Grants to focus on jobs for blind Funds for projects of national group based in Baltimore

August 01, 1998|By Ernest F. Imhoff | Ernest F. Imhoff,SUN STAFF

Jobs and job postings for blind people throughout the country are the focus of two new U.S. Department of Labor grants to the National Federation of the Blind, based in Baltimore.

The federation will receive $488,400 for a job training program in Baltimore. Graduates of the program will be placed in jobs with participating companies around the country, said Marc Maurer, federation president.

"Our goal is to train 80 here the first year for employment throughout the country," he said. "It's the first step in an exciting initiative to promote competitive employment for the blind."

United Parcel Service will be the main employer in the first phase, but other companies are expected to take part in the hiring program.

The effort will train blind clients of state vocational rehabilitation agencies in information-access technology. The agencies will refer applicants to the federation as the first step in the selection process.

Applicants must be ages 18 to 65, be high school graduates, be able to read and write in Braille, use computers at a basic level and be willing to relocate.

In another project, the federation will get $3 million to expand to 40 states its America's Jobline service, which allows blind and sighted people to use standard push-button telephones to hear a list of jobs from the department's national database, America's Job Bank.

"This gives the blind access to the same job listings that sighted people can see on computer screens," said Betsy Zaborowski, the federation's director of special programs. "But everyone can use the service."

Since March, callers in Maryland have been able to learn about more than 100,000 jobs around the country. Some jobs, such as driving a truck, are for sighted people, but many are available to the blind if they qualify, she said. Minnesota just added the service, which is expected to expand to 40 states within a year, she added.

The service uses the federation's expertise in text-to-speech conversion technology and statewide electronic job banks. In each state, sponsoring agencies will help support the program. In Maryland, the service is sponsored by the state Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation.

The federation is setting up a network distribution system with a central computer facility here and satellite distribution devices, Zaborowski said.

Using the Internet for the high-speed transfer of computer files, Jobline's command center here will get job-order databases from cooperating agencies, process them into speech format and distribute them to the posting network

In Maryland, people can call 24 hours a day and use a keypad to respond to menu choices. They will find basic categories of jobs, such as computers. From that grouping, callers can go to sub-categories such as programmers, analysts or managers.

The Jobline number in the Baltimore area is 410-767-2626. Elsewhere in Maryland, call 800-765-8692. Call the federation at 410-659-9314.

Pub Date: 8/01/98

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