IFB Solutions Honors Local Employee of the Year, The Winston-Salem Foundation and Community Leaders

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: Anastasia Powell
apowell@ifbsolutions.org, M 336-456-9824

IFB Solutions Honors Local Employee of the Year, The Winston-Salem Foundation and Community Leader Tom Serrin for Contributions to Non-Profit’s Success

Winston-Salem, NC (May 25, 2022)—IFB Solutions, the largest employer of people who are blind in the U.S., recently recognized its Employees of the Year, partners and volunteers who play a vital role in the nonprofit’s mission of employment, training and services. Several honorees were from the Winston-Salem area.

“During the past two years of operating during a global pandemic our employees, board members and community partners have gone to extraordinary lengths in helping us continue to live out our mission of providing employment, training and services for people who are blind,” said IFB Solutions CEO David Horton. “This year’s award ceremony was especially meaningful as an opportunity to recognize and thank them in person for all that they continue to do for our organization. I’m humbled and inspired by their unselfish service and commitment to IFB Solutions.”

Luis Quiles of Winston-Salem named overall IFB Solutions Employee of the Year. Luis, who was born with ocular histoplasmosis, began his career at the IFB operations in Puerto Rico. After several years, he decided to move to Winston-Salem for additional upward mobility opportunities. He currently works in the role of Lead Shipper for IFB’s optical department. Luis obtained a degree in Business Administration from DeVry College. He is a proficient Spanish/English translator, is active in the community and has many interests, including being a member of the IFB Solutions bowling team.

Melissa Tuttle named IFB Solutions Career Achiever of the Year. Growing up with low vision caused by nystagmus and cataracts, Melissa focused on her education and a future career. After graduating from Western Carolina University with a major in Computer Information Systems, she worked for several years before joining IFB Solutions in 2011. Today, Melissa is a member of IFB’s Supply Chain team and is known for her savvy computer skills and attention to detail.

Tom Serrin honored as IFB Solutions Commodore Funderburk Visionary Award recipient. This award is named for the late Commodore Funderburk who was blind, deaf and mute and worked for IFB for 40 years without missing a day. It recognizes the individual or group who has helped solidify a future for IFB Solutions and, more importantly, create opportunities for people who are blind. IFB’s mission is personal to Tom. He served in the U.S. Marines and has lived with a vision impairment since adulthood. He has been a member of IFB’s Board of Directors since 2015 and is passionate about sharing how philanthropic support to IFB directly impacts the lives of thousands of people who are blind or visually impaired. Tom is the inaugural chair of IFB’s Development and Awareness Committee working to raise additional dollars to expand funding for IFB’s community programs and low-vision services.

The Winston-Salem Foundation named IFB Solutions Partner of the Year. For more than a century, The Winston-Salem Foundation has partnered with individuals and organizations to improve the quality of life in Winston-Salem, Forsyth County, and beyond. Through generous funding from the Foundation, IFB has been able to expand its job training programs, purchase and implement new Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software and expand its S.E.E. Program for school-age children.

ABOUT IFB SOLUTIONS®
IFB Solutions is a nonprofit corporation founded in 1936 as Winston-Salem Industries for the Blind, and it provides employment, training and services for people who are blind or visually impaired. As the largest employer of people who are blind in the United States, IFB has manufacturing operations in Winston-Salem, N.C., Asheville, N.C., and Little Rock, Ark., in addition to nearly 20 tactical gear and office supply Base Supply Center stores. Primary business activities include production of military tactical gear, prescription eyewear at the Twenty200 Optical Lab, products for home and business under the Pinnacle Mercantile Amazon storefront, and call center operations. IFB Solutions funds employee training and services as well as community programs through grants and private donations, making possible summer camps, afterschool programs and activities for children who are blind. The IFB Community Low Vision Centers in North Carolina and in Little Rock, Ark., are open to the public. ifbsolutions.org

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Pinnacle Mercantile Authentic Woobie: Manufacturing with Meaning

