With the economy struggling, it’s competitive enough for those without a disability to find a job. Fortunately, there is a program available that helps nonprofit organizations hire disabled workers.
The AbilityOne Program helps nearly 48,000 Americans who are blind or have other disabilities to not only find employment but lead more productive and independent lives, according to the Arizona Department of Economic Security website, azdes.gov.
At Luke Air Force Base, there are two agencies that fall under the AbilityOne Program: Arizona Industries for the Blind and The Centers for Habilitation.
The agency AIB, known as Focus Works here, employs workers whose tasks range from stocking shelves, keeping track of inventory and market research to providing Airmen the necessary items needed prior to a deployment.
“Fifty percent of our employees in the store are legally blind,” said Carlos Paraskevas, AIB community relations. “In total, 75 percent of the AIB workforce are blind or visually impaired.”
“Most people who walk through the doors don’t even know the employees are blind until they look at their monitor and see that the cursor is big,” said Bernie Richardson, Focus Works store manager. “I know that when not working they still enjoy activities such as kayaking, bike riding, softball, hiking and rock climbing.”
Richardson said that though the employees are blind, it doesn’t mean they all have the same level of blindness.
“The vision of some is cloudy, some don’t have peripheral vision, they are all different,” he said. “For that reason, the state of Arizona provides a vocational rehab counselor whose job is to come in and see what adaptive technology would apply to the individual.”
Depending on the individual’s needs, the technology differs. Some have a closed caption television system which magnifies the image on the screen, while others have hand-held magnifiers or glasses that are custom made to the person, Richardson said.
Focus Works puts a big emphasis on helping their employees be independent, but their main mission is to help the wing.
“We support the wing and the people on base by providing equipment and supplies that are needed no matter what time of day it is,” Richardson said.
Similar to how AIB operates, TCH also employs those with disabilities.
“We have a team of 27 janitors who have disabilities that range from being deaf, sight impaired, autistic, to having cerebral palsy,” said Christina Dominguez, TCH project manager.
According to Dominguez they work seven days a week and have three shifts a day.
“We service approximately 160 of the buildings at Luke, which is almost 500,000 square feet,” she said.
Even though the employees have a disability, it doesn’t stop them from doing what they are tasked to do.
“When the employees are first hired, we take the time to find out what their disability is and how we can help them succeed while at the same time still getting what we need done,” she said. “To do this, we spend a lot of time training them and meeting with them one-on-one. I like to ask them how they’re doing on a daily basis.”
For Dominguez, the employees aren’t just people who help keep the base clean, but they are people who truly make a difference by bringing a smile to someone’s face.
“Our employees come to work cheerful and happy,” she said. “And it’s great when I get a call from someone saying how helpful and friendly they are, since our sole mission is to not only employ people with disabilities but also to provide quality service to the base. No matter the job, we want to make sure it is top quality.”