National Industries for the Blind Recognizes National Employees of the Year

Alexandria, VA – National Industries for the Blind (NIB), the nation’s largest employment resource for people who are blind, honored Elton Thomas, winner of the 2019 Milton J. Samuelson Career Achievement Award, and James Brian Rutherford, winner of the 2019 Peter J. Salmon Employee of the Year Award, at an awards banquet on May 1 during its annual National Symposium.

Thomas, who is working on a master’s degree in business administration, came to Lighthouse for the Blind, St. Louis, as a production employee and advanced to a supervisory role in just four years. His embrace of opportunities for personal and professional growth has taken him from the agency’s production floor to the halls of Congress, where he advocates on behalf of people who are blind as part of NIB’s Advocates for Leadership and Employment program.

“It’s been a privilege to see Elton progress in his career over the years,” said John Thompson, president of Lighthouse, St. Louis. “He simply seizes every opportunity to better himself and then applies what he learns in his position at the Lighthouse to improve our performance.”

Rutherford, who holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree, previously worked as a costume designer for Walt Disney World. After losing his eyesight, he moved to Pittsburgh to be near family and attended Adjustment to Blindness training at Blind and Vision Rehabilitation Services (BVRS). Afterward, he joined the agency’s textiles department where, drawing on his extensive knowledge and experience, he regularly provides input on ways to improve processes and sewing accuracy. Away from the agency, Rutherford shares his lifelong love of theater arts with others, serving as an audio description coordinator and consultant to Pittsburgh-area theaters.

“Brian’s commitment to advocacy and employment for people with vision loss has been an asset to our organization as well as the general community,” said BVRS President Erika Petach. “I’m constantly impressed by his motivation, positive attitude, and desire to help others.”

The Milton J. Samuelson Career Achievement Award honors individuals who are blind who demonstrate career advancement at an NIB associated nonprofit agency or in the private sector. The award is named for the late Milton J. Samuelson, a former NIB board member and past executive director of The Chicago Lighthouse for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired.

The Peter J. Salmon Award was created by NIB’s board of directors in 1968 to honor the accomplishments of employees who are blind working at NIB associated agencies who excel in their positions. The award is named for the late Dr. Peter J. Salmon, who was instrumental in passage of the Wagner-O’Day Act, the landmark legislation that led to the formation of NIB.

The awards were presented at a dinner held at the Hilton Mark Center in Alexandria, Va. The annual conference, hosted by NIB and the National Association for the Employment of People Who Are Blind, brings together hundreds of NIB and associated agency employees, partners, and supporters to advance employment issues for people who are blind.


About National Industries for the Blind

Since 1938, 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 AbilityOneTM Program. For more information about NIB, visit

About Lighthouse for the Blind, St. Louis

For more than 85 years, the mission of Lighthouse has been to assist individuals who are legally blind in maintaining dignity and independence by making available employment, education, and support services. The nonprofit organization employs people who are blind through the production, packaging and sale of more than 300 commercial and government products. Lighthouse’s aerosol manufacturing facility is the only one in the world operated primarily by people who are blind. Visit for more information.

About Blind and Vision Rehabilitation Services

BVRS is a nonprofit organization that fosters independence and individual choice for people who are blind, deafblind, or vision impaired through employment, training, and services. BVRS employs people who are blind through the manufacture and sale of signage, products, textiles, and contract services to businesses and U.S. governmental departments. For details visit