Disabled Workers Find a Future in Medical Transcription

Vol. 13 •Issue 7 • Page 21
Disabled Workers Find a Future in Medical Transcription

Employment of medical transcriptionists is projected to grow faster than the average for all occupations through the year 2010.

–U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics

The U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, predicts that the demand for medical transcriptionists will rise because of a growing and aging population and the high level of need for electronic documentation. It assures that “a rising number of medical transcriptionists will be needed to amend patients’ records, edit for grammar and discover discrepancies in medical records for years to come.”

This is great news for medical transcriptionists (MTs) and even better news for professionals who are looking for a promising career. The medical transcription field has even become a promising career path for professionals who are blind, visually impaired, paralyzed or have restricting medical conditions.

A Successful Career Is Possible

“I’ve been working in transcription since February 1992,” stated Sandy Bennett, a blind MT who works for The Lighthouse of Houston, which offers vocational evaluation, education programs, and computer/technology training, for children, youth, adults and seniors. “Medical transcription involves intense training and a tremendous amount of attention to detail, but I love it and find it very rewarding!”

Medical transcription is a great opportunity for an individual with a disability to succeed professionally, but success requires much skill. One must enjoy medical terminology, have a strong grammatical background and be familiar with personal computers and word processing software.

“It’s an amazing skill,” offered Jennifer Blando, director of education services for The Lighthouse of Houston.

In addition to those basic skills, MTs, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, “must have completed postsecondary training in medical transcription, offered by many vocational schools, community colleges and distance-learning programs. And a one-year certificate program—including coursework in anatomy, medical terminology and medicolegal issues is preferred.”

A disabled MT must obtain these various skills at almost an advanced level, so when the training is completed—he/she will enter the field ready to work.

Being Better Than the Rest

“Our training program is 18 months and people think that’s a long time, but we have 100 percent placement. It’s intense training and I believe it prepares a visually impaired or blind professional better than most other programs, because we want to give them every advantage possible,” Blando said. “I can’t train a visually disabled person to be just as good as a sighted person, I have to train him or her to be better.”

Visually impaired and blind professionals represent the majority of disabled MTs. They excel and succeed just as rapidly as a sighted MT, and they enjoy their work.

Success for Various Disabilities

MTs who have other disabilities have found success as well.

“People who have trouble getting around or are in the advanced stages of diabetes can work from home or part time and still make a decent salary and have an honorable career,” explained Blando.

“Beyond the truly physically disabled are those with certain medical conditions, like extreme environmental allergies. I have a friend like this and she can work from home and still make a great living,” agreed Ellen Drake, CMT, development editor for Health Professions Institute in Modesto, CA.

These new opportunities have all been made possible by the advancement in technology.

Drake mentioned a friend who was paralyzed from the waist down. “She had to use hand controls instead of foot controls to transcribe. Now, with speech recognition software she is able to just speak to her computer and tell it when to play, stop or go back and forward. Technology has been a huge blessing.”

Technology Provides Possibility

Bennett feels that technology has opened up a lot of fields for MTs. “We use a job application with speech (JAWS) system, which is a speech synthesizer. It actually reads what’s on the screen and instead of using a mouse like a sighted person, we use the keyboard commands. It’s really accessible for us, but when my voice goes out, I’m up a creek,” she jokingly explained.

A lot of big companies have started to put reference wordbooks into a software format. Before, someone would have to transcribe a small reference book into Braille, which takes a lot of time and money–and it ends up being about 10 huge Braille volumes.

“There’s a set size for each Braille letter because it’s tactial, so there’s no way to shrink it down,” noted Blando.

She also spoke about how many companies have special adaptive software, so that visually impaired transcriptionists can use it to enlarge the print of the document and others can use it to actually say the word. “So the advancements in speech recognition have been extremely helpful,” Blando stated.

One new type of technology she’s excited about is a Braille display. It’s a machine that actually makes and displays a certain amount of each Braille letter from a document at a time. These systems run between $8,000 and $14,000, so it’s not a realistic investment most companies are willing to make.

But, Blando pointed out, “There’s some new technology out there still in development that, instead of using a lot of small motors to raise each Braille letter, uses microchips. This makes it a lot cheaper and we’re hoping that within the next three to five years we’ll see the prices on the product drop dramatically.”

Benefits Are Endless

“With the advancements in technology and the excellent training that’s available, I’m able to excel in my profession. I feel that transcription is a great job for a person with a disability,” Bennett stated.

She also feels that a blind person has an advantage in transcription because they’re less distracted while transcribing. “Except of course, if it’s noisy,” Bennett lightheartedly added.

She mentioned that her hearing is automatically better, because she’s forced to develop it more, which she also feels is a benefit.

And Blando agreed, saying “They rely much more on hearing and on their memory. They’re actually used to memorizing lists and items, so instead of having to look up terms they’re unfamiliar with like a sighted person does, they’ll just memorize them.”

The biggest benefit of becoming an MT is that “If you’re disabled or not—MTs never die. It doesn’t matter if we develop carpal tunnel syndrome or severe arthritis, or if technology continues to advance, we can extend our careers by going into quality assurance,” Drake assured.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor explained that, “Advancements in speech recognition technology are not projected to significantly reduce the need for medical transcriptionists because these workers will continue to be needed to review and edit drafts for accuracy.”

In addition to the field being a great career opportunity for disabled professionals, it provides other benefits. “It’s also been clinically proven that giving a disabled person the chance for gainful employment reduces depression and enables them to be successful, support their families, contribute to their communities and live their lives to the fullest,” Drake noted.

Tricia Cassidy is an editorial assistant at ADVANCE.

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