Blind Americans have faced daunting job prospects for generations. One factory shows how all that could change.
Eyes-free machines. Photo by Visualpun.ch/Flickr.
THE GOOD NEWS:
More than two-thirds of blind Americans are unemployed. One textile factory is working to change that number by outfitting all its machines to cater to and employ those with blindness.
Could you operate heavy machinery with your eyes closed? Imagine if your livelihood depended on it.
Blind Americans confront a veritable sea of joblessness: 7 in 10 are without work. But the success story being written at one Texas factory is showing just how to turn the tide. Unemployment among the blind has long been an off-the-radar problem. According to the American Foundation for the Blind and the National Federation of the Blind, jobless rates have stood at 70% for generations.
Agency networks like National Industries for the Blind have helped drive attention and match job opportunities since the Great Depression. But with over 10 million estimated Americans blind or visually impaired, and studies suggesting that figure will double over the next 30 years, the urgency surrounding employment is growing.
While the burden for making tech-heavy work more accessible to the blind still rests with tech companies, in the meantime, new manufacturing jobs are being unlocked for blind Americans thanks to the pioneering efforts of the Dallas Lighthouse for the Blind.
As a legacy organization created to help clear a path to self-reliance for the blind, the group’s motive for running the factory isn’t profit-driven. But the gains unlocked by demonstrating the efficacy of blind workers in a field traditionally presumed to be sighted-only are significant.
And, fortunately, other teams are catching on. A North Carolina factory staffed by Winston-Salem Industries for the Blind, SustainU, a college apparel company committed to sustainable enterprise, found that only a few basic alterations to machinery were needed to meet their production needs.
“You would never know whether the person who made the garment had full vision capability or not,” said Chris Yura, the company’s CEO. “It all looks the same. It’s the same product at the end of the day.” After assessing the Winston-Salem factory’s performance, he found no measurable difference in cost or quality of goods.
For those who’ve never taken a look inside a factory where the machinery has been modified for operators who happen not to be sighted, take a look at this video from Uproxx to see how the Dallas Lighthouse makes it all fit together: