Industries for the Blind

It is my pleasure to share with you the extraordinary experience of my recent visit to Industries for the Blind (IFB), a local business operating in West Asheville. In our world of environmental calamities, economic uncertainty, violence and apathy, it's important to focus on something that is truly positive, something that brings a breath of fresh air to the media's consistent barrage of negative messages.

Started in 1939 in Winston-Salem and affiliated with the National Industries for the Blind, the mission of this Nonprofit 501(c) 3 is: "We will improve the quality of life for people who are blind or visually impaired by offering them employment opportunities and benefits that, without us, almost certainly would not exist". They later expanded to open branches in Asheville in 1996 and in Puerto Rico in 2006. The main function of IFB is to produce goods for the US Government. It breaks down like this…

It is human nature to take what we've been given for granted; but for a minute imagine that you are blind or visually impaired. Imagine going out into the marketplace to find a job. Imagine being repeatedly turned away due to an employer's fear of high training costs, the need for specialized equipment and/or an inability to perform needed job functions. Imagine the effect it would have on your sense of self worth and esteem to be denied gainful employment application after application, year after year. Even though I empathize with patients that have vision loss due to eye disease on a weekly basis, I can only speculate what effect blindness could have on my psyche over the course of time.

Now imagine discovering an organization whose sole purpose is to help you. To improve your self esteem and advance your sense of purpose by providing employment in a welcoming, accepting and customized environment for the visually impaired. A place where you can feel like a productive member of society, make a living wage with great benefits, and work in a space with others that can empathize with your malady. All of this while shifting you from receiving social security, welfare and supplemental security income to paying taxes and producing needed goods for Uncle Sam. That's what I mean by "truly positive".

As I walked around the manufacturing floor with Randy Buckner, Director of Operations for Asheville, he introduced employees by name and received a warm smile from each person in return. That's an obvious sign of an excellent leader. Another sign of excellence: IFB-Asheville was recently recognized by the Chamber of Commerce during the Sky High Growth Awards event, which means they have met the Chamber's criteria for revenue and/or employment growth. The excess revenue is then reinvested back into the organization to improve the work space and create even more jobs.

So what's next for this unique humanitarian organization? IFB is partnering with Mission Hospital to bring the Community Low Vision Center onsite to their Sardis Road location. The Low Vision Center offers independent living skills training, products to enhance the usable vision a person may still have (large numbered phones and clocks, magnifiers, large print books, etc), and even on site exams by eye doctors to diagnose and create treatment plans for patients.

I will end with an appropriate quote pulled from IFB's website ( "From our origins in a two-room shop to our success as a multimillion-dollar enterprise, the focus of IFB has always stayed the same—changing lives through opportunity—and today we are proud to say, ‘Our vision is working'".

Larry Golson, OD is an entrepreneur in Asheville, NC