Empowering Texans with Disabilities

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Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) Commissioner Representing Employers Ruth R. Hughs tours the South Texas Lighthouse for the Blind, a community rehabilitation program in Corpus Christi with President and CEO Nicki Ooi. The mission of Lighthouse for the blind is to employ, empower and educate individuals who are blind and visually impaired. The facility has nearly 200 employees and they are one of the largest manufacturers of quality 3 ring binders. Their products are sold through the Works Wonders program administered by TWC’s Purchasing for People With Disabilities department.

As Kris Eades diligently went through the paces of sorting belt tips for military issued belts, he paused to consider what he likes best about his job with the Travis Association for the Blind (TAB) in Austin. He thoughtfully explained that he loves the end of the day the most, not just because it means going home, but because it marks the end of another productive and satisfying day of work. Eades is one of more than 6,000 individuals with disabilities employed through Texas’ Purchasing from People with Disabilities Program.

Kris Eads
Kris Eads at the Travis County Association for the Blind (TAB) unpacks steel tips used for military issued nylon rigger belts. Eads has worked for the most part of 15 years for the TAB.

Last year, the 84th Texas Legislature transferred oversight of the program to the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC). Through this program, individuals with varying levels of disabilities, like visual impairments, hearing loss and mobility disabilities are able to achieve independence through employment opportunities where they produce products or services distributed through the Works Wonders program.

Works Wonders, commonly referred to as the State Use program, was implemented in 1978 by the Texas Legislature to create jobs for people with disabilities. The program provides products or  services produced by disabled individuals through Community Rehabilitation Programs (CRPs).  These products or services are purchased by city, county, state and federal agencies, schools and political subdivisions.

Eades works for TAB, a CRP contracted by TIBH Industries Inc. and is one of many people employed statewide through approximately 114 CRPs. CRPs produce items such as office supplies and skin care products, as well as more customized products such as safety shirts and vests.

“I love the sense of accomplishment of getting a great amount of work done,” said Eades. “At the end of the day, I can say ‘hey, I did the best I could for my pay.’”

Employment for people with disabilities through the CRPs brings independence, good wages and opportunity for advancement.

TAB Executive Director Jerry Mayfield says that the atmosphere there is centered on a person’s desire to succeed.

Ethan Oneal
Ethan O’Neal and his canine companion Fizz wrap military belts prior to packaging. In March, O’Neal will celebrate ten years with TAB.

“A common misconception about the program and employees is that these are low-paying jobs with no room for advancement,” said Mayfield. “For TAB, building on the strengths of our employees has allowed for the transitioning of many staff jobs, traditionally filled with sighted individuals, to individuals that are blind and visually impaired.”

Working with TWC and the Purchasing from People with Disabilities program, TIBH Industries CEO Fred Weber looks forward to growth, expansion and job opportunities for Texans with disabilities. Weber sees firsthand how individuals with disabilities can provide the same quality of service and job performance as individuals without disabilities.

“Hearing the success stories of individuals who have been able to transition to independent living because of the job opportunities available through the Works Wonders Program,” said Weber, “is what makes me the most proud of the work  that TIBH does.”

Services provided by these CRPs range from landscape maintenance and custodial services to mail room services and temporary employment.