Transit Career Stories

OT Orozco – Showcasing the Role of People With Disabilities in Transit

OT Orozco is so much a part of the fabric of MetroWest Regional Transit Authority (MWRTA), where he has worked in its call center since 2011, that he has three titles: call center assistant manager, scheduler, and transportation coordinator.

As is the case with so many others who have made transit a career, OT didn’t set off at first to work at a public transportation agency. After college, he worked in the culinary field as everything from a dishwasher to a sous chef, but after a while he found the work grueling and unfulfilling. What attracted OT to public transportation was his personal experience using it; as a person with a disability, he held a deep appreciation for its service. Since OT is legally blind, public transportation has proven essential for his mobility. He says he initially wanted to “learn what transportation is really all about, from the inner workings to dealing with the customers.” It became something he was enthusiastic to try because he can relate so much to people who have to rely on public transportation. “It’s something that has been beneficial to my life,” he says.

OT admits he tried to drive years ago when he was young, an experience he says “shows the struggle of what people who have disabilities will end up going through” when they’re becoming adults and testing their boundaries. As a high schooler, OT observed his friends getting their licenses and wanted to experience the same level of independence. “I didn’t want to be put in a box as different because [I was] disabled. I wanted to really just be like everybody else,” he says. “You get picked on and you get treated different and, and that’s not what you want. You don’t want to be secluded or segregated.” Around this time, Russell LaBreck from the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind approached him to give him travel training. “He would come to my house, and I would kick him out. He would still come back and try to offer me opportunities,” he says. Later, after OT decided to change careers, he reached out to LaBreck again, understanding he’d missed out on a valuable resource and mentor-figure the first time around.

OT began to lean on the public transportation available to him in the MetroWest region, and he realized that “thankfully, there’s other means of transportation, where I can be independent.” He then became interested in working at MWRTA. LaBreck gave him the confidence to feel like he could belong at the organization when he saw the agency was hiring.

When OT first arrived at MWRTA to work part-time in the call center as a transportation coordinator, he had a commonly shared experience of wanting to make a good impression by showing his employer what he could accomplish. Luckily, he found himself surrounded by full support. “My coworkers helped out a lot, and my boss helped out a lot to make me feel comfortable in the environment.” In coordination with MWRTA, the Mass Commission for the Blind provided a program called ZoomText, which allows users with visual impairments to zoom in and out. “What made it a lot easier is the mindset that the people at the MetroWest had was very different.” He says rather than stigmatizing him, they gave him a chance to prove himself without viewing his disability as a barrier to success.

OT Orozco explains the mutual benefits of inclusive hiring practices, for both transit agencies and workers with disabilities.

As time passed and OT grew accustomed to his role, he voiced his interest to learn more. He told his supervisor he wanted to understand scheduling, so he went full-time and began taking that on. Although he doesn’t interact with the ridership, he talks with many of them when scheduling their rides or answering their queries. “You create almost like a bond with the community, and they remember your name. They’re happy to hear you on the phone, and they know that they can trust in you to get the job done. We try to provide the best type of transportation that we can to help everybody get through their daily activities.”

OT’s experience as a person with a visual impairment gives him “a different form of understanding” that he applies to his work serving the public. He says it goes beyond empathy. “There’s a relation there, so that in itself helps me do the job and understand the job, but also there’s a gratitude and an understanding that without public transportation, there’s many opportunities that for a lot of people who are in this type of position, they wouldn’t have.” OT is also excited to describe Catch Connect, an app-accessible micro transit service launched last year that allows riders to book their trips and helps encourage the independence he knows first-hand is so important to attain.

Problem solving, making people feel heard, and his warm and relatable demeanor are some of OT’s strengths that customers respond positively to. He says, “After talking to people for so long, even if you’ve never met them face to face, you gain a relationship, and they look forward to calling into the call center. I can tell you three people every day, who will call right as the phone’s turned on. It’s almost like, they have fun with it. But there are times where things are serious, and you have to try to reel them in and let them know that it’s going to be okay, and we’re going to figure this out.”

Deputy Administrator and Chief Operating Officer Eva Willens praises OT’s contributions to the agency. “Management identified him early on as being an employee that we would hope would stick around. He ended up doing that, and we’re really thankful for that. He has this way about him. If I’m a little wound up, once I hear his voice, it’s the most calming thing ever, and customers relate to that as well. He’s just an overall great person,” she says.

OT emphasizes how employers should identify the high value that people with disabilities can bring to the public transportation workplace. “The best thing I can say if we’re talking to an employer is: try to break the stigma and give [them] the opportunity.” Eva adds, “You need people to work for you that want to work and want to be good to the customers and understand the customers. I need ten more OTs. Transportation needs OTs.”

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