GREENSBORO, N.C. (WGHP) — Tens of thousands of people drive or walk by a large rick building on West Gate City Boulevard in Greensboro every day. Many, with no knowledge of what goes on inside. But under that roof, hundreds of people with a similar impairment found a new way of navigating the workforce.
“Some people have gone through some things, some people have experienced some great lifestyle changes,” said Sherrie Thompson, a receptionist at the operation.
The business is Industries Of The Blind, a non-profit that’s secured several large contracts since its first one-million-dollar contract in 1962. Presently, workers construct anything from pens to items for the U.S. Army. Its mission statement is “To provide opportunities for employment and personal development for people who are blind or visually impaired to achieve greater independence.
“I still have a very good memory of how things used to be,” Thompson said.
When she was 19, Thompson said she was a freshman in college, engaged, with a baby on the way. In a matter of three weeks, an overabundance of fluid on her brain and spine stole her sight.
“I’ve had to experience not-so-good things, but to be where I am now, I wouldn’t trade it for anything, honestly,” she said.
While Thompson and colleague Michelle Torain both lost their vision after being able to see for much of their lives, their stories are dramatically different.
“I woke up on February the 14, 2013, I woke up blind,” Torain said. “I cried for three days. I shut my door and I cried for three days. Just cried, cried, cried.”
Torain said she lost her vision due to hereditary Type 2 Diabetes. While also out of her control, her first major life challenge happened about 48 years earlier.
“When I was three months old my mother gave me away,” she detailed.
It was a cold October night, when she said her birth mother left her on her father’s sister’s doorstep. She said her aunt kept hearing a crying child, and after checking her house, opened the door to find Torain with her one bottle and a blanket. Her aunt’s dog had found her first and laid on top of her to protect her from the cold.
“How I got saved was by that dog. That dog laid on top of me and kept me warm,” she said.
Though Thompson and Torain’s life stories have few mutual details, both were about to share them with students who meet just across the train tracks running behind Industries Of The Blind.
“They’re talented students,” Thompson said. “I want to see how they’re going to put their minds to it.”
Industries of the Blind has teamed up with students at UNC Greensboro to create pieces of art demonstrating what the world looks like through the eyes of the visually impaired. This year, they’re doing so through photography.
“We start talking and it’s like how do I transform that into something physical,” said UNCG senior Jenna Futrell, who’s been paired with Thompson.
The students interview the employees, learning about their lives and perception of the world in an attempt to bring it to light, even though their view has long been dark.
“I still have a very good memory of how things used to be,” Thompson said, saying her every day is similar to waking up in your room at night, trying to make your way through the room with only shadows as guides.
“I can see shadows, I can see the light,” Torain said, glancing up at the light FOX8 used while interviewing her.
“You want to make sure it’s perfect because it is about someone else,” Futrell said.
The students will complete their projects in a few weeks. Once they’re completed, they’ll be put up on the side of the Industries Of The Blind building, just as previous students’ projects have been.
“It just brings tears to my eyes when I talk about this story, because it hurts me. It really hurts,” Torain said. “It hurts.”