Bishop visits factory for the blind

Published 3:13 pm Monday, September 24, 2012

U.S. Congressman Sanford Bishop greets Doug Pope, a vision-impaired employee of Georgia Industries for the Blind who helps assemble file folders and binders which are eventually sold to office supply chain stores. In the background is Mike Jackson, manager of the GIB’s Bainbridge Plant.

U.S. Congressman Sanford Bishop (R-Albany) visited the Georgia Industries for the Blind plant in Bainbridge on Monday morning to learn more about its operations.

Bishop and his field representative, Michael Bryant, took an approximately hour-long tour of the plant, located off Georgia 97 South, and talked with Georgia Industries for Blind (GIB) officials.

The Bainbridge GIB plant makes a variety of items for customers, much of it through contracts with the federal government, plant manager Mike Jackson said. The items include screen-printed T-shirts, ball caps, safety vests, custom car tags, coffee mugs, binders, folders and even pillows.

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In addition to other plants in Griffin, Ga., and Albany, Ga., Georgia Industries for the Blind also employs smaller groups of workers for specialized tasks in Warner Robins and Pendergrass, CEO Jim Hughes said.

GIB employs a mix of both sighted persons and individuals with various degrees of vision impairment. Statewide, the non-profit organization typically employs 170 hourly workers, about 90 of whom are blind.

GIB had more than $10.9 million in sales in 2011 and for the first time ever, generated its total administrative and operating budgets through the sales of products and services.

GIB also pays all of its workers at rates no less than the federal minimum wage, which isn’t always done by employers of the disabled, Hughes said.

Luis Narimatsu, the public relations coordinator and recruiter for GIB, showed off the on-site learning center/computer lab. Employees are allowed to use the center for one hour a week and are paid to do so, Narimatsu said. That’s because, in addition to being able to perform personal tasks such as using special machines to read mail or check online bank accounts, employees also use the computers to take training classes and sharpen their computer skills.

Narimatsu said he has trained 131 employees, both sighted and blind, to use the computers. Employees with limited or no vision are taught to use assistive devices such as screen readers, screen enlargers, document scanners and Braille printers.

Congressman Bishop and Hughes had a conversation about creating job opportunities for soldiers returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan, some of whom are disabled.

“Our push is to demonstrate that veterans have the necessary skills and work ethic to get the job done, even if they are disabled,” said Bishop, who is a co-chair of the Congressional Military Families Caucus.

“If we are doing things properly, you should be unable to tell whether one of our employees on the factory floor is blind or not,” said Hughes. “Our first priority is to hire the blind but we are very sensitive to the needs of veterans.”