Empowering Employment for 85 Years

Image of President Franklin D. Roosevelt signing the Wagner-O’Day Act in 1938.

Sunday, June 25, marks the 85th anniversary of the Wagner-O’Day Act, the legislation that led to the creation of National Industries for the Blind (NIB) and ultimately, the AbilityOne® Program. The act, signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1938, directed government agencies to give priority to suppliers employing people who are blind when purchasing certain products.

Approximately six weeks after the law was signed, leaders from 20 agencies serving people who are blind met and established NIB as a central nonprofit agency (CNA). Its mission was two-fold: To ensure that entities seeking to fill orders from the government were in fact nonprofit agencies employing people who are blind, and to allocate orders amongst those agencies.

Over the years, NIB and its associated nonprofit agencies grew the number and types of products they produced and built a solid reputation for providing high-quality products on time and at a fair price. In 1971, the Javits-Wagner-O’Day (JWOD) Act expanded the original Wagner-O’Day Act to include the provision of services to the federal government by both people who are blind and people with significant disabilities. Under the JWOD Act, nonprofit agencies employing people who are blind received priority for the provision of products to the federal government, while nonprofit agencies employing people who are blind and those employing people with significant disabilities received equal priority for the provision of services.

The JWOD Act also provided a small appropriation and support staff to the independent federal agency overseeing the program – known as the Committee for Purchase from People Who Are Blind or Severely Disabled. In 2006, the JWOD program became known as the AbilityOne® Program, and in 2011, the Committee began operating as the U.S. AbilityOne Commission®.

As part of the AbilityOne Program, NIB continues its mission to grow the number and types of employment opportunities available to people who are blind. Its embrace of advances in accessible technology have led to innovative training and professional development programs that offer people who are blind new career options in a range professional services fields.

The AbilityOne Contract Management Support (CMS) Services program is an excellent example of NIB’s approach to expanding opportunities to build professional careers while meeting the needs of federal customers. After learning that the Department of Defense (DOD) had a growing backlog of contracts that were completed but needed to be closed out, NIB got to work. Partnering with the Defense Acquisition University, it designed a training program for people who are blind or have significant disabilities to learn how to conduct the research and related administrative tasks necessary to close out DOD contracts.

A successful nine-month pilot program not only proved people who are blind or have significant disabilities could do an outstanding job, it also paid for itself in recovered de-obligated funds. To date, AbilityOne Program employees providing CMS Services have identified more than $24 billion in taxpayer dollars to be de-obligated and returned to the U.S. Department of the Treasury. Along the way, the CMS program has helped more than 100 people who are blind or have significant disabilities launch careers in contract administration with the federal government, in addition to more than 150 CMS Services professionals currently working on government contracts.

The CMS program is just one example of the career options NIB makes available to people who are blind. NIB’s talent management enterprise, NSITE, offers training programs through partnerships with industry leaders like Cisco, Baker Communications, Bristol Myers Squibb, Google, and more.

NIB associated agencies also offer training in a range of professional services fields, including kitting, supply chain management, and cybersecurity. And over the years, NIB has expanded its product offerings to include more than 4,000 different items, sustaining thousands of careers for people who are blind nationwide.

As we reflect on the 85th anniversary of the law that started it all, NIB looks forward to empowering even more people who are blind to build rewarding careers in fields of their choosing.