Planners hope the seminar will give employers ideas for hiring disabled people.
By CYNTHIA VINARSKY
VINDICATOR BUSINESS WRITER
BOARDMAN -- Justin Daubenmire landed a technical support position at Cboss Community Network because he was able to do the work, even though he is blind.
Now the 29-year-old Boardman man is turning his blindness into an asset for Cboss by making sure the company's Web site designs are accessible to others who are visually impaired.
Technology has made it possible for Daubenmire to man the phones for the Internet service provider, answering customers' questions and trouble-shooting problems with the help of a software program that reads the computer screen aloud.
But the Austintown native has more than just technical know-how. Rob Horner, his supervisor at Cboss, said he has the friendly, ever-so-patient personality that enables him to work well with people.
"Most people you see have the technical knowledge but they don't have the personality," Horner said. "It's hard to find that combination."
Workshop planned: Daubenmire's success story at Cboss will be a linchpin of an all-day workshop on the Americans with Disabilities Act the Mahoning Valley Labor Management Council will offer Saturday at the Holiday Inn in Boardman.
A federal law in effect since 1990, the ADA makes it unlawful to discriminate in the workplace against a qualified person with a disability.
Robert Faulkner, who took over as the council's executive director just five months ago, said he decided to make the ADA seminar a priority, even though the subject isn't always popular among business owners.
"A lot of times people look at the ADA from the legal standpoint. They think it's going to cost them a ton of money," he said.
"I just decided I'm ready to stick my neck out. We want employers to know there are ways to make it comfortable for people who have physical disabilities to contribute to the work force."
Underused segment: Faulkner, who also serves as vice president of work-force development for the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber of Commerce, said the workshop will encourage employers to tap an underused segment of the available work force -- the pool of qualified, educated workers with disabilities.
A longtime member of the Warren Board of Education, he said he's been impressed with the way mainstreaming of disabled students works in a school setting.
"I've seen it work in the schools; why can't we do it in the workplace?" he said.
Working at home is one solution that Faulkner expects to see discussed at the seminar.
Transportation and building access can be problems for people with disabilities, he said, but working from home eliminates those obstacles.
With a computer, a phone and a fax machine, a qualified disabled worker could provide many services for a business without leaving the house. Although the employee might need some adaptive equipment or software, Faulkner said, those costs can be moderate and well worth the expense.
The computer software Daubenmire uses, for example, was priced in the $500 to $700 range. He also uses an optical money reader, a device that reads paper money when customers pay their bills in cash.
Helping out: Colleagues at Cboss have been able to help him make other modifications to his computer and telephone at little or no cost, he said.
An Austintown native, Daubenmire became a diabetic at age 5. A diabetes-related complication caused him to lose his sight when he was 17. After graduating from Austintown Fitch High School in 1990, he took some time pursuing a musical career as a studio musician composing, writing and performing his own music.
"I finally realized that I wanted to be a family man, I wanted a wife and children, and the music world wasn't going to give me that," he said.
Daubenmire spent two years pursuing a degree in social work at Youngstown State University, then changed his major to computer information systems because he thought he'd have a better chance of finding work in that field.
When he completed his associate degree in the spring of 2000 he was confident that he'd chosen a "hot career" and would be hired quickly. He was wrong.
Closed doors: Daubenmire said he had several interviews locally and in most cases he was well-qualified for the positions. The doors kept closing.
"I was very angry. I had the professional skills to do the work," he said. "Nobody said anything, of course, but I knew that the businesses I interviewed with weren't flexible enough. They didn't want to fool with a blind person. It was so much easier to go with someone sighted."
Finally, after a four-month job search, Daubenmire found his position at Cboss. He has nothing but praise for his employer and co-workers. "Cboss has been a gem," he said, "and everybody here has taken me under their wing."
His professional goal is to be a computer programmer at Cboss, and he said co-workers are giving him plenty of on-the-job training. He recently designed an online registration for a company seminar, his first programming project for Cboss.
Daubenmire also has been able to help programmers design handicapped accessible Web sites that will function with computer screen readers like the one he uses, a requirement that is becoming more important for government-run sites especially.
Marketing at home: At home he's established his own e-commerce Web site, where he's marketing a day-planner for the blind. Daubenmire said he's had customers as far away as Australia and England, and he plans to add more products.
He's on his way toward meeting his personal goal as a family man, as well. He and his wife, Judy, a licensed counselor, are expecting their first child.