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Workplace Profiles

A Tale of Two Employers

Cheri H. using Captioned Telephone (or CapTel for short) that provides word-for-word captions of telephone conversations.


Cheri H. has a significant hearing loss and chronic Diabetes. She is currently employed as the Distance Learning Coordinator and an Information Specialist for the Disability and Business Technical Assistance Center: Southeast ADA Center (Southeast DBTAC).

First Employer: Civil Service at an United States Air Force Base

Cheri H. worked in a Civil Service position for the United States Air Force for 16 years. She started with Civil Service in 1976 in a program that required being a person with a disability, so her disability was already disclosed. During this time she received “Handicap Employee of the Year”, “Civilian Administrator of the Year” and numerous other recognitions as well as “Sustained Superior Performer” – consecutively for 13 years. For these 13 years, she never needed or asked for any Reasonable Accommodations but that changed in her 14th year on the job.

“In my 14th year of Civil Service, my job had additional duties that required me to be able to assist clients while others were on break and to answer phones. I asked for Reasonable Accommodations and was denied. I asked for a mirror to be placed where I could see the door opening when clients came in, a head set for the telephone with amplification, and to re-position my desk to also have a better view of the front door. They refused the mirror, saying it would be a distraction to the other paralegals; they said to reposition my desk would cause the entire area to have to be changed; and they said they ordered a head set, but it never came.

“One day they brought a phone with a volume device and said to use it. It was not effective, and I got written up for not taking messages correctly. I was placed on ‘physically restricted status’ and the chances for upward mobility were limited, if any. I left Civil Service at that Air Force Base because of this. Once I moved to another area, I tried to get back into Civil Service and was not able to.

“I learned a lot from that experience and have always said, ‘If I knew then, what I know now—it would have never happened that way.’ I am thankful today for Vocational Rehabilitation, the Center for Independent Living (CIL), and the Southeast DBTAC.”

Second Employer: The Southeast DBTAC

“In 2000 I became a local Affiliate with the Southeast DBTAC while working as an Advocacy Outreach Coordinator for the Center for Independent Living (CIL) of Northwest Florida, Inc. I gained greater knowledge of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as well as the other federal laws such as Fair Housing Act and the Department of Transportation and EEOC regulations. In 2002, I became a Training Team Member for the Southeast DBTAC, and in 2003, I moved to Atlanta, Georgia to work full time for the Southeast DBTAC as the Training Manager and an Information Specialist, providing technical assistance and helping with training in the eight states of the Southeast Region. I also became the Lead Moderator for the Basic ADA online webcourse.

“After Hurricane Ivan in 2005, I moved back to Florida and returned to work for the CIL where I operated a full-time Assistive Technology Demonstration Center and Assistive Technology Loan Program. During this time I continued to work part-time as a contract worker for the Southeast DBTAC, providing ADA Technical Assistance for the Southeast region. In 2008, I returned to work full-time with the Southeast DBTAC as Distance Learning Coordinator/Information Specialist while maintaining my residence in Florida.”

Asked if she had requested any reasonable accommodations from the Southeast DBTAC, Cheri said that she requested, and received, interpreters for conferences and large meetings and real time closed captioning on audioconferences. Cheri also uses a CapTel telephone. “The nice part about my phone is it was not purchased. It is part of a program that is offered across the United States through the Federal Telecommunications Relay Service. Before getting the CapTel, I needed special headsets for telephones that cost under $100, and I still use an amplified headset for webinars that costs under $50.”

Her final words on the subject: “I am fortunate to work for an organization that has direct experience with people with disabilities. It has never been a problem with requesting reasonable accommodations. My employers understand the extent of my hearing loss and are great about effective communication and making sure I understand my duties.”

What is Captel?

Captioned Telephone (or CapTel for short) is a telephone technology that allows people to receive word-for-word captions of their telephone conversations. It is similar in concept to Captioned Television, where spoken words appear as written text for viewers to read. The CapTel phone looks and works like any traditional phone, with callers talking and listening to each other, but with one very significant difference: Captions are provided live for every phone call. The captions are displayed on the phone's built-in screen so the user can read the words while listening to the voice of the other party. If the CapTel phone user has difficulty hearing what the caller says, he can read the captions for clarification.

Source: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) on Captel (

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