Opportunity Development Centers

  • Offers expanded variety of jobs to visually impaired
  • Easy to use
  • Transparent to user
  • Data accuracy ensured for sight impaired learning disabled individuals

Enriching the lives of people with disabilities by providing meaningful employment choices is the mission of the Opportunity Development Centers, Inc. The Opportunity Development Centers, Inc. (ODC), with offices in Wisconsin Rapids and Marshfield, Wisconsin, is a not-for-profit organization which provides vocational services to adults with disabilities. The services offered by ODC are funded by the revenue generated from their contracts with area businesses and from grants and donations. ODC is the second largest employer in Wisconsin Rapids, employing approximately 300 people. ODC has an integrated work force of disabled and non-disabled individuals. They also provide their work force with job placement assistance and employment choices in the community.

One of ODC’s specialty areas, the Ship Shop Bulk Mail and Fulfillment area, completes mailing and fulfillment services to over 200 businesses. Most of the business is local but they do have customers as far away as Colorado.

Within the fulfillment area, orders for catalogs, price lists, catalog sheets and other sales literature are requested by customers on a daily basis. The ODC employees then calculate the number of items to be distributed by weighing the items. Additionally, within the retail paper packaging area, employees weigh quantities of paper to be shrink wrapped and distributed to stores for the paper companies.

The Talking Scale

In order to provide access to a greater variety of jobs for employees with visual impairments, learning disabilities and cognitive disorders, ODC developed a “talking scale” system to expand the opportunities in their Ship Shop. The talking scale offers visual and audible readouts that make it possible for visually impaired employees to accurately weigh materials for packaging.

The talking scale system utilizes a Detecto 2235-20 Counting Scale with RS232 output, manufactured by McMaster, Chicago, IL. The scale is connected via serial cable to a Toshiba Notebook with 16 megs of RAM and a PCMCIA serial adapter. The weight and count readings from the scale are transferred to Notepad for display using WinWedge Standard from TAL Technologies, Inc. (800-722-6004, http://www.www.taltech.com). WinWedge simulates keyboard input and automates the data entry from the scale. The scale data is audiblized by two software programs, Dectalk Express and WindowEyes, programs designed for the visually impaired by GW Micro, Fort Wayne IN.

The scale operator wears headphones to hear a voice output of the number registering on the scale, enabling the operator to adjust the weight accordingly.

Bill Pickett, 37, Wisconsin Rapids, blind since the age of 21, is the first ODC employee to be trained on the scale. He has worked for ODC since 1991. To perform retail packaging for Wausau Papers, Pickett uses an adjustable “spoon” to remove a stack of paper from a bulk pile and place it on the scale. Guided by the scale’s “voice”, he is able to quickly add or remove the appropriate number of sheets of paper before adding a cover sheet and sending it on its way on a conveyer belt. Pickett said he typically handles 438 packages in a four-hour shift and previously performed mainly assembly work.

“I like doing the scaling,” he said. “It’s a little more challenging.”

The system was developed by an ODC volunteer who requested anonymity, said Carol Ulrich, vice president of program services, who assisted with the development of the system. Funding for the equipment came from a grant from the Wisconsin Knights of Columbus.

ODC plans to adapt more of its equipment to offer its employees more job variety and skills training. ODC hopes that other organizations can implement similar talking scale systems to broaden opportunities for visually impaired employees.

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