Friday, February 25, 2011

Massachusetts blind man starts advocacy website for consumer complaints

From Wicked Local Canton:

CANTON, Mass. — Canton resident Jonathan Gale (pictured) may be completely blind, but he still has a vision.

About four years ago, Gale, now 56, retired from his job at a state agency, but found himself with a dilemma: he still wanted to work. So he turned his hobby, consumer advocacy, into a way to help people.

Gale is the founder of, a website on which people can file formal complaints about restaurants, hotels, government agencies and other businesses. Customers just fill out a brief form about their grievance, and DirectComplaint makes sure it reaches the people who can help resolve the problem.

“Most people don’t know how, or who, to complain to if they have a problem,” Gale said. “They don’t know how to get the results they want. I’m able to take that skill that I use for myself and help other people.”

Gale, who has been completely blind for the past 22 years, said he had to learn how to advocate for himself in the workforce, as well as in other aspects of his life, due to his disability.

“I had to become a resource person for my own needs,” he said. “I also learned a long time ago how to do that for other people. We are a society full of complainers, like it or not.”

To develop his website, which includes recall lists and links to credit bureaus, Gale attended eight weeks of classes at the Carroll Center for the Blind in Newton to re-learn technology.

“I had to learn it all with speech,” he said. “When you’re doing it blind, it’s much more labor-intensive. You don’t use a mouse, and you have to basically learn a whole new language. The training was invaluable, and I really can’t stress that enough.”

Gale said he wants the website to be fully accessible for all people, including those with disabilities, like blindness.

Gale said the website is undergoing changes and will be officially finished in about 30 to 45 days. The new site will be completely free for customers, and Gale said he hopes for it to someday become a large non-profit organization, with at least 50 percent of employees to be disabled.

“It is much more difficult for someone with a recognized, meaning obvious, disability to get a job,” Gale said. “Seventy percent of people with noticeable disabilities are unemployed, not because they are incapable, but because employers are scared to hire them.”

Gale said most companies don’t want to invest in the technology necessary to get people with noticeable disabilities works stations, with devices such as voice recognition software or wheelchair accessibility.

“The interesting thing is that these people are usually more dedicated, but the numbers of them that are unemployed are staggering,” he said.

Gale volunteers at Work Without Limits, an organization dedicated to advancing opportunities for people with disabilities in Massachusetts by providing resources for disabled people and by teaching employers about disabilities.

“We all know people in our personal lives who have disabilities, and people always say how remarkable it is that they can get around, or how they do this or do that, but as soon as you say ‘hey, do you have an opening in your company?,’ the walls go up,” Gale said.

Gale also works in a Work Without Limits subcommittee, the Greater Boston Employment Collaborative (GBEC), a group from different professional backgrounds interested in increasing job opportunities for the disabled.

Gale also is doing a workshop at the end of March about disclosure and how people with concealed disabilities, like epilepsy, should tell their employers.

“People should be able to tell their employers about their disabilities,” Gale said.