Blind World Magazine

Company gives blind their independence.

Metro Toronto, Canada.
Tuesday, February 21, 2006.

Sharlyn Ayotte lost her vision 30 years ago and discovered a gap in servicing blind consumers. Today, as CEO of T-BASE Communications, she now providing documents in alternate formats for the blind.

When Sharlyn Ayotte lost 90 per cent of her sight, she also lost her job.

Today, Ayotte is the CEO of T-BASE Communications, a company she launched in 1994 that provides communication materials for organizations to serve blind or partially sighted customers. But 30 years ago, losing her vision while being a single mother, she remembers being terrified.

"My job as a researcher came to an abrupt end and looking for another job was very difficult," she says. "I was depressed and it took about two years to settle down in my soul and heart."

After working for the government and later as a sales rep for a computer company, Ayotte's entrepreneurial spirit wasn't satisfied.

In 1990 she launched a research and security company but was forced to hire readers to read the material for her, including sensitive documents and personal information. She discovered a gap in service tailored to the blind or partially sighted citizens, both from the industry and government.

In 1992, a bill passed by the Canadian legislature ensured that citizens had the right to access publicly-funded documents in any format, and Ayotte decided to test that system.

She requested one document in an alternative format for the blind, which she should have received within weeks, and only received it 10 months later after arriving at the office in person.

"They looked at me and said, 'Oh she's blind, she needs this,'" Ayotte says. "They gave me a label, instead of realizing that I'm a taxpayer, a citizen and I've requested something that has been legislated as a right to me."

Ayotte realized services for the blind were officially backed by legislation but not efficiently executed, and T-BASE Communications was born.

Ayotte says T-BASE ensures the quality, security and confidentiality of documents for the blind or partially-sighted.

Launched in Ottawa in 1994, it has since expanded to three offices in North America and sets the standard for government agencies and represents some of the largest financial institutions.

Serving these agencies and industries, documents can be processed and returned in Braille, large print, e-Text and audio formats in as little as two days.

Ayotte says independence and privacy is an important issue for the blind.

Something as simple as reading a bank statement privately wasn't available to the consumer-based blind community.

With a large, aging baby-boomer population, Ayotte anticipates her services will become increasingly important.

"As the population ages, there's an expectation that they'll still have access to consumer power," she says. "I'm just a forerunner-the generation coming up behind me needs me to be successful."

End of article.

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