This Memorial Day, a group of blind and deaf veterans is calling on Americans to take notice.
Veterans Workshop, a charity that provides programs for veterans with disabilities, trains blind vets to make phone calls for deaf vets. The organization is spreading the word about its "relay system" on Memorial Day by making two important phone calls.
Veterans Workshop, based in both Washington, D.C., and Rhode Island, will call President Obama and GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney on the phone on Monday. The organization does not have a political message but aims to increase awareness of veterans with these disabilities -- specifically those who are blind. The VA reports there are about 158,000 veterans who are blind or visually impaired living in the U.S.
"Our message to Obama and Romney is that there's such a thing as this blind-deaf relay technology, and we think you should be proud of this service using this technology developed in U.S.," Ken Smith, a trainer for the charity, told the HuffPost. "And we want you to remember us this Memorial Day."
Many of these injuries are a result of improvised explosive devices (IEDs), or roadside bombs, which have caused a disproportionate number of eye and ear injuries, explains Smith, 60, a Vietnam War veteran himself.
With the aim of providing jobs specifically for blind veterans, Veterans Workshop created the relay system to operate within a Google+ "group hangout" chartroom. Google Voice reads the deaf veteran's online chat to the blind veteran, after which the blind veteran makes the phone call -- anything from calling about VA benefits to ordering a pizza.
"We're fairly smart on technology," Smith said. "We're not Bill Gates and we're not Steve Jobs, but we're always looking for ways that tech can help those wounded in combat."
Veterans who are blind face a tougher time with employment than veterans who are deaf, as blindness is more difficult to accomodate, Smith explained.
"Historically, if you are a blind combat veteran, you sold candy bars at the post office," he said. "The difference between using a veteran to do this work and a non-vet is hard to explain unless you're a vet. I can say I have a combat wound...and they're not going to cringe and wince."
The Veterans Workshop is publicly funded and offers programs for veterans who are blind, deaf and have spinal injuries. For the relay program specifically, the charity offers 30 minutes of training to a blind vet for every $20 donated.
Learn more about the Veterans Workshop here.
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