Nonprofits help blind excel in production

By Jennifer Kalish
Editorial Intern

Published: September 23, 2013 4:11 pm ET
Updated: September 23, 2013 4:18 pm ET

Image By: Dallas Lighhouse for the Blind Inc. Oliver Smith, who works in Dallas Lighthouse's binder department, drove a truck for 30 years before losing nearly all of his sight to a disease that damaged his retinas.

Related to this story

Topics Education & Training, Workforce, Aerospace, Injection Molding

Blake Lindsay was only 9 months old when he lost his sight completely. But despite all the challenges he's faced as a result of his condition, he has never let his blindness define him.

"I never really lived in a blindness world that much," Lindsay said in an interview. "I was a radio guy for about 22 years. I got an early start when I was 15 years old, and worked at KISS FM in Dallas and different stations."

Now Lindsay works as a communications manager at Dallas Lighthouse for the Blind Inc., a nonprofit agency that provides employment opportunities to blind and visually impaired individuals in various industries — among them, plastics manufacturing.

While there is no doubt that there are many people like Lindsay who find fulfilling careers in various industries despite their condition, that isn't the norm for most blind Americans.

In fact, more than 70 percent of working-age blind adults are unemployed, according to a 2012 annual report from the National Federation of the Blind, based in Baltimore.

A likely contributor to the high unemployment rate among blind adults is the misconception by both employers and blind individuals themselves that they aren't capable of working in certain industries.

Nevertheless, Dallas Lighthouse, along with the 91 other agencies associated with the National Industries for the Blind nationwide, have been working for decades to bust that myth.

"It's like a first-rate support group, especially for somebody who's lost their sight later in life," Lindsay said of Dallas Lighthouse. "[Blind employees] have mentors all around them and people rooting for them, and they come to the realization quickly that they can work again."

Through its associated agencies, Alexandria, Va.-based NIB helps blind individuals get job training and employment in various fields, from business services and sales to sewing and manufacturing.

Dallas Lighthouse is one of three NIB-associated agencies that does injection molding, the others being LC Industries Inc., headquartered in Durham, N.C., and Seattle Lighthouse for the Blind in Washington state.

LC Industries, the largest nonprofit employer of blind labor in the U.S., has 22 injection molding machines, according to the company's website. Seattle Lighthouse, which also uses blind and deaf-blind labor to manufacture aerospace parts for Boeing, has 11 injection presses, said Pat O'Hara, vice president of operations for Seattle Lighthouse.

Many of the products those three agencies make are contracted through the AbilityOne Program, which sets aside contracts for nonprofits to manufacture products for the federal government such as military tools and office supplies.

"We have five injection molding machines; our largest machine is a 450-ton, and then our smallest, I believe, is a 210-ton," said Nancy Perkins, president of Dallas Lighthouse.

"Most of our revenue comes from our manufacturing operations."

Using about 75 percent blind labor, Dallas Lighthouse makes various injection molded, heat-sealed and sewn products for military purposes like canteens and entrenching tools, as well as commercial products such as markers and highlighters.

Dallas Lighthouse is retooling three of its five presses for a new marker and highlighter line, Perkins said.

Though to some, a blind person operating an injection molding machine may seem precarious, the agencies' success in manufacturing confirms the ability of blind labor to excel in challenging work environments.

"When people work in the same place every day they become very familiar with their surroundings," she said. "Our supervisors who manage those production lines are the ones who are responsible to make sure that everybody understands what their job is, so they always have help and they always have somebody they can go to if there's any confusion.

"But once they know what's expected, they're just like anybody else and they can function very, very well, and they do."

Additionally, Perkins said, their blind and visually impaired employees are trained to succeed at any company within their chosen industry, not just at Dallas Lighthouse.

"We're not a sheltered workshop," she said. "This is considered competitive employment. In other words, if they went to another town and somebody had an injection molding press, they would be able to do that work."

For many blind or visually impaired individuals, however, the hardest part is simply admitting to themselves that they in fact are capable of excelling in a particular industry.

"[Blind] people need to be more open-minded about opportunities and go ahead and accept them if they're capable of doing them," Lindsay said.

"They'll be grateful later, on many levels."


Comments

Nonprofits help blind excel in production

By Jennifer Kalish
Editorial Intern

Published: September 23, 2013 4:11 pm ET
Updated: September 23, 2013 4:18 pm ET

Post Your Comments


Back to story


More stories

Image

Jarden hiring for new plastics plant

December 19, 2014 1:45 pm ET

Consumer products conglomerate Jarden Corp. is hiring plastics technicians for a new operation in Erlanger, Ky.    More

Image

The return of HPM's big presses

December 19, 2014 11:47 am ET

HPM is back in big injection molding machines.    More

Image

Spray PU foam aids in NASA launch

December 19, 2014 9:22 am ET

NASA's test of the Orion spacecraft earlier this month took advantage of spray polyurethane foam insulation from North Carolina Foam Industries...    More

Image

Sabic: Rapid demand growth led to Ultem shortage

December 18, 2014 12:06 pm ET

Sabic Innovative Plastics has been increasing production capacity for its Ultem polyetherimide but it still got caught short by increasing demand for ...    More

Image

Indian auto parts maker set to buy assets in Germany, Mexico

December 18, 2014 10:35 am ET

Indian auto parts maker Samvardhana Motherson Gropup is buying the assets of insolvent German plastics car parts producer Scherer & Trier (S&T).    More

Market Reports

Flexible Packaging Trends in North America

Our latest RESEARCH report examines trends in FLEXIBLE PACKAGING impacting the North American market including a review of economic conditions, key drivers of growth, materials pricing, M&A activity, sustainability challenges and the outlook for 2015.

Learn more

Plastics in Brazil - State of the Industry Report

This in-depth report examines the Brazilian plastics industry from a historical and geographical context. Our analysts provide insight on economic trends and forecasts, growing manufacturing sectors that utilize plastics, private investment opportunities, market environment challenges, and innovations in R&D.

Data tables and charts on producer prices, trade, plastics production and end market indicators is also included.

Learn more

Plastics Recycling Trends in North America

This report is a review and analysis of the North American Plastics Recycling Industry, including key trends and statistics based on 2013 performance. We examine market environment factors, regulatory issues, industry challenges, key drivers and emerging trends in post-consumer and post-industrial recycling.

Learn more

Upcoming Plastics News Events

January 14, 2015 - January 14, 2015Plastics in Automotive

February 4, 2015 - February 6, 2015Plastics News Executive Forum 2015

June 2, 2015 - June 3, 2015Plastics Financial Summit - Chicago 2015

September 16, 2015 - September 18, 2015Plastics Caps & Closures - September 2015

October 27, 2015 - October 29, 2015Plastics Financial Summit - New York - 2015

More Events