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Iconic product symbolizes capabilities of people who are blind
Alexandria, Virginia—National Industries for the Blind (NIB), the nation’s largest employment resource for people who are blind, celebrates the 50th anniversary of the SKILCRAFT® U.S. Government Pen during 2018. The ubiquitous pen, released to the federal government in 1968, has become a beloved product among generations of federal government employees and members of the U.S. military. Success of the government pen project paved the way for thousands of new SKILCRAFT products to be introduced in the following decades.
Three NIB associated nonprofit agencies are involved in the production of the pen: Alphapointe in Kansas City, Missouri, manufactures and supplies component parts to Industries for the Blind in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and Industries of the Blind in Greensboro, North Carolina, where employees who are blind assemble and package the pens for sale to government customers through the AbilityOne® Program. Collectively, these agencies manufacture more than 8 million SKILCRAFT U.S. Government Pens each year, sustaining meaningful employment for more than 100 people who are blind.
“The government pen is one of our most iconic products and has been a workhorse for the federal government and military for decades,” says NIB President and CEO Kevin Lynch. “This humble pen symbolizes so much more—the strength of American manufacturing and the limitless capabilities of people who are blind.”
The story of the pen began in 1965 when the General Services Administration (GSA) wrote a 16-page federal specifications document for a retractable ballpoint pen with a replaceable ink cartridge. After receiving a shipment of 13 million defective ballpoint pens from a commercial supplier in 1967, then-GSA Commissioner Heinz Abersfeller sought a new supplier and offered NIB the opportunity to produce the U.S. Government ballpoint pens.
Within a year, the pen project provided employment for 166 employees, 133 of whom were blind. By 1970, NIB associated agencies met the GSA Commissioner’s challenge by delivering 70 million SKILCRAFT U.S. Government Pens to the government.
SKILCRAFT U.S. Government Pens still conform to the requirements outlined in GSA’s original specifications document. Among dozens of other performance specifications, the pen must be able to write continuously for a mile and in temperatures up to 160 degrees and down to 40 degrees below zero. Its original design of a brass ink tube, plastic barrel, and tungsten carbide and cobalt ball, has changed little over the decades.
The most significant aspect of the project, however, was and remains the outstanding quality of the pens produced by employees who are blind working at NIB associated agencies. The quality of the pen shifted perceptions about the capabilities of NIB associated agencies and led to new SKILCRAFT products introduced in the following decades. Today, employees who are blind produce more than 5,000 different SKILCRAFT products, such as office supplies, cleaning supplies, hardware and paints, and a wide range of products to equip the U.S. military, including uniforms, bedding, and protective equipment.
The SKILCRAFT U.S. Government Pen and other SKILCRAFT products are available for purchase by federal government customers through AbilityOne.com, GSAAdvantage.gov, AbilityOne Base Supply CentersTM, or AbilityOne Authorized Distributors. Visit NIB.org/Pen to learn more.
About National Industries for the Blind
Since 1938, National Industries for the Blind (NIB) has focused on enhancing the opportunities for economic and personal independence of people who are blind, primarily through creating, sustaining and improving employment. NIB and its network of associated nonprofit agencies are the nation’s largest employer of people who are blind through the manufacture and provision of SKILCRAFT® and other products and services of the AbilityOne® Program. For more information about NIB, visit NIB.org.