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Tolling Points

Illinois Tollway Brings Jobs Home for Blind Employees, Veterans

By: 
Bill Cramer

The Illinois Tollway is getting high marks for its decision to bring its call center contract back to the state—and to locate it at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where half of the 244 jobs go to people who are either blind or veterans.

The Chicago Sun-Times told the story of the Tollway’s five-year, $61-million contract with the Chicago Lighthouse for People Who are Blind or Visually Impaired. “There is something unexpected about the call center itself,” wrote columnist Neil Steinberg. “First, that it’s new. It opened on Nov. 1, 2013, and in Chicago, not Mumbai, or in Texas, where some customer calls to the Illinois Tollway used to go,” he noted. And second, that Tollway trustees “decided not only to keep the work in-state, but to spread some of it to the disabled.”

Creating the right jobs in the community is “just as important as building the roads,” said Tollway Authority Chair Paula Wolff. “More important sometimes.” Chicago Lighthouse President Janet Szlyk said she was initially “amazed the tollway board was so enlightened.”

The column profiles one call center worker who retired from the U.S. Marine Corps on disability, another whose eyesight was damaged by albinism, and a third who developed toxoplasmosis as a baby due to radiation from the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in Ukraine. Other employers “weren’t as accommodating, weren’t really as understanding,” said Marcin Okreglak, who was born in Poland in 1987. “You would tell them you were visually impaired, and they would take it you can’t see.”

The Chicago Lighthouse contract makes the Illinois Tollway a great example of an organization that takes corporate responsibility far beyond the photo op, creating partnerships that deliver lasting benefits across the community.

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