In a storied history spanning 117 years, Milwaukee-based Beyond Vision has witnessed two World Wars, the Great Depression of the 1930s, the social changes of the 1960s and 70s, and many other cataclysmic events.
The NIB associated nonprofit agency employing people who are blind or visually impaired has weathered it all. Founded in 1903, Beyond Vision provides a broad array of services from call center support to machining, assembly, and packaging, to supplying the federal government, military, and major corporations.
Coping with the global coronavirus pandemic, however, has been a special challenge.
Taking quick and decisive action to protect its employees from COVID-19 has allowed Beyond Vision to continue providing essential products to the federal government, U.S. military, and such major companies as Harley-Davidson, Caterpillar, and General Electric, among others.
“As soon as the threat posed by the coronavirus became evident, developing a clear and comprehensive response became our top priority,” says President and CEO Jim Kerlin.
Kerlin and his leadership team crafted a COVID-19 Response Plan to ensure Beyond Vision follows guidelines established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. In addition, they benchmarked best practices from other NIB agencies.
In mid-March, when the coronavirus intensified, the organization implemented a work-from-home policy for as many positions as possible. Managers conducted daily Zoom briefings on employee safety and operations. Text messages, email, social media, and video messaging were used to keep employees updated.
“From the very beginning, we made a commitment to employee safety and well-being,” says Senior Director of Relationships and Business Services Rob Buettner, who has Stargardt’s Disease, which causes loss of central vision. “We made a conscious decision to trust our people and our culture, and that trust is the reason we have been able to weather this storm so far.”
For employees who couldn’t work from home, that commitment to safety includes several innovative approaches to maintain social distancing on the manufacturing floor, including moving workstations and splitting lunch shifts to reduce the number of staff in community areas.
In addition, personal protective equipment and masks are made available to all employees on site.
“As soon as we were able to acquire non-touch thermometers, we began doing temperature screening of all on-site employees,” Buettner said.
To deal with vacancies of production team members who needed to self-isolate due to health concerns, temporary staff were hired to ensure Beyond Vision could continue to meet all customer needs.
Key to the organization’s success has been its corps of dedicated and talented employees, about 60 of whom are blind, each with their own compelling story.
Among them is Sophia, who currently works in assembly and packaging, and has won praise her quality work in every position she has held. Diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa in her twenties, she came to Beyond Vision after reading an article about the agency.
“Beyond Vision has not only provided me with a job, it has restored my dignity and given me a greater sense of self-respect,” she says. “I appreciate how all of us have bonded together as a family to get through this pandemic.”
Kerlin expresses pride in Sophia and everyone on his team and how well they have handled the crisis.
“It has been amazing to observe how the entire staff has grown through this experience,” he says. “The leadership team and employees have stepped up from all parts of the company to be innovative. They really embody the team spirit and never-give-up-even-in-the-face-of-great-adversity attitude that’s at the heart of our culture.”