Written by: Dale Baker

man in army uniform

I spent 24 years in the Army and served all over the world. There were very few constant forms of comfort during my service, but my woobie was certainly one of them. I remember the poncho liner material was silky and kept me warm, plus it was lightweight and easy to carry. I remember seeing the Winston-Salem Industries for the Blind label on the material and wondering how people who are blind make products for the military.

man wearing glasses facing camera
Dale Baker – Army Veteran, IFB Solutions Employee

After my service, I toured Winston-Salem Industries for the Blind, which is now called IFB Solutions. I was shocked to see a manufacturing operation that creates jobs for people who are blind by making things that I used in my Army days. I was amazed.

Today, I’m the distribution manager at IFB Solutions. It’s my job to ship out the Pinnacle Mercantile Authentic Woobie to our armed forces and most recently, private citizens who can buy a woobie on Amazon.

What’s a Woobie?

folded woobie with logoChances are, if you ask a member of the military about a woobie  they’ll know exactly what you’re talking about. No one knows for sure where the nickname “woobie” came from. It’s a sophisticated, military grade poncho liner used for protection from the elements. Some say it provides comfort like a baby blanket. I am proud to say the Pinnacle Mercantile Authentic Woobie, manufactured by IFB Solutions, is made in the U.S.A. and provides jobs for people who are blind.

Brief History Lesson

The U.S. Army issued liner was introduced in 1962 for use by special forces in Vietnam. IFB Solutions has been making this durable product since 1991, exclusively for the army and marines. Now, we’re making the same product, matching the same military specs, and same quality, to shoppers on Amazon. Unlike a lot of knockoffs out there, this is authentic. It’s the same thing our soldiers and marines use, the only difference is the label.

Manufacturing with Meaning

man working with textile manufacturing machineryOur poncho liner has provided hundreds of jobs for people who are blind over the years at IFB Solutions. People who are blind or visually impaired face so many barriers to the workforce, whether it’s transportation or lack of education among employers who won’t hire people with disabilities for fear of liability or cost. In fact, 70% of the working age population who are blind are not employed. At IFB Solutions, our mission is to bring that statistic down. People who are blind from all over the country have relocated to work at IFB Solutions, a place where there are no barriers, just opportunities.

AbilityOne Program: Creating Jobs, Changing Lives

IFB Solutions, now 85 years old, began in a church in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, with only a few employees who were blind. Today, we have nearly 1,000 employees working all over the country in call centers, manufacturing operations,  Base Supply Centers, optical lab and more. We even have programs for kids who are blind.

We wouldn’t have had the opportunity to make such a beloved product as the Pinnacle Mercantile Authentic Woobie and employ so many people who are blind if it wasn’t for the AbilityOne Program. There are more than 500 nonprofits, including IFB Solutions, that are under the AbilityOne umbrella. All of them provide opportunities for more than 45,000 people with disabilities in America. The AbilityOne Commission governs a procurement system that provides products and services for the federal government at a fair market price. At IFB Solutions, these products include office supplies, tactical gear, mattresses and more. Each product or service from IFB Solutions represents a life that has been changed thanks to training, upward mobility opportunities, and a diverse pool of jobs from which to choose.

Every day, I am moved by IFB Solutions employees who are blind. It is an inspiring place, and I am honored to play a role in a product like the Pinnacle Mercantile Authentic Woobie that gave me comfort during my service.

 

Seeking Employment at IFB Solutions: Opportunity Provider for People who are Blind

Written By: Brent Burkholder

 

Headshot photo of Brent smilingSometimes in today’s workforce, we cross paths with individuals who formulate negative perceptions towards others based on their own limited ideas. I am very familiar with this perception.

I was born Premature at 26 weeks, which resulted in vision loss that has ultimately created some obstacles in my life. Most of which I have overcome.

For people who are blind, employment opportunities aren’t readily available.  In my case, my vision loss took an opportunity away.

