Paul Drake is blind, he’s reliant on a guide dog, and like many people with disabilities, has found it hard to get into the working world that more able-bodied people do with such effortless ease. Paul has been lucky, however, he’s been employed by two companies that believe in nurturing talent where they find it, and has been given the opportunity to follow his dream.
Paul is employed by Integr8 IT and works on site, as many of its engineers do
He works as an IT service desk agent at Bayport, a financial services company. He was originally working on the switchboard, he says, but having developed a love for IT during his schooling days, he didn’t want to stay on the board.
“So I walked into CIO’s office and said to him I don’t want to be on the board forever. He asked what I wanted to do, I said IT and he gave me a chance, so I started on the helpdesk here.”
Paul uses a system called JAWS – Job Access With Speech – a best in class screen reader that enables blind or visually impaired people to use computers running the Windows operating system. It works with software like Internet Explorer, Microsoft Office and other popular programmes. It doesn’t, however, work very well with the G8keeper monitoring software used by Integr8to manage its helpdesk. This wasn’t much of an obstacle for Paul, however. Using his technical acumen he spent a number of days determing how the programme worked and using his scripting skills made it work with JAWS.
When Integr8 employed him, he says, life got even easier because he was given a PAC Mate Omni – a portable computer with built-in JAWS which provides speech or Braille access and allows blind or visually impaired users to access most of the programmes sighted users do.
“It acts as computer’s keyboard and has a Braille display so can work in Braille and in silence, says Paul, so I can listen to what others are saying or teach them. The Braille displays lets me work like everyone else, and with the use of scripts I started doing more and more at Bayport.”
Paul gets up at 4am to take a bus to work at 5am. He has trouble with busses either running late, or not at all, or drivers threatening to throw him off because of Todd, his guide dog. “It’s a struggle,” he says, “but it’s not impossible.”
Integr8 technical services manager Thiaan van der Walt says that while the company treats him exactly the same as every other employee as far as is possible, it has to make allowances too, and is lenient when he is late or has to leave early because of transport problems.
“I am currently running a trial with him working from home on Mondays and Fridays, and extended this to Wednesdays as well at the beginning of the month. This has been hugely successful,” says Thiaan.
Thiaan also ensures Todd (Paul’s guide dog) is bathed and checked once a month and takes Todd’s bed from work home to wash and dry it.
“The truth is that I simply listen to Paul and what he wants like all other employees and try to accommodate him that way,” Thiaan says. “Most of his requests and concerns are around ways he can add more value to the team, so it is easy to work with him on that.”
For Paul, being able to work from home is another dream come true. “I can do the job whereaver I am with remote assistance, PAC Mate and JAWS. I may not be able to work on the hardware of a machine but I’m doing a course to learn how to do that based on feel so I can be a fully functional first level technician, which is what I want to be. Millions of blind people would love to do what I do but are never given the chance,” he comments.
Integr8’s HR policy stipulates that equal opportunity and dignity at work be achieved for disabled people. Integr8’s team has achieved that and more for Paul, and he’s hoping the company will employ others like Paul, who have the determination and drive to succeed, and who are just desperate for a chance to prove they can do the job just as well as anyone else.
Integr8 is an ICT infrastructure management and managed services company, with offices nationwide. Founded in 2001 by Rob Sussman and Lance Fanaroff, current co-CEOs, the company specialises in providing vendor-agnostic IT solutions and managed IT services to many of South Africa’s leading organisations. In February 2013 Integr8 IT (Pty) Ltd was acquired by Business Connexion Group (BCG) in a R126m cash transaction.
Integr8 is the founder and operator of the only South African based Nerve Centre®, a hub of technology, skill and process, that is used to support and regulate its customers ICT environments. The company is a level 4 BBBEE contributor.
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