Organization is largest employer in U.S. of people who are blind
ALEXANDRIA, Va.—This month, National Industries for the Blind (NIB) is celebrating its 85th anniversary as the nation’s largest employment resource for people who are blind. In 2022, NIB and its nearly 100 associated nonprofit agencies across the country employed more than 5,000 people who are blind and provided jobs for 506 veterans.
Over the past eight decades, NIB has paved the way for people who are blind to build successful careers, realize dreams like higher education and home ownership, and achieve personal and economic independence.
“While our mission has remained constant, the means of achieving it have evolved,” said Kevin Lynch, NIB president and chief executive officer. “In a future where opportunity is limited only by our imagination, NIB will continue to empower people who are blind to choose their preferred career path and chart their own journey to achieving the American Dream.”
NIB was incorporated on August 10, 1938, after President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the historic Wagner-O’Day Act in June of that year. It was a turning point because the Act directed government agencies to give priority to suppliers employing people who are blind.
NIB is a central nonprofit agency for the AbilityOne Program, a small government program that provides employment opportunities for people who are blind or have significant disabilities. The AbilityOne Program uses the purchasing power of the federal government to buy products and services from participating, community-based nonprofit agencies nationwide.
People who are blind have one of the highest unemployment rates – 70% of working age Americans who are blind are not employed. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the jobless rate for those with a disability is about twice as high as the rate for people without a disability.
Fostering a diverse and inclusive workplace positively impacts a company’s culture and employee recruitment. A recent survey by NIB showed that nearly 7 in 10 Americans are more likely to support a company that prioritizes diversity. When it comes to the next generation, those numbers are even higher – 90% of 18-to-34-year-olds believe companies should prioritize making workplaces more accessible.
Many people who are blind and actively searching for jobs have advanced degrees and valuable professional experience, including many veterans. NIB works with potential employers and with job seekers who are blind, assisting both in finding the right fit. In 2021, NIB launched a national talent management enterprise called NSITE. It provides award-winning training and professional development, empowering people who are blind to build successful careers.
Many employers know that creating a diverse and inclusive workplace is important, but they don’t always know how to accomplish that, especially when it comes to people who are blind and visually impaired.
Rapid improvements in technology have enhanced the workplace environment and played an important role in leveling the field for employees who are blind. This has made it easy and inexpensive for employers to create an accessible and inclusive work environment. In a recent study by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Job Accommodation Network, respondents said 59 percent of accommodations cost their firm absolutely nothing to make, while the others typically cost only $500 per employee with a disability.
Jeffrey Mittman has encountered similar misperceptions around creating workplace accommodations. 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 is the president and CEO of NIB associated nonprofit agency Bosma Enterprises, the largest employer for people who are blind in Indiana, as well as president of the Board of Directors for the National Association for the Employment of People Who Are Blind.
Mittman explains that creativity and innovation are a way of life for most people who are blind, which adds value in the workplace.
“They think it’s going to be hard…they think it’s going to be expensive. Quite frankly, 60% of all accommodations for people who are blind cost absolutely nothing,” Mittman said. “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. When you bring that into an employment scenario, you become very productive and very creative. 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.