Small business spotlight: Wichita’s Communotech offers computer tech training to visually impaired

05/07/2014 6:07 PM

08/08/2014 5:57 PM

After moving to Wichita for a job that didn’t work out, Michel Battles decided to go into business for himself.

That’s a tough prospect at any time, but the Detroit native dealt with the additional challenge of being blind in an unfamiliar city.

“It was a long process, then clients started coming in one by one,” said Battles, who started Communotech in 2009. “It built up over the years.”

Communotech specializes in helping blind people get trained and certified in operating Microsoft systems and as computer technicians. The company’s clients include the state Department for Children and Families and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs as well as individuals seeking training and certification on their own.

“We’re open to all folks,” Battle said. “We have a strong focus on those with visual impairments.”

Battles said his goal, for clients who desire it, is to provide them with the skills to find jobs anywhere – not just in agencies or organizations that help people with disabilities.

“That’s what a lot of visually impaired people are looking for – competitive employment.”

Battles grew up taking apart his family’s electronics gear and then discovered a gift for working on cars and motorcycles. He lost his eyesight in a 1990 accident. After an initial period of depression, he began rehabilitation training and learned about computer screen-reading software. Battles said he knew then that he wanted to train other blind people to use and service computers but spent several years operating a profitable vending business at nonprofit and government sites.

Battles moved here to work for Envision in 2008 but left a year later, saying the job was not what he expected. He credits the DCF and JobForce Employment Solutions, which helps find work for people with disabilities, with helping him get Communotech off the ground.

In addition to Battles, Communotech has four trainers who work on a contract basis. Some clients come to the company’s 1,700-square-foot facility on South Hydraulic, and the trainers also travel to sites around the state. Some clients lack any computer skills, others need their skills updated, and still others have the necessary skills but need certification to quality for certain jobs, Battles said.

Training has been offered on a one-on-one basis, but Battles said Communotech plans to begin offering group classes of up to five people this summer so it can serve more clients.

Communotech also offers training and help with typing, Internet job searches, resume writing, Quick Books, Adobe and Apple certifications – and other needs.

Battles said the most rewarding aspect of running his company is helping other visually impaired people get the skills they need. Recently, Communotech certified a man who’s been working as a assistive technology specialist.

“He just finished, and he’s ready to get job searching,” Battles said.

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