Strategic Partners (part 1)

Female with blonde hair and glasses presenting at a podium with a projection screen behind her that reads AbilityOne Reverse Industry Day.

To enhance the personal and economic independence of people who are blind, NIB forms strategic partnerships with government agencies, commercial businesses, and training organizations. These partnerships champion NIB’s mission and enable both partners and customers to gain an appreciation of the capabilities of people who are blind.

Government Partners Help Grow Opportunities

In October 2020, the U.S. Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP) and the office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment issued memos directing establishment of the AbilityOne Representative (ABOR) program at the 24 federal agencies subject to the CFO Act and at Department of Defense (DOD) components. The goal of the ABOR program is to increase spending on AbilityOne products and services and thus increase jobs through the AbilityOne® Program for people who are blind or have significant disabilities. In the memoranda announcing the program’s creation, both OFPP and DOD noted the crucial role AbilityOne agencies played in the nation’s response to COVID-19.

The Javits-Wagner-O’Day (JWOD) Act requires federal agencies to purchase AbilityOne products and services. However, if a needed product or service is not on the AbilityOne procurement list, federal customers can go to the commercial market. As part of the new program, ABORs work to educate personnel in federal agencies about the wide range of products and services the AbilityOne Program offers.

Thanks to their positions with federal agencies, ABORs have a good understanding of the products and services government customers need. They work with nonprofit organizations in the AbilityOne Program to develop new solutions that meet those needs and get them onto the AbilityOne procurement list.

ABOR Business Development Manager Matthew Buchanan joined NIB in early 2021 to help grow the program. His experience as a civilian contracting officer for the U.S. Army had made him a staunch supporter of the AbilityOne Program and NIB’s mission. “I purchased a lot from AbilityOne as a contracting officer,” says Buchanan. “I know first-hand that AbilityOne products and services are top-notch.”

Buchanan says his work so far has focused on providing training and outreach to ABORs and federal agencies. NIB hosted the first ABOR Reverse Industry Day in November 2022 to introduce ABORs from federal agencies and DOD to the wide range of products and services AbilityOne offers.

“We’ve built a strong reputation with the products our agencies produce,” explains Buchanan, “but we want to get the word out about the services they offer, like contract closeout and call center and IT help desk services.” The two-day event highlighted services available through NIB and SourceAmerica® agencies and provided an opportunity for ABORs to meet in person for the first time since the pandemic began.

Buchanan is encouraged about the future of the program. “We talk to a lot of people who don’t know about our mission. The ABOR program allows us to get the word out, and it really sells itself once they are informed. All we need is that first contract to prove ourselves,” says Buchanan.

NSITE, NIB’s talent management enterprise, is also establishing strategic partnerships, both with state rehabilitation agencies and with nonprofit rehabilitation organizations, says Director of Strategic Partnerships Billy Parker.

Created under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, state vocational rehabilitation programs receive federal funds to provide services to people with disabilities. In the past, Parker says, the state agencies were reluctant to offer training services other than their own, but that changed during the pandemic because many state agency programs were in-person only. When NSITE moved its training programs online, state agencies recognized them as a good solution to help their clients who are blind or visually impaired.

Gaining approval to offer training to state agencies takes time, notes Parker. Thus far, NSITE has signed contracts with a dozen states to offer training, and is working with several more to secure contracts.

One offering that state agencies are embracing is the Professional Mastery of Office Technology for Employment (ProMOTE) training program. Developed by NSITE, ProMOTE is now offered by five NIB associated nonprofit agencies – East Texas Lighthouse for the Blind, Blind and Vision Rehabilitation Services of Pittsburgh, Bosma Enterprises in Indianapolis, the Carroll Center for the Blind in Newton, Massachusetts, and the Lighthouse of Broward County in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

“ProMOTE takes assistive technology users with intermediate skills to the next level and prepares them for competitive, upwardly mobile computer-based careers,” explains Parker. NSITE developed a train-the-trainer program that prepares associated agencies to offer ProMOTE to rehabilitation clients and others in their region. “The train-the-trainer program helps agencies grow the portfolio of services they can offer to their communities,” Parker says.

Similarly, NSITE is helping the Cincinnati Association for the Blind (CABVI) provide training for people who are blind in one of the nation’s fastest growing industries, following its recent acquisition of Route Transportation and Logistics. “The job opportunities with Route allow people who are blind to develop a deep understanding of the logistics industry and have more opportunities for career advancement,” says Teri Shirk, CABVI president and CEO.

Marianne Haegeli, NSITE program director for learning and leadership, explains that the training being developed for CABVI’s positions with Route will focus on educating candidates on the logistics industry, the company’s systems and processes, and the effective and efficient use of assistive technology. “We are always eager to help our associated agency partners develop training that opens up new pathways to career success for people who are blind,” she says.