After graduating from Penn State University and then later obtaining my master’s degree from the University of Baltimore Maryland, I gained employment but later my vision lost would limit opportunities for job advancements. I didn’t want my career to end when my vision deteriorated.

I heard about a program that would later lead to a full-time job at IFB Solutions. I currently work at IFB as a Human Resources Project Specialist/Recruiter, and I help people who are blind overcome the challenges of finding a job. It brings me joy to play such a huge part in their work lives.

Whether it’s helping them to enhance their upward mobility, increase their confidence in workmanship, or just assisting with finding resources. If you know you are capable, never be afraid to put yourself out there. We are more than just a company at IFB Solutions… We are a family!

IFB Solutions is the largest employer of people who are blind in the United States. Our mission is to provide opportunities for employment, services, and training for people who are blind or visually impaired to succeed in every area of life. Our vision is thriving with a workforce dedicated to our mission. We cannot wait for you to be a part of IFB Solutions, America’s leader in providing life-changing opportunities to people who are blind or visually impaired. Work culture is our foundation. IFB provides many resources and benefits for its employees to cultivate growth and confidence. It is truly a business with a heart.  The cohesiveness and comradery demonstrated throughout the organization is remarkable and one of IFB Solutions’ greatest benefits.

Our Values

 

Values listed Ethical to the Core Commitment to Excellence -Business with a Heart -Mission Possible Creative Solutions

IFB Solutions is Different

The HR team has created a robust process with the goal of providing a smooth transition for employees. During the onboarding process, the certified Workforce Transition Coordinator works with candidates around relocation, establishing community resources, and transportation options when necessary. the dedicated training team extensively provides hands-on assessments and job-related preparation ensuring success.  All new employees are required to complete a new hire orientation with the benefits team. Safety training and a facility tour are provided on the first day of work.  Sensitivity to Blindness Training is given to all new employees with vision. In addition, on day one IFB offers mentors for workers who are blind to ensure comfort with the facility’s layout and its policies.

What Does the Hiring Process Look Like?

IFB Solutions has a proven process to start the path to earning competitive wages:

-Candidates will interview with several members of the recruitment team and the Certified Workforce Transition Coordinator.

-Upon successful completion of the interview process applicants are scheduled for an in-person interview and job assessment.

-After completion of the in-person interview/assessment, candidates will work with the Certified Workforce Transition Coordinator to begin the onboarding process.

To apply for one of our job opportunities you can find us on the various platforms; IndeedLinkedIn, State job Boards, job fairs, IFB Solutions social media pages, and our website.

 

IFB Solutions: Full Circle Support Powered by Inclusion

Written By: Brenda Diggs

Headshot photo of Brenda Diggs smilingOctober is National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM).  This is a special time of year for IFB Solutions.   It is a time when we can educate our country about including people with disabilities in the workplace. As the new Chairperson of the IFB Solutions Board of Directors, I hope I inspire you to help make a difference.

 

Where It Began

I am a native of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and actively involved in the local community. During my professional career, I was a senior vice president of Wachovia Bank and served as manager of Sales Performance Services supporting the retail financial services group. Although I am officially retired, I sometimes provide consulting in the areas of leadership and board development, operational and financial management. I have always had a passion for service and helping others.

I am also involved in my church as well as other civic and community activities. It has been a pleasure to support IFB Solutions throughout the years.  I am proud of the impact IFB has across the communities in North Carolina and beyond. I am equally pleased and proud to be the new Chair of the IFB Solutions Board of Directors.

Inspired By IFB Solutions

I learned about IFB Solutions when I served on the board of the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust. The Trust approved a grant for Winston-Salem Industries for the Blind, now known as IFB Solutions. It was the practice of the Trust to do an onsite visit of some of the organizations receiving grants. The visit to Winston-Salem Industries for the Blind, now IFB Solutions, gave me a much deeper appreciation and respect for people with visual disabilities.  I was amazed by the abilities of people who are blind or visually impaired. While I knew of the organization, what I learned during that visit was just how widespread the work done by the employees who were blind impacted the U.S.  I was not aware of the work that was being done to support the military.  All I could say was wow!

