Three Employees Who Exemplify the Spirit of NDEAM

Every October, National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) reminds us of the value employees with disabilities bring to their communities and organizations. 2020 was a special year, marking both the 75th anniversary of NDEAM and the 30th anniversary of the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

As we wrap up NDEAM, National Industries for the Blind (NIB) is highlighting three employees who are blind who work in our nationwide network of associated nonprofit agencies. These employees exemplify the talented and high-quality workforce businesses can attract when they create accessible work environments. Employers of all sizes should take note of all they could stand to gain from hiring employees who are blind.

Elton Thomas, Production Supervisor, St. Louis Lighthouse for the Blind

Elton Thomas started as a line attendant at the St. Louis Lighthouse for the Blind back in 2003 and worked his way up to production supervisor. He was selected to participate in NIB’s Advocates for Leadership and Employment program and has become a tireless advocate for people with vision loss, frequently meeting with members of Congress and starting an advocacy team at the Lighthouse to bring issues to the attention of state and local representatives. Elton also serves on a number of local boards, including the Transportation Disability Policy Board at Metro Transit St. Louis, where he works to improve paratransit services for people with disabilities; the Starkloff Institute advocacy team, where he pushes for the removal of earnings caps for recipients of Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI); and the Nexus Business Panel, where he organizes job fairs for people with disabilities. Since joining the Lighthouse, Elton – who completed NIB’s Business Management Training and Supervisory Skills training programs – has earned his Bachelor of Arts in Business Administration and completed his MBA.

Rachel Carver, Senior Public Relations Specialist, Outlook Business Solutions, Omaha, Nebraska

Senior Public Relations Specialist Rachel Carver has been with Outlook Business Solutions in Omaha, for seven years. A graduate of Buena Vista University in Storm Lake, Iowa, Rachel has more than a decade of experience in public relations. She is the first person who is blind to receive an Accreditation in Public Relations (APR) from the Public Relations Society of America, a challenging bar to clear that includes a 140-question test, oral presentation, and completion of a public relations portfolio. Rachel is also a graduate of the NIB Advocates for Leadership and Employment program and a dedicated advocate for people who are blind, representing their interests at the state and local level, and in the halls of the U.S. Congress.

Scott Smith, Optical Technician, IFB Solutions, Winston-Salem, North Carolina

Third-generation Navy veteran Scott Smith lost his eyesight and career as a welder later in life, and was frustrated by not being able to find work. He joined IFB Solutions in 2015, where he underwent special training and learned advanced skills to operate new machinery as an optical technician in the agency’s Twenty200 Optical Lab. In recent years, Scott has become the agency’s go-to guy for community outreach. He often serves as the face of IFB in the media and as a spokesperson for people who are blind on important legislative issues. In addition, he rallies his coworkers to engage with Congress through letter-writing campaigns and boosts morale when needed.

Elton, Rachel, and Scott are just three of the thousands of employees working at NIB associated agencies who provide incalculable value to their organizations. Their stories remind us of the need for greater appreciation – and greater employment – of people with disabilities. As NDEAM comes to a close, organizations throughout every sector need to look more closely at what they can do to support and hire people with disabilities.