“Being blind doesn’t stop me from serving my country,” says Scott Smith, U.S. Navy veteran, 2020 Employee of the Year from NIB associated agency IFB Solutions, and an outspoken advocate for people who are blind.
Smith followed two generations of his family into the Navy, serving for four years as a boiler technician in the Atlantic Fleet and another two years in the Naval Reserves in West Virginia. After leaving the service, he worked as a welder until he awoke one Saturday morning to find his vision distorted. Although he initially thought his glasses were scratched, Scott completely lost vision in one eye by Monday. Diagnosed with optic neuropathy, he was legally blind within three years.
Unable to continue working as a welder, a career he had enjoyed and excelled at, Smith – like many people who are blind – was frustrated in his search for employment. In 2015, the South Carolina Commission for the Blind referred him to IFB Solutions, a nonprofit organization in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where he began working in their Twenty200 Optical Lab making eyeglasses. IFB Solutions is one of nearly one hundred associated nonprofit agencies within the NIB network that provide employment, training, and other services for people who are blind, including veterans.
After a court decision impacted IFB contracts with the Department of Veterans Affairs, Smith stepped forward and became the public face of IFB, speaking out on behalf of its employees and people who are blind who receive services at the agency. Along with agency leaders, Smith spoke to numerous lawmakers about how the loss of those contracts would affect the livelihoods of IFB employees who are blind.
Encouraging his co-workers and rallying them to write letters to Congress, Scott traveled the interview circuit with seemingly boundless energy. He spoke to the press on work breaks, during his lunch hour, after putting in a full days’ work, and on weekends. He even kept a change of clothes at work in case an interview opportunity arose.
Smith’s advocacy for IFB, its employees, and people who are blind, are work he takes on in addition to his position in the optical lab, where he’s known for his attention to detail and high quality of work. After the frustration of being unable to find a job when he first lost his eyesight, Smith now is working to achieve his career goal of becoming a manager at the agency.
“I’m proud of my time serving our country in the U.S. Navy,” says Smith. “I’m also proud to work in an organization that serves our military and my fellow veterans each day.”