Grant fuels job surge for people who are blind at Winston-Salem’s IFB Solutions

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- Life changed for Scott Smith when he lost his vision suddenly as an adult due to optical neuropathy. He feared he`d never work again as the blind population is faced with a daunting 70-percent unemployment rate.

“I`ve always worked, I never missed a paycheck in my life,” Smith said.

Then he found IFB Solutions, formerly known as Winston-Salem Industries for the Blind. IFB Solutions is now the largest employer of people who are blind in the country.

“When I heard about this place, it was like a Godsend for me and my family,” Smith said.

In addition to apparel, mattresses and office supplies, workers make around 250 thousand pairs of eyeglasses each year for military veterans and their family members.

Smith is one of the Optical Technicians who received training to operate new Anti-Reflective coating equipment thanks to a $50-thousand grant from the Winston-Salem Foundation.

“It gives us tremendous opportunities to bring in a service that we`ve previously had to outsource to other providers outside the state,” said Dan Kelly, Chief Operating Officer of IFB Solutions. “It’s great to be bringing money back home to Forsyth County.”

Kelly attributes a 30-percent job growth among people who are blind in the Optical Lab directly to the grant.

Having been blind since birth, it means a ton for me,” Kelly said. “Knowing that every day we`re fighting to create careers for people who are blind who have not had a chance, and I`m so glad our community is alongside of us for that fight.”

Charmia Dixon is one of those new hires and she takes great pride in her work in the Optical Lab.

"Doing something that is positive, doing something that is purposeful, I mean, it helps the day go by,” Dixon said.