David Hampton: Doing important work at IFB Solutions

One of the best aspects of my job leading the human resources team at IFB Solutions here in Winston-Salem is the privilege of witnessing the transformative power of a job for a person with disabilities. I see their pride in being able to live independently, of having financial freedom and of being part of a supportive work community. Having come from an HR role at a traditional, for-profit manufacturing organization, I appreciate the unique opportunity our team has to change a life when we tell someone, “You’re hired!”

Seven of every 10 working-age adults who are blind or visually impaired are unemployed. That sobering statistic is an everyday reality for too many people, and a daunting prospect for those who are blind.

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, an important time for our organization, IFB Solutions, to heighten awareness in the community about the employment challenges for people who are blind. Ironically, many of these challenges are because those of us who are sighted don’t see the abilities and potential in those without vision.

As the largest employer of people who are blind in the country with more than 400 individuals working in Winston-Salem and in other locations, IFB Solutions employees demonstrate each day that there are no limits, no barriers to what individuals who are blind can achieve in the workforce. The only barriers are the ones those of us who are sighted create by our own mis-perceptions and biases.

We should all work to break down those barriers, especially this month by being a part of National Disability Employment Awareness Month in some way. If you are an employer, consider ways that you can grow jobs for individuals with disabilities at your organization. Technology in the workplace is becoming a critical equalizer especially for people who are blind or visually impaired. If you have a business, look for ways that you can partner with a nonprofit agency like IFB Solutions for manufacturing, distribution or services contracts.

Every contract IFB Solutions signs with a customer means more doors opening for individuals wanting that first chance at a job. For many of our employees, IFB is their first job — the first opportunity to earn a paycheck, to gain independence and to realize a brighter future.

We cast a broad net, going cross-country to find people who are blind who want to work. Time and time again, we hear stories of how that one opportunity at IFB changed some-one’s life by giving them new-found purpose, confidence and hope. And the commitment to the person does not stop with the job offer. Hiring someone who is blind is only the first step to assuring his or her success. Our human resources team along with other IFB team members frequently go above and beyond the call of duty helping with living arrangements and transportation, providing job training and modifying equipment to make it accessible.

Going the extra mile for our employees is the foundation of our success in becoming the employer of choice in this country for people who are blind or visually impaired. I often share the story of a young employee, Chris Palmieri, who came to us from Perkins School for the Blind in Massachusetts. We developed a partnership with Perkins to help coach and mentor students as well as to showcase employment opportunities at IFB. Chris was interested in what he learned, and we flew him and his mom to Winston-Salem for an interview and a chance to tour the local community. Eager for the opportunity for independence, Chris accepted a job and now works in the IFB Optical Lab making eye-glasses for military veterans. Outside of work, he enjoys the freedom of having his own apartment and is active with a local church choir. Chris is making his mark in our community thanks to a job opportunity that never saw his lack of sight as a limitation.

I hope National Disability Employment Awareness Month opens dialogue in our community about how all of us as employers, manufacturers, distributors and service providers can play a vital role in building life-changing job opportunities for people who are blind.

And, if you know someone who is blind or visually impaired who wants to work, encourage him or her to reach out to IFB Solutions. That one contact may change a life. It will also certainly help reduce the overwhelming 70 percent unemployment rate for people who are blind.

Learn more at ifbsolutions.org.

David Hampton is the IFB Solutions vice president of Human Resources.

[Source: http://www.journalnow.com/opinion/columnists/david-hampton-doing-important-work-at-ifb-solutions/article_1aa4358a-af75-11e7-9992-23159d933b3b.html?utm_medium=social&utm_source=email&utm_campaign=user-share]

IFB Solutions Signs Contract with Luxexcel for Its 3D Printing Ophthalmic Lenses Platform

By now, Luxexcel is pretty well synonymous with 3D printed optics – it’s said to be the only company in the world that has the ability to 3D print ophthalmic lenses without having to polish or grind them. The company, with offices in Belgium and the Netherlands, launched its online 3D printing service in 2015, and has worked with trinckle 3D to bring mass customization to 3D printed optics. In September, Luxexcel began working on a quality control program for its technology, and this spring, less than a decade after 3D printing the first pair of functional eyeglasses, prepared to start shipping its 3D printing platform.

