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November 14, 2003

Verizon center helps special-needs customers

From: Albuquerque Tribune, NM - Nov 14, 2003

Scripps-McClatchy Western Service

OXNARD, Calif. - Verizon Communications has opened its first West Coast office designed specifically to provide disabled customers access to the latest telecommunications technology.

The Center for Customers with Disabilities in Oxnard, initially will serve customers in California, but plans are to expand services over the next two years to help customers in Washington, Florida, Texas, Ohio, Missouri, Nevada and Hawaii, said Kerry Leatherman, Verizon section manager.

Verizon has operated a similar center in Marlboro, Mass., for 10 years to help people who have hearing, vision, cognitive, speech and mobility disabilities.

"Some 1.9 million customers across Verizon's (nationwide coverage area) need some kind of assistive technology," Leatherman said. "With this new center, we can reach out to those customers in our area."

The Oxnard office has been open less than a month, but already it is getting hundreds of calls a day from customers interested in obtaining adaptive equipment and services, said Aldo Cecena, the Oxnard center's so-called team coach who helps train the center's 10 staff consultants.

As the center expands to cover other states, another 40 to 50 employees will be added, Cecena said.

Staff members, some of whom speak Spanish, are trained to discuss the optional telephone services and discounts available, as well as recommend the special equipment some customers might find helpful.

Verizon, for example, offers discounts for customers who use text telephones, and some customers might qualify for a second phone line at a reduced rate. Verizon also provides phone bills in large print or Braille.

The company offers adaptive equipment such as a portable high-frequency amplifier that helps make words clearer and not louder for persons with high-frequency hearing loss; an in-line, extra-loud ringer; portable teletype machines that are compatible with many cellular or cordless phones; and a so-called speak-and-then-read phone that enables deaf or hearing-impaired people to read a caller's responses on a built-in screen.

There also is a visual ring signaler that makes the lamp flash when a call is received, an amplified telephone with jumbo-sized buttons and Braille characters, and a voice caller-ID unit that announces over a speaker a caller's 10-digit phone number or a recorded name.

The center's employees are encouraged to take equipment home to become familiar with the technology, Cecena said.

In addition, some Verizon customers might qualify for free equipment distributed by the state under the Deaf and Disabled Telecommunications Program, administered by the Public Utilities Commission.

On the Net: Verizon Center for Customers with Disabilities:

© The Albuquerque Tribune.