- The Washington Times - Monday, October 9, 2000

A local charity and a Colorado audio bookstore have teamed to create a Web site that employs visually impaired individuals.

The D.C.-based Columbia Lighthouse for the Blind, a nonprofit that promotes visually impaired individuals' independence, and Reel Books of Denver started ReelBooks.com, a site that sells books on tape and CD.

The site, whose managers will be located at the Lighthouse's offices, did about $500 in sales last week, its first week. The market for audio books has grown from $250 million in 1986 to $2 billion this year, said Mona Clark, the bookstore's owner.

The site's first employee is David McLamore, a 39-year-old Cheverly, Md., resident who hadn't had a job in eight years. He has a degenerative eye disease that has slowly eroded his sight.

"It helps with my confidence," said Mr. McLamore, who worked in accounting before his sight failed to the point where he could no longer do his job.

He went on disability in 1992, thinking he could not work until he attended a seminar demonstrating new technologies to allow the blind to use computers.

"People who are blind and also vision-impaired can do this job and be successful at it," he said of his current position.

Mr. McLamore fields phone calls and takes and processes Internet book orders using software that allows his computer to "talk."

As he uses keystrokes rather than a mouse to navigate the screen, the program reads the text.

"In spite of the good economy, the unemployment rate for working-age blind adults remains somewhere around 70 percent," said Dale Otto, president of the Lighthouse.

He said ReelBooks.com is designed to train some of the estimated 15,000 visually impaired people in the Washington area, then send them into technology jobs. Getting companies to hire visually impaired employees which is one of the charity's regular missions can be a challenge, Mr. Otto said.

Speech software costs about $1,000, so it can be difficult to convince a company that the price tag is worth it, he said.

But he said the Lighthouse recommends that people buy their own program so they can take it from job to job.

And the federal government gives money to states to help individuals with disabilities find employment, as well as tax credits for companies that hire them, he said.

The nonprofit runs the Web site, while Ms. Clark offers consulting services. Mr. Otto said the partnership was a logical move for both parties: It allows Ms. Clark to get her company's name out and lets the Lighthouse publicize its mission and employ the people it is trying to help.

"Businesses should be your partners and your friends and colleagues, not people you just go to for contributions," Mr. Otto said.

Ms. Clark said she didn't enter into the venture for monetary reasons.

"I think everybody when they get out of college you want to do something that's going to be good for the world," she said.

When she graduated, she worked in legal services, but found she wasn't accomplishing enough. She went on to eventually start the bookstore and said the Web site is a way for her to come back to doing good.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide