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FEATURE: Visually impaired people finding more job opportunities

2012/07/28 11:44:00

By James Lee, CNA staff reporter

Wearing a big black headphone, 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 use the computer skillfully.

Starting from booting her laptop computer to opening files and starting transcription, Lin does not need any help but starts and finishes the whole task completely on her own.

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

"Thanks to advanced technologies, visually impaired people can use the computer to browse the Internet, search information and what's more, dictate and transcribe for a living," she told CNA in an interview.

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 (US$233.58) to NT$8,000 a month, good enough for her own expenditure.

"I simply wanted to find something to do during the day time, and I found it easy to get this job," said Lin.

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 this skill, Eric Yang, the association's public relations director, told CNA.

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 after months of free training, including general computer lessons, inputting methods, software installation and application, he said.

The team transcribed 504, 829 and 1,019 hours of recorded files in 2009, 2010 and 2011, respectively, including lectures, telephone interviews, or some TV and radio programs, according to the association.

However, it only received 448 hours of work during the first six months of 2012, 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 are 6,157 visually impaired residents as of June, but only 3,022 of them have jobs, said Yeh Chao-ling, an official of the city government's 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, citing statistics.

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

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.

"It's free and flexible, and most important of all, it is something I can do by myself," said Chang, adding that the job suits her most as she considers herself as having difficulty getting along with people.

Having great interest in this job, Chang said she spent eight to nine months learning how to use the braille input method to type faster using solely eight keys.

However, despite the flexibility of the job and diversification of the dictation content, some visually impaired people find the quality of the recorded voice files a barrier that stops them from continuing it as a job.

Lin Chu-ying, who was born blind and worked on the team for one and a half years, complained that sometimes the sound interference or noises of the files slowed her down and harmed her hearing.

In addition, the fact that there are many homophonous characters in Chinese also adds difficulty, she said.

The visually impaired are more likely to have typos, and as a result, it will take more time to proofread their transcriptions, she added.

Lin, however, did not work as a masseuse after she quit the team. Instead, she chose to share her passion for music with others, giving piano performances at hotels and hospitals.

Lin said her visually impaired friends also chose to teach computer skills, tell people's fortune or work as an operator or in the telephone-marketing field.

She said visually impaired people can do more than they can imagine.

"There are always all kinds of possibilities," she said. "Limitations are usually self-imposed."