Midwest City, Okla. – Vision issues were the biggest barrier to employment for Christi Evans until she joined a support group hosted by Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired on Zoom.
Evans also has rheumatoid arthritis and Sjogren’s Syndrome, an autoimmune disease which causes dry eyes and mouth.
Ani Severtsen and Debra Mendez, two SBVI rehabilitation of the blind specialists, hosted the support group Evans attended.
“Our division administrator Tracy (Brigham) asked us to continue providing services online by Zoom and telephone to share information and encourage clients when we temporarily closed offices due to COVID-19,” Severtsen, who is blind, explained.
Brigham is administrator for SBVI, a division of Oklahoma Rehabilitation Services.
“Our Zoom sessions combine everything to do with vision loss from employment and technology tips to marketing ourselves and how we can become a support system for each other,” Severtsen said.
SBVI Vocational Rehabilitation counselor Demetria Moore mentioned SYNQ3, a Colorado-based restaurant call center, as a possible employer to Evans, who has 25 years’ experience in customer service and office management.
Severtsen and Mendez reminded Evans to follow up during a Zoom session.
“It was cool. I applied online while I was still in the Zoom meeting, had a 15 minute interview, and in about one week, I was working again,” Evans said. “I’m glad it happened as quick as it did because I need the spending money for my grandkids and fixing up my house.”
SYNQ3 provided a laptop, training, technical support, software that works with Evan’s vision loss and a flexible schedule so she get to doctor’s appointments.
Her normal schedule is 15 to 20 hours per week from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m., but sometimes as late as 9 p.m.
“I was sitting home all day on the couch as it was, so now I can sit here,” Evans said gesturing toward her cozy desk, laptop and phone setup. “I really, really like it and enjoy talking to the people on the phone. I’m a people person. It’s my way to have fun, be sociable and carry on and be yourself.”
Evans first asked SBVI, formerly called Visual Services, about Ticket to Work, a return to employment program for people receiving Social Security Disability Insurance benefits.
She visited with DRS Benefits Planner Michelle Rudesill about the impact that part time employment would have on her Social Security benefits.
SBVI Vocational Rehabilitation counselor Demetria Moore provided career counseling and guidance, purchased adaptive equipment and referred Evans to Oklahoma Workforce and others on the SBVI team.
Severtsen trained Evans in specialized skills and provided equipment to help with vision loss, including a reader that identifies clothing colors and a Closed Circuit TV, which combines a camera and TV screen to enlarge printed text. Their goals were utilizing remaining vision, building confidence and becoming more independent in home management.
Orientation and Mobility Specialist Liz Scheffe helped Evans learn to use a white cane to navigate sidewalks and cross streets. Scheffe also provided specialty sunglasses to reduce glare.
Assistive Technology Specialist Magan Rowan instructed Evans on increasing the screen and font size with Windows 10 Magnifier to see her work more clearly without affecting the programs required for the job.
Evans also receives free audio books mailed by SBVI’s Oklahoma Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped.
“I’m so thrilled for each of you to share this success along with Christi,” Brigham emailed the SBVI team. “It’s been difficult at best over the past few months, and Christi’s success shows how much your commitment matters to people who meet their goals -- no matter what is going on out in the world.”
Christi Evans finishes one more cup of coffee at her desk before her afternoon shift begins.
She was born in Kimball, Nebraska and graduated from Del City High School, earned an associate’s degree in accounting from Oklahoma Junior College and certification as a medical billing coder from City College, which later merged with Platt College.
Evans’ fiancé John Kitchen from Harlow, United Kingdom plans to move to the U.S. next year. She also remains close to her daughter, son, step-daughter, seven grandchildren and one great-granddaughter.
Her advice for new customer service representatives is simple: “Listen and stay calm.”
For jobseekers with disabilities, she strongly recommends Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired.
“If you have any kind of issue like low vision or hearing issues, try DRS first,” Evans said. “Let them know what’s going on and find out what they can help with just like they did with me.”
DRS also has a second employment division, Vocational Rehabilitation, which serves jobseekers who have non-visual disabilities.
For more information, visit http://www.okdrs.org/job-seekers/sbvi or phone 800-487-4042 during business hours to be transferred to the office nearest to you.