Surviving Downsizing
by Dana Nichols
Madison, Alabama

"This is not good news," a co-worker said as we sat in a large conference room at the Delta Airlines call center with a group of other reservation agents. A man in a suit and tie strode into the room, faced us, and said abruptly, "The office is going to close."

Reactions varied from gasps and tears to anger. My first thought was, "Here we go again," thinking of the long process of finding a new job.

Delta was generous in the help they gave us. The options included transfers to other call centers, severance with temporary benefits and COBRA, early retirement, and a furlough, a period as an "inactive employee," unpaid, but long enough to allow older employees to eventually retire from the company with full benefits.

After the initial shock had worn off, I made a list of the jobs I had done previously, and the skills acquired both on and off the job. Then I began listing jobs using those skills, avoiding anything requiring going back to school.

My brief time as a medical transcriptionist was my first thought. With a brush-up on terminology, and current software, a job with an independent transcription service was a possibility.

A teaching job was another possibility. My certificate had lapsed, but tutoring at a commercial service or teaching continuing education classes were possibilities.

My experience in the travel industry might even be useful; I might be able to work at another travel agency. My telephone skills handling multiple phone lines would be useful in a switchboard or call center job.

Then I made a list of all the companies or agencies I knew of that might have such jobs. The list ranged from the military travel agency to local colleges. At this point I stopped, unsure which way to head.

Networking has always been recommended as a job-hunting tool, and rather quickly, my "network" took shape. People would ask about the center closing, about the travel industry, or about the airlines. The conversations all veered into, "What are your plans? Why don't you apply at _?" or "I've heard this or that company is hiring. Why not apply there?"

A blind co-worker recommended going through the state blindness rehabilitation service. I called and asked for help making contacts or just finding the name of the right person at human resources in the various companies on my list.

My employer helped the cause by having employment counselors give workshops on résumé writing and interviewing skills. They held weekly job fairs, with local colleges or technical schools giving information about retraining, and various employers in other similar call center environments. A federal call center for some nameless agency was there, as were some telemarketing companies, travel agencies and medical records companies.

One day representatives from Verizon Wireless were there. Their huge call center was hiring several hundred new agents. Like most employers who came to these job fairs, they said, "We're not taking résumés. Apply online at our company site or through"

I had heard of dreadful name for a Web site, but it is a useful site in that it features job-hunting tips, resume guides and job postings. I filled out the screen reader-friendly application and pressed "Submit."

A week later, I received a call for an interview. Verizon seemed to be a company with its reasonable accommodation already in place. A dozen or so visually impaired employees already work in other offices. So, it worked out that before one job ended, I had found another. The transition was smooth.

The reasonable accommodation, however, turned out to be haphazard and less than accommodating. The braille display was the only hardware provided and the speech was JAWS 7. As at Delta, the adaptive software had problems keeping up with the main computer from which all agents pulled information. Some screens required input with entries that were a hybrid of Internet Explorer and Word. Other screens were inaccessible, being in PDF or PowerPoint formats. Others were navigation horrors, being columns that JAWS read straight across, requiring mental gymnastics and reading the braille display, all while chatting with the customer. Unlike Delta, there were not help desk coordinators to turn to for assistance. Like all call centers, there was a script, with canned remarks required to be recited in a specific order without sounding memorized.

Deciding the numbers on the paycheck didn't warrant such effort and stress, I resigned. So, here I am--a job seeker again. It will take networking, rehab assistance and the newly-acquired Internet job-hunting techniques I have learned. What I would suggest to others caught in the downsizing trend is to re-examine your skills, ask for help, be open to any suggestion, be flexible and try new techniques for getting a job. You never know when this combination will land the perfect job, so don't settle for just any job. Taking my own advice, I have a date tonight with


Your Accessibility Is Extremely Important to Us: A Look at the Usability of Technology at Call Centers, AccessWorld, January 2008, 

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