Employee Creates Job Program for Visually Impaired
Andres Pelaez, Director of Performance and Analytics, Claims
- Bachelor’s Degree in Industrial Engineering
- Master’s Degree in Business Administration
- Years with The Hartford: 15
- Total years of work experience: 18
Andres Pelaez was a newcomer to this country when he set his sights on bettering the lives of the people around him.
But when Andres came to the U.S. from Colombia 15 years ago, he first had three goals to accomplish: learn English, finish his MBA and find employment. Within six months, he was well on his way to meeting those goals. His English was strong and he landed a job with The Hartford's Customer Care Team in Indianapolis, Indiana – which offered tuition reimbursement that allowed Andres to complete his MBA program. Anxious to settle into his new life, Andres flew back to Colombia to marry his then-fiancée, Juanita. The newlywed couple returned to the U.S. the following day – and soon became involved in volunteer programs helping others in the local community.
Improving the lives of people in need is a priority that Andres and Juanita share.
"Where we come from, we've seen a lot of inequity and have always felt very passionate about helping other people as much as we can," says Andres.
One of the first recipients of the couple's generosity was Bosma Enterprises, a non-profit organization in Indianapolis that creates opportunities for people who are blind or visually impaired. Recognizing that unemployment for the visually disabled is about 60 percent countrywide, Juanita volunteered for Bosma and helped design an outreach program to help the Hispanic community. She also saw a need to partner with organizations to provide on-the-job training to visually impaired individuals and brought it to Andres’ attention. In 2013, Andres advanced the idea of an internship program for the visually impaired at The Hartford's call center where he worked at the time.
The Hartford aspires to be an employer of choice for people with disabilities, believing that every person is capable of full productivity in work and in life, and was immediately receptive to Andres’ proposal.
"I brought the idea to my boss and it started moving," Andres says. "Everyone we talked to here at The Hartford was very open and supportive. We got a team together to work on the logistics of the program – its scope, the number of participants, how they would be trained and who would work with them during the internships."
Preparations also included adapting the call center's online systems to deliver auditory information for those who are blind and enlarge the standard-size display screens for the visually impaired.
"Setting up the program took a lot of work," Andres says, acknowledging the effort and commitment of IT and the leaders in the call center.
In May 2013, the program kicked off and Bosma placed two interns at the Indianapolis call center. Call center management was impressed with the results and hired both participants as full-time customer service representatives.
Tracy Woods, one of the interns hired in 2013 as a full-time employee, is still with the company today.
"The Hartford opened its doors to us and it was a feeling of being welcome and accepted from day one," Tracy says. "It has been an awesome working experience, and wonderful to have The Hartford behind me."
Legally blind but with limited sight in her right eye, Tracy's job is to respond to incoming claim inquiries and transfer calls as required. She now works remotely, but occasionally goes into the office for training on new programs and system updates. Her guide dog, a yellow Labrador retriever named Winnie, accompanies her and has even been adopted as an official employee of The Hartford with a badge to show for it.
"I promote The Hartford and what they've done for people with disabilities any time I can," Tracy says. "The Hartford has really paved the way. It's a model for other companies to give people with disabilities a chance."
Andres has since moved on to a new position as director of performance and analytics in the Claims Department, but maintains a keen interest in the internship program.
"We try to have a group once a year," Andres says. A total of three interns have been hired as full-time staff since the program began.
Andres and his wife continue to be active with Bosma as well as many other philanthropic organizations, including the March of Dimes, Kiwanis International and Down Syndrome of Indiana.
"I am a firm believer that the best way to improve my life is through improving the lives of others," Andres says.