Right now, the West Allis blind and visually impaired industry is very important in advancing a workforce of able-bodied people who don’t always get the attention they deserve.
IBVI, an agency working with the National Industries for the Blind (NIB), creates jobs for the visually impaired, primarily through a government project called AbilityOne. This federal initiative mandates that a percentage of contracts go to organizations that employ people with disabilities, and IBVI is one of the largest employers of the blind in Wisconsin. They produce office and janitorial supplies, as well as business-critical equipment for the government.
And this summer they had a chance to get more support from our state lawmakers.
Alison Fortney is an account and e-commerce specialist at IBVI. During her meetings with senators and state officials, she spoke on behalf of IBVI to discuss changes to upcoming changes to the AbilityOne program – including eliminating minimum wages, updating current direct employment requirements, correcting outdated definitions of significant ones Disability and more.
NID hosts a public policy forum every year, but this time, Fortney says, she wants to talk to lawmakers about HR 2373, the Competitive Integrated Employment Act.
“There are some companies that still pay their employees sub-minimum wages,” says Fortney. “We want to eliminate that. The bill will help employers provide employment under specific certificates issued under Section 14 (c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act and will transfer their business and program models. They support people with disabilities through competitive integrated employment. And they also want to phase out the use of such special certificates. ”
Fortney also spoke to state government officials about blind labor requirements. While the law allows blind people to account for 75 percent of direct work through AbilityOne and the Javits-Wagner-O’Day Act, it does not apply to those in managerial positions or customer service.
Fortney says, “We want to change that because this employment relationship reflects outdated ideas about the capabilities of blind people. This gives the impression that employees with disabilities are somehow unable to work in customer service or other management positions, which is completely wrong, because here we give employees the opportunity to switch from one position to another. ”
Fortney, who has worked for IBVI for five years, says her meetings were generally well received, which as a visually impaired person was rewarding in itself. She notes: “70% of the blind and visually impaired population are either unemployed or underemployed.”
And that has to change, she says.
Fortney advises that progress is being made. She says technology helps visually impaired people get their jobs done, and even in the factory, blindness doesn’t prevent employees from being productive.
“It’s mostly haptic and experiential,” she says. “You have some people who work on the same machine for a long time, they learn how to do it. It’s the same with putting pens and brushes together. ”
Among other things, IBVI works with the military and creates promotional materials as well as Goodwill, Habitat for Humanity, Easter Seals, AmeriCorps and more.
But the work of IBVI is not done yet. Fortney says she plans to contact the convention bureau regularly and keep them updated on what the organization is promoting. It’s about telling people, “Hey, that’s what blind employment can do. This is how the people who work in our agency do their work every day. Just because you’re disabled or blind doesn’t mean you can’t have a job. ”
Fortney says, “This is about something bigger than I could ever have imagined. We help people find a job and help them find out what they are capable of. Despite their disabilities, they can still work, earn money and live independently. ”
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