Sewing, ironing, and stitching at an industrial level is work most people would find difficult under any circumstances — but try doing it with your eyes closed.
It’s a challenge most of the workforce at an upstate New York manufacturing facility undertakes every day.
The majority of the employees there are blind and they carry out the detailed work with precision and pride.
And a vision for success became a reality for the visually impaired.
Like a well-oiled machine, skilled workers are the backbone of this Albany manufacturing facility.
At the front of the assembly line sits a skilled seamstress. Diane Hubbard, couldn’t see herself doing anything else.
“I like to sew,” said Diane Hubbard. “That’s the thing. I enjoy it.”
As her nimble fingers work quickly around the needle, Diane is able to produce 100 safety vests a day.
But this is no ordinary factory. Take a closer look. The fabric of this workforce is mostly the blind.
“When you learn you just get used to it,” added Hubbard.
With no sight, Diane is able to feel her way through each perfect stitch.
“We don’t think its amazing,” said Hubbard. “It’s a job we get paid for.”
The only thing helping her is a small piece of adaptive equipment.
“A low-profile fixture right next to the needle on the sewing machine that is just enough to allow an individual to line that zipper up,” explained Chris Burke, Executive Director of NABA.
The rest is all diane and her training.
The man in charge at the North Eastern Association of the Blind is Chris Burke.
“We change people’s lives every day,” said Burke.
His mission to create as many jobs as possible for people who can’t see — a community that has a 70 percent unemployment rate.
“When I got here they said ‘well blind people can’t iron,'” said Burke.
It was just a matter of ironing out the details. Just ask Lynette Stevens.
“I think mainly just getting over the fear of working with the iron, as hot as it is — just learning where my hands need to go,” said Lynette Stevens.
Now, all of it is done by people with no vision.
“It shows the sighted world that the blind are perfectly capable,” said Stevens.
Doing multiple jobs, the workers at this manufacturing facility are also making neck ties for women’s military uniforms.
“We do them for the Navy, the Army and the Marines,” said Burke. “They’re all made in Albany on this floor.”
It’s a point of pride for Lynette.
“A way to honor our service people,” said Stevens.
“We might do something differently than you,” added Hubbard. “But the fact is we get it done.”
And they do it well.
“When the light hits this… it lights up as if light was shining back at you,” explained Burke, holding up a safety vest made by the workers.
The blind leading the sighted to better see.
“I mean I’m doing something to help someone else,” said Stevens. “Actually I’m helping many people.”
The jobs come with full benefits and opportunities many once thought were reserved for people with sight
“That’s why this is kind of important because people find out they can work,” said Hubbard.
The sewing machine is more than just a needle and some thread. It’s become a tool for mending a community who can see far beyond their challenges.