My husband, who is visually impaired due to Optic Neuropathy, first learned about low vision products by visiting IFB’s Community Low Vision Center in Winston-Salem, N.C.  His visit presented another opportunity to learn about the resources provided by IFB and the value that they bring to the blind/low vision community. The Center and IFB helped my husband continue to lead an independent life.

I am inspired by the commitment of IFB’s management team, Board of Directors, and the employees who contribute to the overall economy, employment base, and overall well-being of the Winston-Salem community.  It is also inspiring to see the commitment of employees who take pride in doing work that benefits others while enriching their lives.  Lastly, it is very inspiring to help people who sometimes feel that they may be overlooked simply because they have vision loss. I have witnessed the skill, talent, and ability of many employees at IFB Solutions, and they are amazing.

A Look into the Future

Headshot of Brenda Diggs smiling at cameraMy support for IFB has come full circle.

After having so many fulfilling and personal experiences with this incredible non-profit, I am now leading the Board of Directors.  Each member of the board believes in the work of this great organization and sees the value that it holds in this community.  Board members believe that the work of IFB Solutions is making an impact and changing the lives of people who in some instances would not have the opportunity to work, earn a decent salary and live an independent life due to so many workforce barriers.

For me, IFB Solutions is doing what I know is most important in my life, that is, to make a positive difference in the life of someone else. It is my pleasure to have the opportunity to continue to serve IFB Solutions with a dedicated board, great management team, and staff who are all committed to doing just that. Some of my plans for this position are to make sure the employees get to know the board. I would like to stay connected and engaged. I will continue to advocate my passion and love for the mission of IFB Solutions.

Here are a few key takeaways when considering workplace inclusion and people with disabilities:

 

-According to the Society for Human Resource Management, prior to COVID-19, the unemployment rate for individuals with disabilities was double that of their peers, and more than *1 million U.S. workers with disabilities have lost their jobs since the pandemic began.

-Given the number of jobs available in the country right now, it is a prime opportunity to bring about the awareness of this very talented, committed, and productive segment of our society.

-For 1/3 of our workforce, IFB Solutions is their first job. Misconceptions of people who are blind cause barriers to employment. It’s our mission to change that.

-Inclusion is operating in a way that allows people of diverse backgrounds, skills, and yes, disabilities to use their skills in a manner that leverages fair, healthy, and high-performing organizations, or communities.  It enables individuals and groups to feel safe, respected, engaged, motivated and valued for who they are and for their contributions toward an organization, community, and society.

 

Opening a Window of Independence: Having a Guide Dog

Written By: Lee Hartline

Photo of Lee walking with his guide dog TexBeing independent became a challenge 30 years ago when I became visually and hearing impaired due to retinitis pigmentosa (RP). I was unemployed for 20 years because people saw my disability as a risk.  Seven years ago, IFB Solutions hired me as a trainee in the optical lab.  I earned a promotion to lab tech. Then I took advantage of more job training opportunities. I currently work in the Advanced Combat Shirt department as a sewing machine operator where I make products for the U.S. Military. Having a guide dog has been a step closer to living an independent life!

Qualifying For My Guide Dog

It was essential for me to feel independent, so I decided to acquire a specially trained dog to serve as a guide. There are several schools that train the dogs and pair you with the right one. I chose Guiding Eye Dogs in New York.

The first step was to apply to the school of my choice. Once I was accepted, they sent an instructor from the school to evaluate me and make sure I was a good candidate to receive a dog. The following criteria were evaluated:

-Cane skills

-Knowledge of Cardinal directions

-Speed/ stride

-My health/physical shape

-Personality

Guide Dog Training

Once I qualified to receive a guide dog, I was trained for four weeks. They evaluated where I would be needed the dog. I live in the country and work in the city. The guide dog training school has dogs of different breeds, sizes, and behaviors. They determine which dog best suits you. In my case, I have an 80-pound moderate gait German Shepherd that works with my stride and height. There are hypoallergenic options like poodles.

