In 1936, the Winston-Salem Lion’s Club enlisted the help of Goodwill and organized Industries for the Blind (IFB). “For 75 years, Winston-Salem Industries for the Blind has been an advocate, employer, and resource for people who are blind or visually impaired in our community,” says David Horton, IFB executive director.
One of the most surprising facts about IFB is not the percentage of its employees who are visually impaired (more than 70 percent), but its “manufacturing versatility,” evident in a brief walkthrough of its facilities. The spectrum of products produced there ranges from everyday items such as Air Force-ready T-shirts and mattresses for local universities to things like eyeglasses (there’s also a full-service optometric office) and Low Cost High Velocity cargo parachutes for the Army. “Most people who tour IFB are absolutely overwhelmed by the experience,” shares Horton. “Watching someone who is blind close a mattress, sew a military uniform, assemble a parachute, or grind an eyeglass lens does not fit the common perception of an agency for the blind. We are so much more.”
Visitors immediately notice a series of specially designed walkways snaking through the warehouse to help visually impaired workers navigate. The walkways are lined with a metal strip that makes a distinct sound to counter the constant buzzing of the 200-plus workers and their machines.
IFB takes pride in how well it is able to create quality, long-term jobs in the midst of rising unemployment. With its own training department and tiered employment structure, the company introduces employees who have recently become blind to basic tasks as they become more familiar with their new limitations. Eventually, as they get more comfortable, they “graduate” to more labor-intensive work such as data entry or working in the optical lab, where 200 pairs of eyeglasses are assembled each day for U.S. veterans.
IFB also serves as a network for the visually impaired, giving them access to more resources to help make their lives easier. Entities like its supporting nonprofit Brighter Path Foundation support training programs that promote independence and increased life and job skills. The foundation also supports programs including Adaptive Technology, Focus on Literacy, and the Community Low Vision Center, helping people with low vision to live as independently as possible.
Winston Salem Industries for the Blind is located at 7730 North Point Blvd. For more information, call 336-759-0551 or visit wsifb.com.