TULSA, Okla. – Tulsa resident Felicia Jones is ready to testify about the transforming power of assistive technology at the open house for Visual Services’ new Assistive Technology Lab on May 5.
“They are going to see how far technology has come -- what people can do with technology on their jobs,” Harris explained. “For companies, you may find out how to use technology to hire a great person who is visually impaired to work for you one day.”
The public is invited to join state Senator Kevin Matthews, state Representative Regina Goodwin and Jonathan Townsend from the City of Tulsa mayor’s office to learn more about assistive technology at the open house from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at 907 S. Detroit Avenue in Tulsa.
According to Jones, assistive technology means any equipment or system that improves the functional capabilities of people with disabilities.
She and 11 other Visual Services clients who are blind or visually impaired will greet guests and act as tour guides for lab tours, awards ceremonies and free continental breakfasts or snack lunches.
These assignments are part of self-sufficiency and independence training set up by Visual Services, a division of the Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services, which is the state employment agency for people with disabilities.
Jones was born with cataracts and later developed a severe astigmatism, light sensitivity and diabetes. A native of Texas, she moved to Georgia where she learned how to use Freedom Scientific’s MAGic screen magnification and screen reading software in preparation for her return to work.
She moved to Tulsa to be near her three children and five grandchildren and came to Visual Services in Tulsa for career preparation and employment assistance. She got the technology and training she needed, and was hired for a 10-month internship as the Visual Services lab receptionist.
“Part of my job description is to answer questions and explain what services they (clients) can get,” Jones said. “I’m learning how to work in an office and how to have office etiquette. I’ve learned how to answer the phone, take a referral and transfer the calls. I schedule the appointments for clients, send faxes, distribute the faxes that come in, get signatures and scan them back to the different offices that they need to go to.”
Once Jones completes her internship and has real-life job experience, Visual Services will assist her in finding permanent employment. Jones’ old intern position will open up for another VS client.
The previous person in that job, Bryan Zamarripa, is now the VS assistive technology specialist assigned to teach others, including Jones, how to make optimum use of equipment and systems. Zamarripa is also blind.
Jones believes she benefitted because many DRS staff who helped her as a client were blind themselves and personally knew how to overcome the challenges and frustrations that she faced.
“Since I started with DRS, Ruthie Tipps was my Braille teacher, and she was blind,” Jones said. “I had Jedi (Moerke) who helped me with mobility training, and she was also blind.”
The person who hired Jones for her intern job, Visual Services’ field service coordinator Fatos Floyd, happens to be blind as well. Floyd’s territory is northern Oklahoma. Her assignments include managing the new Assistive Technology Lab.
“Our dream for the last three years is to have a place in Tulsa that serves all blind individuals’ every need in one place, “Floyd said. “The AT lab opening is our last piece for this dream.”
“One-stop services are important because one of biggest barriers for blind people is transportation.
“We have brand-new equipment -- the latest technology -- and an incredible team qualified to teach everything from magnifiers to braille displays now on the same floor as our (rehabilitation) teachers,” Floyd added. “We have our Transition counselors who work with our young people. We have our deaf-blind counselor and specialist who work for deaf-blind individuals. We have teachers that teach travel and rehabilitation specialists for (employment) counseling and guidance to help clients get jobs.
Floyd and Jones agree that Visual Services’ open house for the new Assistive Technology Lab will be a good starting point for potential clients and interested employers.
“If they would come up here and get the necessary training, it helps you in the long run be more independent,” Jones said. “With the technology along with the mobility, there are no places you won’t be able to go or things you can’t access.”
“Employers can find out how we can help them find qualified blind and lower vision individuals that can do the jobs they have,” Floyd said. “And it doesn’t cost a single penny for employers to hire our clients or for us to do follow up. Our services are totally free.
“When they hire a Visual Services client, they come with skills and equipment, so the employer does not have any investment up front,” Floyd added. ”We have assistive technology experts working for us … that can go to employer’s worksite and make their systems accessible and provide diversity training, all totally free.”
For more information about Visual Services or the Assistive Technology Lab open house, phone 918-551-4900.