Benefits of having a Guide Dog

There are a lot of responsibilities that come with having a guide dog like taking the dog to the vet regularly, making sure the vaccinations are up to date and having a feeding routine. There are also many benefits. The guide dog learns to look for doors, walk on sidewalks, stop in front of stairs that go up or down, avoids obstacles, among other things. Your guide dog becomes your eyes. You learn to trust each other. If you interact with a guide dog while it is working, there could be danger involved for the handler.

Tips to Interacting with guide dogs:

-Dogs are fed only by their owner

-Ignore a working Guide dog

-Do not pet the dog without the owner’s permission

-Speak directly to the guide dog handler and not the guide dog

Guide Dogs: Work and Play

-The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) stipulates that the guide dog is allowed to enter wherever its owner goes. They can also board airplanes and sit in front of their owner without incurring any additional expense. The same applies to parks, taxis, hotels, etc.

-Guide dogs are great companions. When they are not wearing a harness, they can play like any pet. On the other hand, they must behave very well so that their owner does not lose the right to enter any place with their guide dog.

-Guide dogs have a career life just like adults.  Like us, puppies age and their productivity declines. We must be compassionate and give them the opportunity to enjoy being full-time pets.

My first puppy started working when she was two years old and retired after nine years. Then she became the pet of the people who raised her, and I acquired Tex, my current guide dog. I am very satisfied with the work they do and the independence they provide. Thanks to my guide dog Tex, I recommend a guide dog one hundred and ten percent! Having a guide dog by my side has been another step closer to living an independent life!

 

Very Blessed: Teaching and Learning While Blind

Written By: Kim Flanagan

Headshot photo of Kim looking off in front of the school house

Where it All Began

I am blessed in so many ways.  I was diagnosed with retinoblastoma (cancer on the retinas of my eyes) at age two. My younger years were spent with very low vision in one eye and none in the other.  Wearing thick glasses provided 20/200 sight without depth perception until December 2012 when I had a stroke in my eye which took the remaining vision.  Now totally blind, I use assistive technology, education, and experience to live a very full life.

With the support, creativity, love, and tireless effort of my parents, I graduated from Southeast Guilford High School with honors.  Greensboro College presented some challenges of navigating campus which was loaded with staircases and professors with extremely high expectations.  I graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Science in Special Education with three certifications.  Hard work and a “can do” attitude proved invaluable.

Career, Family, and Life

My first job was in the Davidson County Schools teaching students in kindergarten through fifth grade with behavioral or emotional disabilities. I used a handheld LED-lit magnifier and a CCTV for magnification and reverse coloration on the computer screen. I maintained excellent principal and peer reviews.  One frustration for me was not having access to public transportation or a driver’s license in our rural community. But I was willing to walk to work and I advocated for myself to get rides when I could. Marrying my husband in my second year of teaching gave me a supportive partner who was happy to drive me places when he was not in college classes or working himself.  I changed to teaching resource classes and then to self-contained classes of cross-categorical or multiply handicapped students.  After teaching for 14 years, I resigned to raise our two young children.  I was able to home school them until my son graduated high school and my daughter completed the eighth grade.

Since my own children were high school age, I decided to work for the Division of Services for the Blind as a teacher of mini centers.  These sessions were provided in 15 counties around the piedmont of NC to adults that had recently had a significant change in their vision including blindness.  Classes covered topics such as cooking, sewing, laundry, house cleaning, personal grooming, money identification, eating techniques, and many more activities of daily living.  Through this job, I was made aware of Winston-Salem Industries for the Blind – now IFB Solutions.  I interviewed and was hired as a Braille instructor for students in kindergarten through twelfth grade.  I worked part-time for both agencies until 2018 when I became the Youth Program Coordinator at IFB Solutions.  The Student Enrichment Experience (S.E.E.) program provides opportunities for blind or visually impaired students in kindergarten through twelfth grade to learn and practice skills to help them become independent adults.  The S.E.E. program offers after-school and summer camps, plus advocacy and awareness in the community.

