David Mills was the family breadwinner for many years until his diabetes took a toll on his sight.
In 2006, Mills lost his job as a truck driver following a botched surgery to save his right eye after a vitreous hemorrhage, a diabetic condition in which vessels grow in the retina area and cause the eye to bleed. In the end, the surgery left him blind in both eyes, unable to return back to work.
Luckily, there was Arise, a home-based working company, which gives people with disabilities an opportunity to earn a living, working from home as customer care representatives.
Arise supports the concept of “homeshoring,” an outsourcing customer care program, which pairs representatives working from out of home-offices, particularly for individuals with disabilities like David Mills, with companies in need of employees. In fact, the number of work-at-home individuals is expected to increase from the current figure of 47,000 to 224,000 by 2012, according to Datamonitor.
The program is one of many in the U.S., giving people the opportunity to enter the workforce if they are disabled. Currently, the poverty rate for people with disabilities is 28 percent and only 32 percent of Americans with disabilities, aged 18 to 64, are employed, according to the National Organization on Disability.
David Mills first heard about the home-based working program during his rehabilitation at the Foundation for Blind Children, which also helps visually impaired adults learn to adjust to this major life change.
There, he learned how to do all the basics again, including: laundry, getting dressed, general mobility and training in braille. He even got some computer training.
At first, David didn’t know what he was going to do once he returned home. For months the couple struggled with his wife Wanda working and commuting up to an hour and a half each way and coming home to cook and take care of their four teenage children. If he needed to go to a doctor’s appointment, they would have to pay for cab fare, and the cab service could sometimes take up to three hours each way.
Some potential jobs for Mills in Phoenix really didn’t fit, like one that required a two-hour drive across town each day for $7 an hour, which was not financially feasible for the family. He could not drive anymore as well.
But he had training in computers and decided to enter the Arise program that he heard about during his rehabilitation. He quickly picked up his first client, Home Depot, as one of their customer care representatives.
“At first, I thought it was not viable,” he said, “but as I moved into it, I was amazed. I was hooked. I was on the Web site reading some of the client lists and applied. I found out that even with a disability, I can work with clients. When people call, they don’t know that I am working from home, and two, they don’t know that I am disabled.”
Today, Wanda Mills works alongside her husband David at home as a customer care representative through Arise. The extra costs of transportation to her old job are gone, and she can now be home to cook and be a mom to their teenage kids, aged 19, 16, 15 and 13 and help her husband. They sometimes go back and forth between clients, particularly is he is working with a client who works with chat customer care. Wanda will read, and David will respond.
The couple each work 35 to 45 hours per week. David said that the flexibility of the hours really allows them to go to doctor’s appointments and even go to church, something David couldn’t do when he was driving trucks. Working for Arise has also helped Wanda Mills, who is currently back in school getting her Master’s in junior high school education and should graduate by next December.
“I used to tell people, short of getting cancer and ensured or impending death facing you, going blind is the next worse thing you can go through,” said Wanda Mills. “It’s devastating for me in a lot of different areas. He lost his income, lost his job right away. I had to become the breadwinner in the family. I had to manage the health, along with the kids and everything else. When he got hired by Arise, it was a turning point for us. It was the light that we needed to see.”
Wanda Mills added, "We’re not wealthy, just regular working people. It was a huge lifestyle change and set back for all of us, emotionally. When my daughters realized that David would never see guys they married or never see grandchildren, that’s hard. There’s so much to it. There was this window of time where we were like, ‘what are we going to do?’
David Mills, who is 45-years-old now, said that it is a still a major life adjustment, but he’s still moving forward. “It affects everything you do,” he said, “ but I still have my ears, my mouth, my hands and my feet, every other ability that people have. I am very blessed.”