[mountainstate] Fw: [acb-l] Nonprofit Aims to Put More VIPS to Work
dandmbrown at atlanticbb.net
Sat Mar 17 20:40:49 EDT 2012
> Nonprofit aims to put more visually impaired people to work
> By Erin Golden WORLD-HERALD STAFF WRITER
> The machine Jacob Clark operates is a big, heavy-duty piece of
> equipment. It's nearly as tall as the ceiling and holds 220 huge
> "logs" of toilet
> paper. It rotates and slices them into nearly 5,000 rolls that
> eventually will make their way from the plant at 72nd and F
> Streets in Omaha to businesses, government buildings and military
> bases around the world.
> Faster and more efficient than the equipment it replaced a few
> months ago, the "rewinder" machine is a notable addition to an
> operation that stands out for another reason: The majority of its
> employees, both in the office and on the production floor, are
> blind or visually impaired.
> Clark, the man at the controls of the new machine, is both
> legally blind and deaf.
> Outlook Nebraska, the nonprofit group that runs the plant, says
> new equipment that can boost production is just one of the ways
> it's trying to expand, provide more jobs for visually impaired
> people -- and shift perceptions about what those people can and
> can't do in the workplace.
> "It's our job to help show the general public that the blind are
> highly capable people," said Eric Stueckrath, the organization's
> chief executive officer.
> The production area of Outlook's facility looks just like any
> other factory: machines, forklifts beeping as they cruise around
> the floor, conveyor belts and stacks of raw materials -- in this
> case, towering, 2,500-pound rolls of recycled paper. The
> organization makes toilet paper and paper towels, primarily for
> use in government facilities.
> But because most of the workers turning big sheets of paper into
> wrapped and packaged products are visually impaired -- about 40
> of Outlook's 60 or so employees are legally blind -- it has a few
> special features.
> Some machines are equipped with sensors that will provide a
> verbal message if a door is ajar or there's some kind of
> malfunction. A yellow pathway that runs through the plant has
> raised lines to help workers with canes tell when they're close
> to a machine or a high-traffic area. There are talking vending
> machines and microwaves in the breakroom. Workers in the office
> use programs that can scan an email, website or document and read
> it out loud. Just off the production floor, there's a room for
> service dogs to wait while their owners work.
> Clark, whose eyesight has been degenerating since birth (he said
> his level of vision is a bit like looking down the tube of one of
> the paper towel rolls Outlook makes), uses an iPad with voice
> software to communicate with his co-workers. He often grabs his
> phone to send text messages, which can be turned into voice
> messages on the phone of someone with a visual impairment.
> The idea that communication might be a particular challenge in
> the workplace doesn't seem to phase Clark. After all, he's
> figured out how to work his way up from a job putting rolls of
> toilet paper into boxes to being a machine operator, the
> second-highest-paying job in production. He shrugged. "It works
> for me."
> Often, Stueckrath said, employers have a hard time picturing
> someone like Clark having that sort of success, especially at
> such a hands-on job. Or they can't imagine someone like Mark
> Plutschak, who lost some of his sight after an on-the-job
> chemical explosion at age 18, serving as a human resources
> manager after years of work in manufacturing. Or Rachel Carver,
> blind from birth, handling public relations duties and putting
> together a company newsletter. As a result, about 70 percent of
> blind workers are unemployed -- even though Stueckrath said it
> doesn't take much to make a workplace accessible enough for
> someone with limited or no sight.
> "The technology is readily available and isn't that expensive,"
> he said.
> But until more employers catch on, the people at Outlook said
> they're trying to boost the number of opportunities in their
> workplace. They hope that the investment in the new $4.8 million
> machine, which makes its public debut at an open house today,
> will lead to a significant uptick in production and help provide
> more jobs.
> Most of the organization's funding comes from the sale of its
> products. It does not receive direct support from the federal
> government but uses some grant money to pay for its operations,
> particularly training for workers.
> Without the new machine, Outlook could produce about 600 cases --
> with 80 rolls to a case -- of toilet paper each shift. The new
> machine could more than double that number. Carver said she
> expects the company could get more contracts if it could produce
> more products, but it's hard to say how many -- or how many new
> workers would be needed to keep up with added demand.
> But the new machine comes with another plus for visually impaired
> workers. Because it comes with special features, unlike some of
> the older machines, it can be operated by a blind or sighted
> "That will give blind people more opportunity to work on their
> skill sets," Carver said.
> Contact the writer: 402-444-1543, erin.golden at owh.com
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