Many challenges exist for a person who is blind.  Assistive technology is a big equalizer of job requirements, but it also takes resourcefulness and willingness to keep going.  After going blind, I learned Braille so that I could continue to be literate.  It took about a year to become a fluent reader in contracted Braille. Using Apple computer products in the public school system, I was most familiar with the voice-over screen reader.  After completely losing my sight, I took classes to learn JAWS (Job Access With Speech) which is used more in the business community.  Again, this allowed me to succeed in my work because I was willing to learn and grow.

Kim helping a student cook during an activityIn teaching children, youth, and adults, I use what I have proven successful in my own life.  These are things such as:

-Bump dots to mark microwaves or appliances

-Organizing and labeling items that are similar by touch

-Asking for help when needed

-Using iPhone apps for bar code reader, setting a timer, or identifying bill denominations

 Here are some tips to get the job done:

-Organize paperwork with different size clips or folders and Braille labels – maybe large print song sheets for students are in a stack with a large binder clip while regular size print sheets have a smaller binder clip; both sets have a Braille label clipped to the front telling what the sheets are

-Digital calendar from Outlook provides reminders of upcoming appointments and important dates – keep it current by filling in the data as soon as it is available so as not to forget something

-Supplies for S.E.E. (Student Enrichment Experience) kids are grouped by activity in Ziplock baggies of different sizes and delivered in boxes labeled in large print and Braille to work on their independence of finding the items on their own

-Screen readers JAWS on Windows computers and VoiceOver on Apple devices gives opportunity to interact with emails, websites, Zoom meetings, spreadsheets, continuing education courses, and many more assistive technology products

-Using UEB (Unified English Braille) is a means of reading novels, magazines, puzzle books, cookbooks, and loads of other material

Trying and practicing a task is the best way to figure out what works well!

I continue to have the love and support of my parents, husband of 31 years, and my two children.  My faith provides me with the strength to keep going even when tasks seem difficult.  I enjoy singing, cooking, and reading.  Knowing I am helping students to achieve goals is satisfying and their joy is a great reward to me.  Though I am blind, I plan to keep learning and growing, sharing my skills and showing the present and next generations how to focus on their abilities.  I am very blessed to have a family, home, and job I truly enjoy.

S.E.E. Summer Camps: The Experience of a Lifetime

Polaroid photo collage of see students during summer camp 2021

What is S.E.E.?

S.E.E.  stands for Student Enrichment Experience. Our experienced program leaders and camp staff members teach students who are blind or visually impaired life-skills, such as cooking, doing laundry, and making a bed. Students are also provided hands-on learning opportunities and many activities to help them enjoy new experiences. We have afterschool programs during the school year, but each summer, we host camps that are open to students who are blind or visually impaired.

How did it all start?

The first S.E.E. Camp started in 2007 with 8 kids and lasted for one week. Since 2007, our summer camps have grown to offer 11 weeks of fun and serve more than 100 students. We now have camps in Asheville, Winston-Salem, and Charlotte, N.C. Through community donations, we are able to offer this camp experience free of charge for our S.E.E. families.

What do kids do at camp?

During camps, children who are blind or visually impaired are given the opportunity to participate in classic camp activities such as bonfires, ziplining, banana boat rides, and lots of arts and crafts in between.

Summer camp looks a little different for our S.E.E. campers. We have some program leaders who are blind or visually impaired themselves, so our camps are led by people who are just like our campers.

How do our program staff get ready for S.E.E. Camps?