This week, Luxexcel and nonprofit corporation IFB Solutions, which provides training, employment, and services for the blind and visually impaired, signed a contract for the first 3D printing platform for ophthalmic lenses. The platform will allow customers, like IFB Solutions, to manufacture 3D printed, quality ophthalmic lenses that meet industry standards.

“In IFB Solutions we found a partner that is keen to adopt this unique technology and develop the market for the unique products possible with 3D printing. It is our intention to overcome today’s challenges in the ophthalmic world by making lenses outside the mainstream, enabling eye glasses with new capabilities compared to the existing product offerings,” said Guido Groet, the Chief Commercial Officer of Luxexcel. “The Luxexcel Vision Platform represents the next level of lens manufacturing solutions for ophthalmic labs and provides an opportunity to differentiate and develop unique ophthalmic products.”

Industrial-grade optical 3D printers, workflow integration tools, and lens-design software make up the Luxexcel platform – combining consumables, hardware, and software into one 3D printing solution. For a click fee payment, ophthalmic labs get the entire platform, which includes resins and support. The platform can be integrated right into a proven ophthalmic lab workflow – lenses that are produced with the company’s 3D printing solution are now ISO compliant, and also compatible with current industry coatings and customary processes, such as frame mounting and edging.

Initially, IFB Solutions, which is the largest employer of individuals in the US who are blind or visually impaired, will use Luxexcel’s technology to focus on medical specialty lenses that are historically difficult to manufacture.

“The specialty lenses that we will produce with the Luxexcel technology are often needed for patients with low vision, which is a specific area of expertise at IFB Solutions. Not only do we employ many individuals with low vision but we also provide low vision services through our Community Low Vision Centers in North Carolina and Arkansas,” said Dan Kelly, Chief Operating Officer for IFB Solutions.

IFB Solutions operates the optical lab, and a large-scale manufacturing facility, in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, along with another facility in Asheville and one in Arkansas. The Luxexcel platform will be integrated into the organization’s optical operations in Winston-Salem, which is one of the country’s top ten independent labs.

Luxexcel’s 3D printing technology is easy for lab technicians to use, and IFB, which employs blind and visually impaired people for over 75% of its optical lab workforce, plans to have these individuals operate the 3D printing machinery.

“We recognize that 3D printing is the future of the optical industry, and we want to be early innovators and adopters of this emerging technology,” said Kelly. “With the Luxexcel platform, we can now deliver specialty lenses to our customers in a matter of days, and that’s a huge advantage for our organization that is known for exceptional service and quality.”

The Luxexcel 3D printing platform for for ophthalmic lenses will be delivered to IFB Solutions in Winston-Salem on a pay-per-use model. Discuss in the Luxexcel forum at 3DPB.com.

[Source: https://3dprint.com/186791/ifb-solutions-luxexcel-contract/]

IFB Solutions Adds Newest Summer Camp Offering Focused on Water Safety and Sports for Children Who are Blind or Visually Impaired

IFB Solutions marked the 10th anniversary of its Student Enrichment Experience (SEE) program for school-age children who are blind or visually impaired by launching a new summer camp – Camp H2O on the shores of Lake Norman in North Carolina.  Camp H2O, held July 9-15, joins IFB’s other summer camp offerings – Adventure Camp at the Nantahala Outdoor Center in western North Carolina, and Summer Day Camps held in Winston-Salem and Asheville.

All SEE camp programs are designed to provide children who are blind or visually impaired the same summer camp experiences available to their sighted peers. Participants in Camp H2O spent one week at the North Carolina Lions Camp Dogwood located on Lake Norman.  They learned basic swimming and water safety rules as well as spent time kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding, water skiing and wakeboarding.

