the team since the very beginning and expressed gratitude to the association for “opening a new window” for her.

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