-Making sure that activities are accessible to all campers

-Creating themes that are fun and will allow campers to practice skills as well

-Planning activities that are different from those we did in S.E.E. after school

-Planning out activities throughout the day from seated to mobile and from fine motor to gross motor alternating

-Securing accessible transportation for campers and staff members

Our S.E.E. students love camp because: 

“I have fun!” – Drew

Photo of Drew during a SEE camp field trip

“I like the lunches and it is fun!” – Tanner

Tanner smiling while petting a lizard during SEE camp

“I like seeing other campers!” – Lindy

Lindy petting a turtle during SEE camp

“There is so much to do, and I love field trips!” – Kiyaan

Kiyaan waving to the camera as he checks out a lizard during SEE camp

Our S.E.E. Summer camps are truly a life-changing experience for children who are blind or visually impaired. It is important for our S.E.E. students to experience summer camp just as any other child would.

To learn more about our camps go here.

To donate go here.

Staying Inspired: Finding Work through Blindness

Staying Inspired: Finding Work through Blindness

By: Faith Harding, Administrative Assistant for IFB Base Supply Centers

Headshot photo of Faith Harding smiling
Photo of Faith Harding

In the Beginning

Originally from Louisiana, I was born 2lbs 3oz at 26 weeks. Since I made it through the night, doctors felt I would have a list of mental and physical disabilities associated with prematurity. Gratefully, retinopathy of prematurity; easy retinal detachments, was the only diagnosis that held true. At four years old, I went totally blind in my left eye and a few years later I went blind in my right. Thankfully, reattachment surgery restored some usable vision months later. Sometimes in life, the challenges that will boost your growth tenfold are ones you cannot run from.

Walking on Shaky Grounds

Reminiscing, teenage years were a walk in the park. Although with some college, looking for work introduced new challenges. Employers were uninformed of accessible technology and hesitant of my abilities to perform the work duties efficiently. The employers who looked past my limited vision faced challenges with software being incompatible with ZoomText, a magnifying program for Windows PC.

At the age of twenty-five, I lost my vision completely once again. This caused another layer of challenges toward being hired. I needed to learn quickly, improve navigating with a cane, confidently advocate for myself, and on top of that, deal with the emotional roller-coaster blindness took me on. Being blind is equivalent to having an inward mirror constantly facing you, the image does not improve until your mindset does.

IFB Solutions Journey

In 2015, I walked on faith and moved to Winston-Salem, N.C., to work at IFB Solutions as a sewing machine operator. For the first year, I decided to find positive attributes toward working at an industry for the blind facility. I was relieved  IFB encourages upward mobility for blind and low vision workers, holds various support groups, volunteering opportunities, community events, and much more. Stepping out of my comfort zone, I began participating and bringing my skills to the table. Six years later I am thankful to be an administrative assistant for our Base Supply Centers, editor of IFB Insider, president of Visionaries in Public Speaking, and love volunteering where I can.

 

Looking for work has many challenges, but do not give up. Here are some tips that assisted me in my journey:

-Look inside yourself, what skills do you naturally possess: writing, technology, communication, etc. What can you do to improve your knowledge in these areas?

-Look for and participate in various opportunities that remove you from your comfort zone. This will improve your confidence, knowledge, and internal growth.

-Pay attention, learn how to confidently advocate for yourself. Sell your abilities, skills, and attributes to launch a successful career.

-Remain open-minded and do not give up on yourself. There will be times you are denied an opportunity. Do not take it personally. Learn from the event, keep improving your skills, continue pushing past your comforts, and the right opportunity for you will come.

Yes, it is challenging to step out there. But at the end of the day, all the work you put into yourself will shine through. You will become an asset and opportunities will open for your success.

Wishing you the best on your journey!

 

 

 

Workplace Accessibility: Welcoming People who are Blind.

By: Mike Mote, Manager of Accessibility and Workforce Development

Are you an employer on the fence about hiring workers who are visually impaired or blind? *It is easier than you think! Let us explain how to set up your business to be inclusive and welcoming to people with disabilities.