Like IFB’s other SEE programs, all campers attended Camp H2O completely free of charge.  In support of IFB’s mission to provide opportunities for people who are blind or visually impaired in need of employment, training and services, IFB’s A Brighter Path Programs cover the cost of the camps so children can attend for free.  A Brighter Path and IFB’s supporting IFB Solutions Foundation secure community support throughout the year to also help underwrite camp expenses.

“Camp H20 is a special experience for these children because it gives them the opportunity and the encouragement to try things that perhaps others thought they were not capable of, like kayaking on their own,” said Anastasia Powell, Program Coordinator for A Brighter Path Programs.  “We want our campers to experience summer camp on the same level of their sighted peers.  Maybe in the past, these children have sat on the sidelines because they are blind or visually impaired, but here they are right in the action and having the time of their lives.”

For more information, visit www.abrighterpathprograms.org

IFB Solutions Receives Bank Of America Grant for Workforce Development

On July 13, representatives from Bank of America’s Charitable Foundation (Greg Cox, Micah Wolfington and Angie Turner) presented IFB Solutions with a grant for workforce development. The funds will be used for job training and placement for the blind and visually impaired at IFB. Our organization currently invests hundreds of thousands of dollars in training its workforce, and we are thankful that Bank of America selected us to receive this grant to continue expanding our training programs.

IFB Solutions Recognized at NCDOL Safety Awards Luncheon

IFB Solutions was recognized on Friday, June 23rd, for its outstanding commitment to safety in the workplace. The NCDOL Safety Awards luncheon was held at the Cross Creek Country Club in Mt. Airy, NC, where IFB received the Gold Safety Award for the 7th consecutive year. IFB also received a plaque recognizing One Million hours without a lost time accident from Nov. 20th, 2015, to Dec. 31st, 2016.

IFB Solutions employees (from left to right) Greg Whybrew, Clayton Sanders, Angela Jordan and Jean Smith, accept an award from NC Commissioner of Labor Cherie Berry.

IFB Solutions Sponsors Randleman Lake Top Shelf Fishing Festival

IFB Solutions sponsored the Randleman Lake Top Shelf Fishing Festival presented by Operation North State on June 13, 2017. More than 60 veterans attended the 3rd annual festival, five of whom are IFB Solutions employees. The Randleman Lake Fishing Festival is just one of eight fishing festivals that Operation North State hosts each year for wounded warriors and disabled veterans. There is no charge for the participants, and all the boaters volunteer their time to give veterans a day of fun and relaxation. The fishing festival was followed by dinner at Reverie Place, where Richard Petty mingled and posed for pictures with all of the veterans.

IFB Solutions employees (left to right): Troy Wharton, Calvin Linster, Scott Smith, Rick Gaefe and Ivory Watson, with Richard Petty (center).

WLOS Spotlight Carolina: Grant Weather and Dr. Sean Skierczynski speak about the Low Vision Center

IFB Solutions (formerly Industries for the Blind) Asheville’s mission is to provide employment, training and services for people who are blind or visually impaired. IFB Solutions Community Low Vision Center at 240 Sardis Road in Asheville is WNC’s resource for people who have low vision. Specialized low vision doctors provide low vision exams through our center, and IFB Solutions technicians offer low vision aids and training through our retail store open to the public from 8am-4pm Monday-Friday.
To view the Spotlight Carolina segment online, visit http://wlos.com/community/carolina-spotlight/ifb-solutions

Barbara Soderlund: Assistive Devices and Technology Help Seniors with Vision Problems

As we age, it is common for our vision to change. For some, these changes mean greater difficulty in reading or working on the computer. Others may have cataracts that require out-patient surgery. Still others are facing more serious age-related eye diseases such as macular degeneration, glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy that can have significant impact on independence and quality of life. 

