Specialty Fabrics Review November 2020 - 43

MARKETS

FOCUS

An employee who is blind sews
cloth face masks at Industries of
the Blind Inc. in Greensboro, N.C.
Photo: Industries of the Blind.

Breaking barriers
National Industries for the Blind creates growth opportunities in
the textiles industry for people who are blind or visually impaired.
BY HOLLY EAMON

F

or many, 2020 has been a year of recognizing and working to overcome limitations-a
technique that partners and employees of National Industries for the Blind (NIB)
have mastered since 1938.
Headquartered in Alexandria, Va., NIB is the country's largest employer of people who
are blind, thanks to its network of nearly 100 associated nonprofit agencies. In 2019, NIB
employed approximately 6,000 people who are blind, including 600 veterans.
By connecting these agencies with manufacturing and service delivery opportunities
with the federal government, military and commercial companies, NIB helps to produce
more than 7,000 different products, many of which are branded under its SKILCRAFT® line
of products ranging from mattresses and bedding to office products and medical supplies.

A brief history

CUT-AND-SEW COMPLEXITIES
Since its formation, NIB has supplied all branches of the U.S. military and federal government
with items such as pillowcases and mops, expanding into uniforms, apparel and protective
equipment over time. Today, roughly one-third of its nonprofit agencies manufacture cutand-sew products for the federal government-primarily the military.
Fuel handler coveralls fabricated for the Department of Defense by IFB Solutions in
Asheville, N.C., are one of the most complex textile products that NIB-associated agencies
take on. Made from GORE-TEX® fabric, the coveralls are designed to provide flame and
contaminant resistance and environmental and electrostatic protection for soldiers handling
fuel and petroleum products. From start to finish, the production process requires 340
operational steps, most of which are performed by employees who are blind or visually
impaired-a labor pool not generally associated with such highly detailed, technical labor.
But the right training can make all the difference.

into law, requiring federal government

In the early 1930s, leaders within the
blind community urged Congress to
open the federal government market
to nonprofit organizations employing
people who are blind. In response, in
1938, President Franklin D. Roosevelt
signed the Wagner-O'Day Act-now
known as the AbilityOne® Program-
agencies to purchase certain products
manufactured by people who are blind.
National Industries for the Blind was
incorporated to serve as the central
nonprofit agency responsible for
allocating government orders and
providing support to its network of
associated nonprofit agencies.

PRIORITIZE AND CUSTOMIZE
NIB's team of engineers is dedicated to designing the easiest, most effective production methods
for employees who are blind. Where possible, they recommend equipment that allows for
automatic sewing cycles and precise alignment guides, often made to fit individual needs.
A small group of rehabilitation engineers routinely visit agencies to help them convert jobs
from sighted labor to blind labor as well as to train employees on operations.
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Specialty Fabrics Review November 2020

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Specialty Fabrics Review November 2020

Specialty Fabrics Review November 2020 - Cover1
Specialty Fabrics Review November 2020 - Cover2
Specialty Fabrics Review November 2020 - 1
Specialty Fabrics Review November 2020 - 2
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