Empowering the Blind

Organization Information:

Organization Name:
Blind Center of Nevada
City & State:
Las Vegas, 
Organization Website:
Organization's Mission Statement

The Blind Center of Nevada’s mission is to assist blind and visually impaired people of all ages, living in southern Nevada, in reaching their highest physical, social, intellectual, and economic potential. To achieve this goal, there are three focus areas: personal development, social interaction, and meaningful employment. We believe the challenges associated with blindness may be overcome with determination, education, training, and opportunity.

Submission Information

Impact Essay

The Blind Center of Nevada, located in downtown Las Vegas, assists blind and visually impaired people in reaching their highest physical, social, intellectual, and economic potential. To achieve these objectives, its mission focuses on three areas: personal development, social interaction, and meaningful employment. In 2004, the Center conducted its daily business on four donated stand alone computers, using whatever software came with them. Staff used their personal e-mail accounts and no one was networked.

The Blind Center is the only place in southern Nevada where blind/visually impaired people can spend part or all of their day. It is also the only agency in the State of Nevada that provides job skills training, placement, and on-site paid employment to adults with visual disabilities. In the midst of the greatest population explosion in Clark County history, it was time for this agency to improve its basic technology infrastructure and enter the Information Age. In 2005, the Blind Center made its first software order through Tech Soup. Being able to equip 15 computers with up-to-date software provided the basis for training blind/visually impaired people to use technology.

A computer is an equalizer for the blind. With assistance from sighted staff and trained volunteer ‘mentors,” a blind/visually impaired person who has never touched a keyboard can learn to “read” mail, e-mail friends, pay bills on-line or enjoy “surfing the Net.” Adaptive devices (magnifiers, monitors, keyboards in Braille) and talking software (JAWS and MAGic) make a computer accessible to someone with visual limitations. These adaptations are expensive, but necessary.

For those who lost their jobs because of their disability and need to work, students transitioning from school to work, and people who have never worked, learning to use technology leads to new employment opportunities. Long-time assembly and manufacturing contracts, which had sustained the Blind Center’s work program for so many years, were being lost to overseas competitors. It was time to use technology and move in another direction. The Blind Center started a Computer/Electronic Recycling Program in August 2005 with 8 workers (2 sighted and 6 blind/visually impaired). In addition to using computers for tracking donated merchandise, shipping, marketing, and customer service, refurbished equipment was listed on e-Bay – by people with visual disabilities. Two significant events occurred in 2007. The Blind Center completely remodeled its main building through a capital grant from the city of Las Vegas and the Recycling program’s growth prompted it to relocate to a warehouse nearby. Two servers networked the sites, the old lab was replaced by a 14 station Training Center, and the increase in people working in Recycling required an additional 30 PCs. Once again, the software needed for the servers, operating systems, and networking came from TechSoup. By 2008, Recycling employed 26 people - 12 sighted and 14 blind/visually impaired. Because of the emphasis on job skills requiring technology training, ten clients secured employment in the community. In 2007, National Industries for the Blind recognized the Blind Center as a Center of Excellence for its training and internet sales efforts in job creation for blind/visually impaired workers. In 2008, the Blind Center received an e-Bay Powerful Giving Grant - 1 of 12 in the nation - for training visually impaired people to use e-Bay as part of their job.

Nine years ago, 40 people used the Blind Center on a regular basis. Today, 530 people are members of the Center. Because over 80% report incomes that put them in the extreme-low or very low income categories, according to federal guidelines for Clark County, Nevada, all programs and services are free. Each month, the Blind Center responds to over 1,000 requests for information, provides at least 1,500 rides to and from the Center, and serves 960 lunches, in addition to offering 24 different programs. In the last year, 49 different members used the Training Center, logging 3,389 hours of technology training. These important activities help blind/visually impaired people continue to lead active, independent, productive lives, in spite of losing the gift of sight.

For 22 years, I drove a bus and delivered mail. Then one day, while on a run to Los Angeles, I suddenly went blind. I had to call someone to take over. The cause was optic neuropathy, a rare hereditary disorder that causes permanent vision loss. In my 50s at the time, I needed to be working to help my family financially and keep my sanity. I came to the Blind Center, started with assembling magnets, and worked my way up to lead person. With a lot of encouragement, I enrolled in computer classes, even though I was sure I was too old. It’s amazing what you can do when you put your mind to it! When I learned about an opening in the IRS mail room, I was hesitant to apply, but the $14 hour salary was too good to resist. I’ve been there for two years now, and I still love getting up and going to work. Dee, age 61 When I met Dee at the Blind Center, I had never worked a day in my life. I have been blind since a very young age from Retinitis Pigmentosa. I really didn’t have much self esteem or ambition by the time I graduated from high school. My life was so sheltered that I didn’t think I could do anything. Dee thought differently and so did the wonderful people at the Blind Center. They put me to work, encouraged me to take clarinet lessons, and pushed me to use adaptive technology. Gradually, I came out of my shell. Two years ago, one of the Board members offered me a job as receptionist at his local business. I was scared, but I took it. I moved into my own apartment last year and now I even have a boyfriend! Christina, age 32

Now that technology rests on a stable foundation, the Blind Center is ready to move to the next level of service efficiency while continuing to create jobs for disabled people. Most of the computers still use Windows XP. The current website needs a major upgrade to accommodate new merchandise direct sales through the Internet. The new Data Wiping service needs to be expanded. Las Vegas has been hit hard by the downturn in the economy, resulting in fewer individual and corporate donors, less fundraiser profits, and smaller government grants. Yet the need for services has never been greater. As in the past, the Blind Center will count on Microsoft technologies to improve its marketing efforts and communication with donors so that the current level of services for blind/visually impaired people living in southern Nevada is maintained.

As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others.

Bill Gates

Submission Category
Stable and Secure Technology