Let’s Talk Accessibility at Work with Mike Mote

Photo of Mike Mote sitting at his desk in front of his laptop

I was born blind and spent my entire life defying the odds. As a member of the National Honor Society, I graduated from Jacksonville State University with a bachelor’s degree in communications. I worked in commercial radio for 15 years. I quickly learned that I could hold any job I wanted to as long as I understood technology. There is so much available for people who are blind.  In fact, without technology, I wouldn’t have been able to do my current work with Learfield IMG college as a broadcaster with Southern Mississippi football, basketball, and this past season, the Houston Cougars basketball team that reached the final four. Yes, I announced sports highlights in real-time without being able to actually see the game, thanks to technology.  I started my journey with IFB Solutions, the largest employer of people who are blind or visually impaired in the country, in 2012. I am now the Manager of Accessibility and Workforce Development.

There is no way that I could perform any of my work without my assistive technology. It allows me to perform my job at the level that is expected by my employer. Without accessible technology, my life would be much less fulfilling.

Do not let this scare you as an employer! Here is some helpful information:

Hesitant About Hiring?

-Technology has leveled the playing field for all, employees, and employers.

-Don’t be afraid of assistive technology and the use of it in your environment. In many cases, the software and hardware needed to perform the job are purchased by a company like ours, or by a state agency. We even train the employee before they start working for you.

-Understand that someone who is blind or visually impaired knows how to utilize their technology and they will bring that experience with them to your workplace.

-Our data shows the retention rate of people who are blind surpasses those with no disability.

Besides Technology, What Can I Do?

-If you are sighted, please announce yourself when entering a room or even passing in the workplace.  For example, “Hey Mike, it’s Ryan”.  It helps those who are blind or have low vision feel comfortable.

-When in a group setting make sure to be clear to whom you are speaking to by using names.  Example “Mike, what do you think of this idea?”

-Do your best to keep all walk paths clear of obstructions.

-If you’re not sure how to help just ask.

Want to learn more? Join us!

Facebook Live Chat with Accessibility and Workforce Development Manager Mike Mote

#GAAD Global Workplace Accessibility Day, May 20th

Thursday, May 20, 2021, at Noon

Ask Mike Questions and learn how you can build an accessible workplace!

 

 

Understanding Macular Degeneration

By Dr. Dexter Street, Low Vision Specialist

Dr. StreetFor 36 years I have practiced optometry with an emphasis on low vision. Most of my patients who I work with at IFB Solutions’ Community Low Vision Center in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, have macular degeneration (AMD). AMD is one of the leading causes of adult sight loss. In fact, more than 10 million Americans have AMD. Here is what you need to know about AMD that can help you or a loved one.

How does macular degeneration impact vision?
Macular degeneration may reduce a person’s ability to see detail, text, and faces. Vision may appear dimmed and include spots, distortion, blurriness, and waviness.

There are TWO types of AMD:
– Dry AMD is caused by compromised blood vessels beneath the macula. These blood vessels can no longer deliver the needed nutrients to the macula nor carry away the waste products.
– Wet AMD occurs when the macula suffers from the lack of nutrition. Therefore, it grows its own blood vessels. These vessels are weak causing them to leak and break very easily allowing blood and other fluids to leak into the macula.

Risk-Factors for developing AMD:
– Smoking or vaping (Current smokers are 2-3X more likely to develop AMD)
– Obesity (2X more likely to develop AMD)
– Age 55+
– Family history of AMD (2.5X higher risk)

Reducing your risk of developing AMD:
– Exercise and eat healthy: dark, leafy greens; fatty fish; avoid processed foods and artificial fats
– If you smoke or vape – stop!
– Get regular eye exams

Dr. Street performs an exam

On the bright side, for most people, having age-related macular degeneration does not mean they will experience complete sight loss. Medical interventions such as injections and AREDS 2 vitamins can help to slow the progression of the disease. It is vital for people to get their vision checked regularly and report any issues or changes to their optometrist.

If you have any questions or concerns about your vision, please visit communitylowvision.org to chat with one of our associates.