29 April 2022 – On this Labor Day 2022, dtac celebrates labor rights with this uplifting story of our visually impaired customer service agents. The story highlights our efforts to promote our employee wellbeing and to foster the culture of human rights, diversity and inclusion, and equal opportunity across the organization.
Many people have a prejudice that people who are blind are less effective as employees. This bias leads employers to not hire blind and visually impaired people, or not compensate them at the same level as sighted employees. But, with reading assistance programs and other accessibility tools, people who are blind can operate computers, and work in much the same way as sighted people.
“Customers never even know that we can’t see,” said Soipet Jitplueang, a dtac call center employee. She is one of 15 blind employees at dtac, and one of five who have been with the company since it opened employment opportunities for candidates who are blind and partially sighted in 2015.
There are approximately two million people with disabilities living in Thailand, of whom 8.92% are blind or partially sighted. Few have the same educational, employment and economic opportunities as those without disabilities. https://dep.go.th/images/uploads/files/Situation_dep64.pdf
After graduating with a degree in political science, Soipet spent many months looking for work. Eventually, she took an exam to work at dtac and became the top candidate over 50 others who had applied for the job.
She started out working on inbound calls, providing information in response to customer enquiries. She was then assigned to work on outbound calls, reaching out to customers in the three southern Thai provinces. She encourages relatively inactive prepaid customers to consider SIM registration, or to top-up using promotional packages with additional benefits.
“I remember how excited I was to have the chance to talk with customers,” she recalled of her first days on the job. “Working on a variety of tasks increases our skills and makes it fun to work.” She paid particular attention to the customers’ tone of voice to ascertain who was open to talking, and who was not.
Soipet recalled wanting to learn fast and catch up with sighted colleagues as quickly as possible. “There were challenges, but I think that everyone needs to adjust. It’s a life experience,” she said.
Seven years into her job at dtac, Soipet is happy. “I always repeat to myself that we are fortunate to have a job at dtac, to earn a good salary and equal benefits as sighted people and also get pay raises and bonuses, including incentives every three months,” she said. “Over the Covid-19 pandemic, we were allowed to take the company desktop computer in order to work from home and, at the end of 2021, these were replaced with notebook computers that were easy to transport without needing to take taxis.”
Soipet said that the culture at dtac also contributes to her personal growth. “Having a good working environment, good teamwork and a boss who says ‘you can do it’ really widens my opportunities, develops new skills and helps me evaluate myself and do good work.”
She observed that people who are blind still do not receive meaningful opportunities to work. Many times, the non-inclusive regulations of various industries, including in the public sector, mean that those who do manage to get jobs are assigned limited tasks, such as transcribing meeting minutes.
“Although we cannot see, we have many accessibility tools that help us work. Many of these accessibility tools are available for free download, and do not add further costs to the employer. We are now taking on a variety of jobs, such as computer programming. AI training enables us to have more opportunities to reach our potential. From what I’ve gathered from discussions with friends, these opportunities are largely available in telecom groups and banks,” she said.
Amphol Intharapue, another dtac call center employee since 2015, said that he was a Happy Dprompt customer when he was a child. After graduating, he got his first job at dtac, and is very happy to continue working there for the forseeable future.
“dtac provides an equal salary, welfare benefits, unmatched job opportunities, a good culture, flexible working hours in line with employee lifestyles and professional development through new skills. I admire dtac for giving us a chance and not closing opportunities for people with disabilities,” he said.
As a call center employee, his work is no different from other employees who have to be mindful of the customers’ mindset and mood, and patiently try and solve their problems. “The economy now is not good and selling package promotions is quite difficult, but we look into customer calling behavior and the amount they spend and then present a promotion that is beneficial for that person,” he said. “We are encouraged when customers want to listen to us, and we use criticism for improvement.”
dtac currently has an AI system to assist staff who are blind. The PPA Tatip program can read messages and information out loud, provide data about customer requirements and identify packages that respond to customer needs. Amphol believes that this “makes us work more efficiently, freeing up more time to listen deeply to what our customers’ needs are.”
“Sadly, in many organizations, opportunities are very slow to open up for people who are blind,” he said. “But blindness is not an obstacle. It can open people’s hearts and minds into giving us a chance and not just assuming that we cannot do things. Besides, organizations that employ us also get corporate tax reductions.”
Teeraphong Phisitsmornchai has worked at dtac since 2016. Born sighted, Teeraphong lost the ability to see during high school. Disappointed and overwhelmed with the change, he withdrew from social life for seven years. Eventually, he opened himself up, began adapting and completed his education. After graduation, he opened a massage parlor, but had to close it down during flooding. When a position opened up at dtac, he jumped at the opportunity to partner with colleagues and managers, learn to communicate with clients and serve as a consultant to solve customer problems.
“We’ve heard that in many companies, supervisors do not give pay raises to those with visual disabilities, while sighted colleagues continue to grow. Over time, this effectively lowers the salaries of people with visual impairments to below average. We hope to see more opportunities in large organizations for people with disabilities. People who are blind have many strengths. We have good concentration and can learn quickly. Let’s just open up, train them and give them the same employment opportunities as everyone else,” he said.
For Teeraphong, working at dtac does much more than provide a better income and professional development opportunities. “It gives us confidence that we can work as well as anybody else, and a sense of belonging when we laugh together with the team and achieve our goals.”