For more than a decade, the AbilityOne Contract Management Support (CMS) program has been providing people who are blind the opportunity to build professional career paths with real potential for advancement. But perhaps the program’s most valuable achievement is giving people who are blind a sense of independence again. Many CMS employees were employed before they became blind and the program puts them back on track to independence again.
Annamarie Parker, for example, is a pilot-program alumna currently employed at VisionCorps in Philadelphia. In 2009, she had 17 years of experience in procurement but no college degree and no job because of her increasing vision problems. “As soon as I heard about the pilot, I knew I could do it,” she recalls. “I was so grateful for the opportunity. It was the first time people didn’t judge me on my vision, but instead looked at what I could bring to the table.”
After finishing the DAU courses and training for a week in San Antonio, pilot participants were assigned contracts at Fort Dix in New Jersey. “We proved we could do it. We got contracts and more than 15 new clients,” Parker says. Initially hired as a closeout specialist at VisionCorps, she was promoted to supervising and training other CMS employees and now supervises a five-member closeout team, all while working on completing her college degree.
Scott Collins, who has retinitis pigmentosa, began looking for a career change in his early thirties. A professional swim coach and sporting goods store manager, he realized he needed an office job due to declining vision and pursued federal jobs for nearly a year with no luck. He learned about the CMS program, enrolled in the DAU classes and, after completing training, was hired by Columbia Lighthouse for the Blind to work on closeout services for the National Institutes of Health (NIH). After three weeks on the NIH contract, Collins was promoted and moved to Ft. Meade, Maryland, for a 14-month stint. His exemplary performance soon led to a position at NIB as an associate contract administrator.
Less than two years later, Collins was promoted to contract administrator at NIB. He now develops pricing for closeout team costs and submits team metrics to the U.S. AbilityOne Commission®.
“I’m a very lucky person, and it all comes back to CMS. You can learn and succeed with little previous experience if you want to work hard and have the right mind set,” Collins says. “I’m not judged here. I don’t have to make excuses for my vision, hide anything, or feel second-rate. Co-workers are supportive, and assistive tech is provided that allows me to do my work – it just takes all those fears away. I love working here.”
Although government employment was his original goal, Collins is now more interested in helping people like himself. “Working here at NIB is like coming full circle in helping others,” he says. “It makes me feel good and I’m proud of what I do.”
Next week’s blog will look at future directions for the CMS program.
To learn about how a CMS Team can meet your contract administration needs, contact NIB’s CMS Senior Program Manager Wallace Neal at firstname.lastname@example.org.