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At tollway center, blind reps listen, help callers

“Thank you for calling the Illinois Toll Road. My name is William. How may I help you?”

For all the times I’ve heard greetings such as the one above, this is the first time I heard it not through a phone line, not as a vexed caller, but live, in the flesh, sitting next to the person saying it: William Bryant, 49, a Marine who retired on disability.

We are in the Illinois Tollway Call Center, a large underground room divided by partitions, with 150 customer service representatives in headsets holding similar conversations, gazing at flat-screen monitors.

After nine months working here, Bryant’s assessment of his job might be unexpected.

“Enjoyable,” Bryant says. “I enjoy talking on the phone, helping out people a little bit.”

Then there is something unexpected about the call center itself. First, that it’s new — opened Nov. 1, 2013 — and in Chicago, not Mumbai, or in Texas, where some customer calls to the Illinois tollway used to go, which annoyed tollway trustees, who decided not only to keep the work in-state but spread some of it to the disabled.