Opinion

Inspired by those undeterred by lack of sight

For three days and two nights last week I was in the dark, the result of a major power outage after a quick but damaging storm Thursday afternoon.

It was aggravating, the first night particularly, stumbling around and trying to manage with the aid of dim candlelight.

Preparing to dress for work the next morning before sunrise was also troubling. Heck, even with bright lights it’s hard for me to tell blue socks from black ones, and sometimes even brown.

By Saturday night the power was back on, ending my prolonged period of frustration.

Then Monday, while visiting the Lighthouse for the Blind of Fort Worth, I realized how petty my troubles were when I met people who live constantly in the dark and for whom the power of light will not be restored.

But wait. Don’t feel sorry for them, for these are productive individuals who have accepted their blindness or severe visual impairment. They are living independently and working to support themselves and their families.

The Lighthouse for the Blind, which provides rehabilitation services, job training and employment for the visually impaired, has come a long way since those days when blind people made brooms and mops and did chair caning for a living.

It is a multimillion-dollar non-profit organization that puts people to work, at its own production facilities and at private companies in the community.

“We’re really careful about empowering and not enabling,” said Nancy Fisher, community development director for the organization, who notes that employees must be self-sufficient, having their own housing and transportation — still the biggest obstacle to employment.

The workers make minimum wage or above, with the average being about $9.75 an hour, Fisher said.

The Lighthouse’s production lines are efficient operations in which blind people, along with some sighted individuals, turn out a steady supply of boxes (30 different sizes), cardboard tubing and repackaged copy paper with its own label. Lighthouse recently acquired a machine shop.

The organization has contracts with several large employers, like the General Services Administration, Lockheed Martin and the Defense Department, for which it produces the pads used in air drops of heavy military equipment or humanitarian supplies.

Technology enables a person without sight to program computers that operate sophisticated machinery. But watching individuals use hand-operated equipment like a large box stapler is something to behold, as it is something I don’t think many sighted people could do without causing harm to themselves.

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, and the 40 or so people who work at Lighthouse for the Blind are great examples of how productive many disabled people are.

“I’m really thankful that I work here because I’ve gained confidence in knowing I have the ability to do the things that I do,” said Angela Yount, a legally blind woman who was on the production line Monday and is featured in a video about the Lighthouse.

Marcus Jones, 55, who has been blind 28 years, can carry on a detailed conversation with a visitor without skipping a beat as he keeps the copy paper line moving.

Then there’s Denny Taylor, who was part-owner of 12 Sonic drive-ins. He began to lose his sight a couple of years ago and eventually came to the Lighthouse, where he found support and training to use a white cane to navigate his surrounds.

He now works at Ace Hardware as a greeter, Fisher said.

The Lighthouse still teaches Braille, even though most visually impaired people have smartphones and there are apps now that can tell them the color of their clothes and the denominations of paper currency.

Fisher notes the employees want to be contributing members of society and that many will tell you, “We may not have sight, but we still have our vision.”

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