Seven blind people were hired this month to join the City of Dallas’ 311 hotline group. The development is part of the three-year contract between Envision Dallas and the city council to hire blind and partially blind people to answer municipal court calls.
Envision is a nonprofit that helps blind people find jobs.
“Everything we do here is about creating jobs,” said the director of Envision Dallas, David Stupay. “When you meet someone, the first thing you ask is, ‘What do you do for a living?’ because it’s a vital part of who we are, and not being able to answer that question can make you feel bad.”
Stupay further explained that in addition to creating jobs, Envision also creates “an environment in which blind or partially blind people come in and get jobs, feel satisfied, get compensation, and build relationships and friendships.”
As stipulated in the contract, the seven employees will work from Envision offices. Over the course of several weeks, they were trained by the City, taught how to handle the calls, and shown the ropes of the municipal courts and its specific terms.
The contract requires that all seven newly-hired operators handle about 70% of around 11,000 calls that go through the municipal court each month.
The 311 line provides access to non-emergency municipal services such as routine inquiries and non-urgent community concerns. Data from the City of Dallas shows that most 311 calls revolve around homelessness, city code violations, water disconnections, and issues with garbage collection.
Three new hires are bilingual and will earn $15.21 per hour to answer English and Spanish calls.
One of them is 29-year-old Esmeralda Paugh, who has been partially blind since she was 1 year old. She was diagnosed with congenital glaucoma, a disease that damages the cornea and causes permanent blindness if not treated in time.
Paugh graduated from Bryan Adams High School in 2011 and earned an Associate of Arts degree from Dallas Eastfield College in 2015.
She discovered Envision while in school but wanted to get her degree first. After graduating from college, Paugh worked at the nonprofit for a few years, after which she took a break to focus on her family. Now, she is back as a call center operator.
Paugh hopes this opportunity will open doors for more people like her to have access to any job.
“There’s no reason why we shouldn’t be given a chance,” she said. “Companies or individuals cannot let visual impairment or blindness be an excuse not to hire people. Let it be because of poor attendance or because of transportation issues, or anything, but not because of being blind. That’s not an excuse to not allow someone to work.”
311 line director Janette Weedon told The Dallas Morning News that the team has had difficulty hiring bilingual workers since the pandemic.
With Paugh and the other two bilingual recruits, the line can now take more calls in Spanish and “help the city serve citizens more effectively,” she said.