A lot of junk flows into my email inbox on a daily basis and most of it gets discarded. But when I received an email about The Lighthouse for the Blind, Inc. with the picture above, I was intrigued. Who are these people? Where are they from? And why are they holding entrenching tools? I figured I needed to find out answers to these questions. This is what I discovered.
The people pictured above all work at the Lighthouse’s manufacturing facility in the Rainier Valley. This facility is one of many locations the Lighthouse operates on the West Coast. The Lighthouse is one of the largest employers in our country of Americans who are blind and the number one employer of Americans who are Deaf-Blind. The employment opportunities that the Lighthouse provides for people who are blind are critical. Seven out of every ten working-age Americans who are blind are unemployed. Of adult Americans who are Deaf-Blind, eight out of ten are unemployed. And nine out of every ten American adults are unemployed who are blind with an additional disability. Not surprisingly, given these grim statistics, one-third of adults in this country who are blind live in poverty. The Lighthouse tirelessly works to provide Americans who are blind and Deaf-Blind with employment, including in my hometown of Seattle.
I called the Lighthouse and asked if I could tour their manufacturing facility. They said that would be fine, and on the appointed day I arrived bright and early to start my tour. As I exited my car a fellow with his trusty service labrador, who looked quite a bit like my labrador Bo Bo, walked past and entered the Lighthouse building. Andrea Travis, Events and Annual Fund Coordinator, greeted me at the front door and started me on the tour of the facility.
My first stop was at an absolutely amazing Okuma machine operated by Dan Porter, who has worked at the Lighthouse for about eight years now.
The Okuma machine is a computer numerically controlled milling machine that produces metal parts that are used by The Boeing Company and other aerospace manufacturers. Boeing is a long-time customer of The Lighthouse for the Blind, Inc. In 2013, Boeing was responsible for 18% of the Lighthouse’s revenue. Dan explained to me that the equipment he was operating had been fitted with screen-reading software known as JAWS that spoke all of the information that was displayed on the screen and required to run the machine.
The Lighthouse facility looked like a lot of other manufacturing facilities I have visited, but there were some important differences as well. On the floor of the facility, textured and raised walkways helped employees who are blind navigate their way around the facility. Lots of the machines for drilling, cutting and other operations are retro-fitted with systems that voice text or increase font size and screen contrast to provide information that the operators need to carry out their tasks. And there are a lot of tasks to be carried out! The Lighthouse facility is a very busy place.
After Andrea showed me around to a lot of the manufacturing centers, we finished up my tour by chatting with Andrew Stauffer who showed me the many systems he has on hand to handle the requests for orders he gets each day. Andrew had an amazing zest for what he was doing, as did everyone I met the day of my visit to the Lighthouse. For many people who are blind and Deaf-Blind, employment has been difficult for them to access for most of their lives. Now that they have been given the opportunity to work, they have seized the opportunity with gusto.
The Lighthouse for the Blind, Inc.’s main goal is to create jobs for Americans who are blind and Deaf-Blind. Last year they created 15 jobs in the Seattle area. They broke ground on a nearly 50,000 square foot expansion of their manufacturing facility at Inland Northwest Lighthouse in Spokane, WA. The Lighthouse needs more workers because they produce an amazing number of products, many of which are used by men and women in our military: canteens, hydration units, stuff sacks, utensils, canteen cups, and the entrenching tool being held by a Lighthouse worker in the first picture in this post.
The workers at Lighthouse for the Blind don’t want your sympathy, they want your business and support. For those who work in government, there are a host of SKILCRAFT office supplies also made by the Lighthouse. Workers at the Lighthouse make wallboards, easels, paper cutters, hanging file folders, spring back binders, In-Out boards and more. As I left their manufacturing facility in Seattle, I was humbled by the commitment of members of my extended American family who work at the Lighthouse to show up each day and put in an honest day’s work despite circumstances that I am not sure I would have the courage to deal with. I encourage you to buy SKILCRAFT products and find out more about the amazing Americans working at The Lighthouse for the Blind, Inc. by taking a tour for yourself. If you are interested in a visit, please visit www.thelighthousefortheblindinc.org. Or give Andrea Travis a call at (206) 436-2253.