Creating Independence and Careers for Blind, Visually Impaired and Disabled Individuals

Organization Information:

Organization Name:
The Olmsted Center for Sight
City & State:
New York
Organization Website:
Organization's Mission Statement

To help individuals with visual impairments and those with other physical challenges achieve their highest level of independence.

Submission Information

Impact Essay

Changing Lives

The Olmsted Center for Sight, The National Statler Center for Careers in Hospitality, Microsoft and TechSoup, have changed the lives and careers of blind, visually impaired and disabled individuals. The Olmsted Mission is: To help individuals with visual impairments and those with other physical challenges achieve their highest level of independence. The Olmsted Center for Sight is widely recognized for serving the visually impaired and disabled with broad-reaching services. An example of the use of Microsoft products in attaining the Mission is a unique Olmsted program known nationally as The Statler Center. While Olmsted relies on Microsoft products for operations, Statler also uses Microsoft in their comprehensive training courses which prepares individuals with visual impairments and other disabilities for rewarding careers. Emphasis is on the hospitality, tourism, customer service and contact center industries, while providing access to technology for personal use.

Statler training includes computer proficiency with reliance on Microsoft and TechSoup. In addition to the curriculum, Statler computer training opens the world of the internet, social networking, email and more, such as managing household finances, writing and myriad computer projects.

Olmsted: Birth Through Life Programs

While career training is a significant part of Statler and Olmsted, the application of Microsoft tools is critical. Olmsted services operate using reliable Microsoft programs so we remain focused on helping others live optimally from birth through life.

The Olmsted Early Education Program uses Microsoft to serve visually impaired and disabled pre-school and early school-age children, meeting their physical needs and preparing them for future challenges. Our Paul Bulger Vision Rehabilitation Clinic provides eye exams, vision devices, rehabilitation, occupational therapy, orientation and mobility training, and addresses vision loss health issues. Our manufacturing area gives employees meaningful employment. Olmsted operates five apartment complexes in the Buffalo Metro area, accommodating those with visual or physical disabilities.

Recently, Olmsted opened a Contact Center which employs blind, visually impaired and disabled individuals. Employees are often graduates of the Statler Center who gain important career experience. Microsoft plays an integral role, providing tools for inbound and outbound contact management, data mining, reporting, and more.

Independence, Opportunity and Jobs

A major component of independence is employment. Graduates’ knowledge of Microsoft, complimented with classes in writing, math and a range of other business skills, opens many opportunities. Additionally, Statler provides job search support, with an 80% job placement rate for our 300-plus graduates.

Over a century ago, Olmsted began helping blind and visually impaired individuals with work programs which were generally light manufacturing and assembly. A decade ago, as technology became inseparable from daily living, Olmsted opened The National Statler Center for Careers in Hospitality adding technology and career training. Microsoft technology remains a vital part of the Statler student experience.

Adaptive Technologies Create Team Players

Imagine using a computer without a monitor or a mouse. Once an impossible task for the blind, Statler teaches this skill as a critical part of technology, employment and personal training. The application of adaptive technologies including Braille keyboards and speaking programs such as JAWS provide user interface within Microsoft tools. For those with limited vision, magnification and enhanced display tools are used. In all cases, Microsoft Word, Excel, Outlook, Explorer, PowerPoint and other Microsoft programs are vital to students.

When placing graduates in jobs, Statler IT/AT professionals design, install and manage the employer work site to utilize adaptive technology, integrating with Microsoft programs and proprietary operating software. As a result, blind and visually impaired employees become team members and successfully contribute to the goals of the employer.

Foundations Who Believe in Our Mission

The Statler curriculum, supported by The Statler Foundation, focuses on hospitality and tourism, spotlighting customer interaction skills and positions with hotels, airlines, attractions, and tourism-promotion agencies. The Statler Training and Employment Program (STEP) is made possible by The Lavelle Fund for the Blind. STEP trains for careers in customer service and contact centers.

Other major Olmsted supporters include prestigious foundations such as The Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, the Intercontinental Hotel Group, Reader’s Digest Partners in Sight Foundation, The Avaya Corporation and the William C. McGowan Fund, founder of MCI. Increasingly, private foundations and donations remain a vital part of Olmsted’s continuing service to the community.

Graduate Success Stories

Brian Lichtenstrahl has been totally blind since 1997 and is a recent, fully employed Graduate of the Statler Center. Losing all sight through illness and an auto accident, Brian is married with four children and now, together, have a better future. “I graduated from the Statler Hospitality Training program,” said Brian. “Thanks to Statler training, I have a job at the Hilton Grand Vacation Club. I send my deepest thanks to all of you for making this happen. If not for the stunning effort and support you gave me at the Statler Center, I would not have this job. My family and I are truly grateful to you all.”

Maria Heilein, a STEP Graduate, has been blind for many years. She is a very capable individual and with the help of her STEP Training, Maria has found her employment niche.“I am proud to be a STEP graduate and to share my experiences with others. And as I tell everyone, my job is awesome and I love it. It's a dream come true--graduating from STEP and then landing my dream job.” International Reach and Multiple Campus Locations

Buffalo, NY is home to the central Statler Campus, and students have enrolled from locations across the US and abroad. Additional classes are held in Orlando in conjunction with Lighthouse Central Florida, and recently in Las Vegas with the Blind Center of Nevada. In 2010, Statler will host its first class in New Orleans, targeting the vision impaired and disabled population in the underserved post-Katrina Gulf Coast region.

Microsoft, TechSoup and Continued Service

None of this would be possible without TechSoup providing affordable Microsoft software solutions. Olmsted remains totally dedicated to the blind, visually impaired and disabled. Microsoft and TechSoup will continue to be a Mission Critical component in enhancing the lives of these individuals. Olmsted and Statler are grateful for the opportunity to compete for rewards offered by TechSoup and Microsoft. As the selected winner, we will continue and expand our essential Mission to those in need.

Submission Category
Optimize Mission Delivery