Riskon in the News

April 4, 2002
“Enabling Disabled Workers”
by Jessica Rappaport, Tech Live

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Tech helps people with impaired vision overcome barriers in the workplace.

Barry Honig walks a mile and a half to his executive search company in Tenafly, New Jersey, every morning with his dog, Starks. Across the water in New York City, Annela Soran travels to her job as a recruiter. As "Tech Live" reports, although these two individuals' paths do not cross, they share something unique.

Both Honig and Soran are visually impaired, but they have not let their disability impede them. They both have helped others with disabilities find jobs, with the help of tech.

Assistive technology devices have leveled the playing field for people with disabilities, allowing them to perform alongside non-disabled people in the workplace. Nevertheless, according to a US Census report released earlier this year, only 30 percent of visually impaired people work.

"I can remember many times on interviews, myself, I would interject and say, By the way, I know you haven't asked me, but you are probably wondering, how are you going to do this job?' And I go ahead and tell them," said Honig, who founded recruitment firm Riskon.

Honig counsels people on how to use technology as a barrier-breaker in the workforce. When interviewing for a job, he would list all the tools he uses. He was able to convince employers of his ability to do the job.

Honig has been trained in a variety of assistive programs:

  • OpenBook Ruby is an optical character recognition program used with a scanner to digitize print materials for reading via a Braille display or speech. 
  • ZoomText Xtra and MAGic are screen magnification programs. 
  • Jaws for Windows is a screen reader. 
  • Window-Eyes and outSpoken for Macs are screen readers used for accessing computers with Braille displays.

Soran works for Just One Break, the oldest non-profit agency in the country. Last year it helped place approximately 200 disabled people in jobs ranging from IT to hospitality.

Soran has limited vision and uses ZoomText Xtra, which enlarges text on the computer screen. Her company bought her the software she needs to do her job.   She counsels her applicants, as well as her employer clients.

"Your impairment has nothing to do with the kind of position that you are looking for -- except of course if you want to be a brain surgeon. I would try to talk you out of that," Soran joked.

Most of her applicants come in knowing how to use a lot of the latest assistive tech tools. But even if an applicant is not tech savvy, Soran helps connect the person to a training program.

In a tough economy, selling employers on assistive technologies for disabled workers isn't easy. Just One Break helps find funding for these tools through agencies like the NYS Commission for the Blind and Visually Handicapped. So, employers don't have to use cost as a reason to not hire an employee.

Honig, a former Wall Street consultant, said financial firms only care about the bottom line.   "It's an environment, while driven by dollars, that's actually beneficial if somebody has skills that they can bring to the table irrespective of disability," he said.   Both Honig and Soran said people with any type of disability work harder to make sure they do the job right.

"I think someone with a disability has the motivation to work twice as hard to just prove that they can be average," Soran said. "But usually they will come out much better than average, because they try harder and because they are dedicated."