Jeffrey Mittman, who is now blind, advocates for and supports professionals who are blind
ALEXANDRIA, Va.—U.S. Army veteran Jeffrey Mittman, president and CEO of Bosma Enterprises and a board member for National Industries for the Blind (NIB), was deployed to Afghanistan and then Iraq in the early 2000s. In 2005, he was critically wounded after driving down a Baghdad highway directly into an all-out attack. The projectile that went through his vehicle’s six-inch-thick, bullet-proof window immediately knocked Mittman unconscious. Near death, his wounds included severe head and facial trauma, as well as numerous other injuries.
He awoke a month later at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Washington, D.C., with no memory of the attack and discovered that he had lost his vision as a result of his injuries. Realizing that his family needed a husband and father, not a memory, Mittman made a conscious decision to survive and recover. Acclimating to his “new normal” involved learning to navigate his blindness and enduring over 40 operations to rebuild his face and body.
After dedicating more than 20 years to the Army, Mittman found new ways to continue to live a life of service, working for organizations that support the military and people who are blind or visually impaired. He returned to college to earn a bachelor’s degree and then two master’s degrees. Along the way, he spent eight years working for the Department of Defense and served as a national account manager for the Wounded Warriors in Transition program at NIB.
Mittman returned home to Indiana and took a position with NIB associated nonprofit agency Bosma Enterprises. He started as chief operating officer in 2018 and became president and CEO in 2019, as well as serving on Bosma’s Board of Directors.
Bosma is the largest employer and only comprehensive provider of rehabilitation and training for people who are blind or visually impaired in Indiana. In addition to those services, Bosma provides custom packaging, warehousing, logistics, product assembly, and other scalable business services for a variety of products, including medical-grade gloves for veterans affairs hospitals across the U.S.—more than half a billion a year.
Mittman regularly credits products made by NIB associated nonprofit agencies as having saved his life in Iraq. As president of the National Association for the Employment of People Who Are Blind (NAEPB), he addressed the employees of those agencies in attendance the 2023 NIB/NAEPB national conference in October and shared his gratitude for their work.
“When I got hurt on the battlefield, it was products produced by the agencies you represent that saved my life,” Mittman said. “From the gloves they treated me with, to the bandages they used to stop the bleeding, to components of the very helmet I was wearing on my head. Without you and your agencies, I would not be here.”
Through its nearly 100 associated agencies, NIB helped more than 5,000 people who are blind find employment in 2022 alone and provided jobs for 506 veterans. Yet, people who are blind still 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 people with a disability is about twice as high as the rate for people without a disability.
For 85 years, 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 CEO. “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 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.
Rapid improvements in technology have enhanced the workplace environment and played a vital 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 others typically cost only $500 per employee.
Mittman explained 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, most 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.