by Tony Stephens
To read this article online, visit https://blogs.cisco.com/collaboration/breaking-barriers-for-blind-and-visually-impaired.
There’s something about the telephone that I’ve always found magical. It may be partially genetic: I’m more of an audible person, having been born blind. But I’d equally credit my father, who was an engineer for Western Electric. When I was a child, he’d take me to the massive toll-switching station north of Atlanta. There, I’d sit and listen to the thousands of relays clicking and clacking to bring together people from across the globe. I think that’s why, in this age of instant-message gratification, there’s something special about picking up a good old-fashioned telephone receiver to make a human connection.
Of course, today’s office telephones are everything but old-fashioned. Behind the scenes, engineers work around the clock to assure systems remain reliable and integrate productivity into today’s advanced digital networks. This requires a certain craft for innovation. And it’s something that Cisco has demonstrated over the past 30 years.
Cisco’s track record of innovation took an extra step forward with the announcement of accessibility updates to its Cisco IP Phone 8800 Series. These updates enable workers who are blind and visually impaired to independently operate their phones for the first time.
Technology has become the primary barrier breaker for Americans who are blind and visually impaired. Software and hardware advancements capable of supplementing the human senses have opened up new and exciting opportunities to hundreds of thousands of Americans who are blind. Despite this, the U.S. Census Bureau reports that just over one-third of Americans who are blind are engaged in the workforce. This begs the question: What barriers still exist that make achieving the American Dream so difficult for people who are blind?
I’ve spoken with working professionals across the country and across career paths to find out. One common theme is misconceptions of what a person with vision impairment is capable of doing. This remains a dominant barrier to full and equal inclusion in the workplace. Employees who are blind continually face pressure to go the extra mile just to prove the most basic on-the-job competencies.
Enter Cisco and the latest update to the 8800 Series phones. Prior to this latest software update, individuals who were blind and visually impaired faced significant challenges toward independently operating one of the most important tools of the workplace environment — the telephone.
I’ve talked with some of the smartest Ph.D.s and lawyers in the country, and with marketing directors and human capital managers. All have shared anxiety when telling the person on the other end of the phone to please hold as they yell out for sighted assistance just to forward a call to a co-worker. It’s one of those classic examples of how we take the simplest things for granted. Should I take the call or let it go to voicemail when I’m faced with a tight deadline?
Cisco has removed many of these key work-related anxieties by integrating text-to-speech across the 8800 Series. The update will allow any individual needing such assistive technology to easily activate it at any workstation. This is particularly helpful in today’s workplace as an increasing number of employees rely on shared workspaces. Companies will also no longer need costly third-party solutions that often require connectivity to computers and other peripherals to provide still-cumbersome adaptations.
The American Council of the Blind is excited that Cisco has taken the lead to assure that critical business telecommunications solutions remain accessible. Our work together will continue to expand accessible solutions, which will help eliminate misconceptions of the capabilities of people who are blind and visually impaired.
Now all that is left to be conquered is that new wifi-enabled smart espresso maker in the work lounge!