National Industries for the Blind encourages employers to hire
ALEXANDRIA, Va.—National Industries for the Blind (NIB) recently held a day on the Hill with 100 professionals from NIB associated nonprofit agencies across the U.S. The purpose was to speak with members of Congress about supporting employment of the blind.
As employment rates have stabilized and gone up across the U.S., there remains a large gap between those who are disabled and employed and those who are not disabled and are employed; even though employment rates for the disabled are at an all time high. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics within the U.S. Department of Labor, the jobless rate for those with a disability is about twice as high as the rate for those without a disability.
Over the past two years, the American workforce has exited the job market in record numbers, and labor shortages have impacted almost every sector of the economy. Many industries, including hospitality, restaurants, and healthcare, are still finding it difficult to recruit employees. Yet, many workers who are blind or visually impaired cannot find employment, despite their advanced degrees and valuable professional experience.
NIB works with both potential employers and potential employees who are blind, assisting both sides in finding the right mtach. The organization, in existence for 85 years, has been a lifeline for many workers who are blind. In 2021, NIB launched a national talent management enterprise—NSITE. NSITE provides award-winning training and professional development, empowering people who are blind to build successful careers in the field of their choosing.
“Employers won’t sacrifice quality or performance by hiring a person with a disability,” said Rick Webster, vice president, public policy, at NIB. “And the intangibles are as relevant as the business advantages of such as a dedicated, highly-capable and loyal workforce.”
Of course, technology has played an important role in leveling the field for employees who are blind. Most employers quickly quickly learn how easy and inexpensive it is to create an accessible work environment.
Jeffrey Mittman, a member of the NIB Board of Directors and president of the Board of Directors for the National Association for the Employment of People Who Are Blind, was one of NIB’s advocates on the Hill. A U.S. Army veteran, Mittman was deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq, where he sustained critical injuries that included the loss of his eyesight. He currently serves as the chief executive officer of Bosma Enterprises, the largest employer and only comprehensive service provider for people who are blind in Indiana.
Mittman and others shared their personal stories with Congress to advocate for bipartisan support for a Department of Defense AbilityOne utilization goal of one percent along with oversight hearings on the current state of the AbilityOne Program. The AbilityOne Program is a long-standing partnership between the government and private businesses that helps employ more than 36,000 people who are blind. NIB representatives were also advocating for an amendment to the Rehabilitation Act, requiring state vocational rehabilitation agencies to provide applicants with all of the information regarding appropriate job options, specifically including jobs offered by AbilityOne nonprofits and non-compensated employment options – all in support of fully informed choice for clients seeking employment.
Mittman and others shared compelling personal stories with Congress in support of three priority issues. First, they urged Congress to adopt a Department of Defense utilization goal that would double the use of AbilityOne over five years and create more jobs for people with disabilities. They also called on Congress to hold hearings on the AbilityOne Program in light of a precipitous decline in employment over the past decade. And finally, they advocated for an amendment of workforce legislation requiring states to fully inform clients about all employment opportunities, including those in the AbilityOne Program.
As various industries continue to have difficulties hiring, they are overlooking a large, highly-capable population that is searching for employment. These men and women have spent a lifetime becoming creative problem-solvers and developing skills that can serve potential employers well.“Blind people are creative. Everything I do, I have to figure out how to do it because I don’t use as much sight as somebody else does. So when you bring that into the employment scenario, you become very productive, very, very creative in what you do,” Mittman said. “There’s nothing somebody who’s blind really can’t do.”
About National Industries for the Blind
Incorporated in 1938, NIB is the nation’s largest employment resource for people who are blind, and through its network of associated nonprofit agencies, the largest employer of people who are blind in the U.S. NIB creates opportunities for people who are blind to become wage earners and taxpayers, reducing their reliance on government support and increasing engagement in their communities. The organization offers career training and assists employers and employees in developing mutually beneficial workplaces. NIB’s vision is that blindness is not a barrier to employment. In 2021, NIB launched a national talent management enterprise known as NSITE. NSITE provides a continuum of employment services that connect employers with talented, dedicated people who are blind or visually impaired, including veterans. For more information, visit www.nib.org or www.nsite.org.