The team at Community Low Vision Center at IFB Solutions (Industries for the Blind) in Winston-Salem works closely with seniors and their families to preserve their independence through assistive devices and easy-to-use technology such as:

  • Special magnifiers that offer continued enjoyment of favorite hobbies such as reading, cooking, needlepoint or woodworking.
  • Video magnifiers, often called CCTV (Closed Circuit Television), provide low-vision aid for many different types of visual needs from basic magnifying to contrast and color adjustment.
  • Video magnifiers that come in any number of formats from large desktop models to small, handheld devices that can be carried in a purse or pocket.
  • Innovative “talking” devices that can be programmed to read aloud fine-print items such as prescription labels.
  • Many varieties of talking watches and clocks.

The goal of Community Low Vision Center is to pair those with visual needs with the assistive tools that enable them to maintain and regain those activities that give them independence and a better quality of life. It can be a powerful and emotional experience for an individual to realize that they can return to following a recipe, reading a letter from a grandchild, or enjoying a book using one of our magnifying devices.

What makes the IFB Community Low Vision Center unique is their experienced team – two of their staff members have low vision and understand at a very personal level the challenges and frustrations that go along with facing a degenerative eye disease. They are experts with the products because they also use those same tools every day – at work and at home. They are also well connected with other low-vision resources in the community that partner with them. Their clients say that what they most value from coming to the IFB Community Low Vision Center is the expertise, experience and personal support of the team members.

Connecting with the Center is simple: It is open to the public Monday-Friday 8 a.m. – 4 p.m., and appointments are encouraged but not required. There is no cost to be seen by a member of their team, and they work very hard to deliver an affordable range of prices for all of the devices. Through their Recycle for Sight program, they collect low vision assistive devices from individuals who no longer need them and recycle them to those who cannot afford the cost of new items.

Vision loss may not be preventable, but it is surmountable. Technology is improving every day to produce smarter, smaller, simpler solutions for regaining sight and personal independence that can help maximize the vision you have to enjoy a high quality of life.

Barbara Soderlund is the manager of Low Vision Services, of IFB Solutions located at 7730 North Point Blvd., Winston-Salem. For more information, call 336-245-5672.

Dan Kelly: Life-changing experiences for the blind

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM), an opportunity to highlight the challenges of finding of job for people with disabilities. If you are blind, as I am, the unemployment rate is shockingly high — 70 percent. Imagine: Seven of every 10 persons who are blind cannot find a job.

In my case, I’ve been blind since childhood. I share a hereditary eye disease with my grandfather, father and now my young son. Both my grandfather and my father worked, and they instilled in me their same drive to pursue an education, build a career and raise a family. In many respects, I was fortunate to have their genes, because I never thought about what wasn’t possible. My focus was always on what I could accomplish.

Today, I am chief operating officer at IFB Solutions, previously known as Winston-Salem Industries for the Blind. We are the largest employer of people who are blind in the country, with a mission that impacts even more people through our community programs and services available to the public.

Our new name — IFB Solutions — suits our organization perfectly as we strive to create innovative solutions for people who are blind or visually impaired. We offer employment opportunities in our three manufacturing facilities, in our optical lab and at dozens of customer locations across the United States. We’re also finding jobs for people that enable them to work from home — a tremendous opportunity for people without access to transportation.

Throughout my career, I’ve been focused on creating opportunities for people who are blind. It started in high school when I responded to a job posting with a local human resources and recruiting firm. After graduating from college, I took a full-time position with that same company before joining National Industries for the Blind in 2001, where I had an opportunity to focus on employment for people with vision challenges. After earning my MBA from George Mason University, I moved to the Triad to join Greensboro Industries of the Blind before coming to my current workplace in 2007.

Like me, some of our employees at IFB Solutions come with work experience, but for the majority, we are their first job and their first opportunity to experience personal and financial independence since losing their sight. We build on this first job by providing additional solutions — training and services — to help our employees acquire new skills and pursue outside interests.