Today's program introduced Beacon Lighthouse for the Blind to members of the Wichita Falls Southwest Rotary Club.
Beacon Lighthouse for the blind enhances economic and personal independence of people who are blind and visually impaired primarily through employment in the manufacturing and sale of quality goods and services.
Brenda Terry, Manager of Accounts Payable and Judy Koetter, CFO of Beacon Lighthouse for the blind joined us for our meeting Monday Sept 13th.
Brenda, our program speaker, shared that while born with sight, she started losing her eyesight when 22. Six weeks before graduating from college Brenda started losing her eyesight due to macular degeneration, an eye disease that causes vision loss particularly in the center of the field of vision. Over the next 9 months each day entailed new adjustments to the ongoing progressive loss of her vision as well as the mental health challenges of depression over her loss. She has been a long-time employee of the organization and is currently the manager of Accounts Payable.
Beacon Lighthouse for the Blind is a 501 C 3 non-profit. In reality, the organization is a mecca of encouragement and solace for many who find employment within its doors.
Beacon Lighthouse Inc. promotes the economic and personal independence of blind and visually impaired people. It started in a single room with 4 employees at the Washington Elementary School as an incorporated agency, Beacon Lights Inc. in 1974. Three years later, it moved to its present location. After major expansion in 1984, the legal name changed and became Beacon Lighthouse, Inc.
Today, Beacon Lighthouse has over 60 employees and occupies over 50,000 square feet of industrial and office space.  Manufacturing is supported with two shifts working overlapping 4-day weeks (Monday thru Thursday and Tuesday thru Friday).  This accommodation is to make sure those employees receiving SSDI (Social Security Disability Income) do not exceed income thresholds that would reduce their benefits.
It serves as an industrial manufacturer offering continuous job placement for blind and visually impaired individuals. More than 75% of the employees have disabilities. Working supports a person’s mental health with the independence and enjoyment of working and interacting with others.
Beacon manufactures products for industrial, wholesale, retail, and government markets. The manufacturing floor utilizes modern production processes and automated machinery. Their products include: scouring pads, floor pads, twist-n-fill chemical cleaning systems, aircraft cleaning kits, sponge scrubbers, bathroom and/or kitchen scrubbers, laser printer cartridge re-manufacturing, scotch-brite quick-clean griddle cleaning systems, wire stainless-steel scrubbers, and a tool line.
Lighthouse for the Blind believes they are serving the majority of those in the Wichita Falls area with eyesight issues who want to work. Brenda acknowledged that some with age related vision issues, choose not to work outside the home. Brenda shared that for those who have lost their eyesight, depression is also an issue as people work to reestablish their abilities.
Brenda shared examples of devices she uses including reading aids (voice output) and scanners (for voice or braille output). She shared that these tools for the visually impaired are expensive at about $1,000 per device and she uses 3 such devices on a regular basis in her role as Accounts Payable
How would you use a device like your laptop or cell phone in today's digital society if you could not see the cursor on the screen or the screen itself? Desktop and laptop computers use screen readers.  Software products, such as JAWS® (Job Access With Speech) for Windows and NVDA (Non-Visual Desktop Access), allow users who are blind and visually impaired to navigate the computer and access most of its functions. Instead of using a mouse to navigate around the screen, people who are blind use a system of key commands to get to where they need to go.
Screen readers can give audio feedback, or they can be connected to refreshable braille displays. Refreshable braille is an electronic way of reading braille. Pins on a device pop up and can be read with a finger like hardcopy braille. Once the person is done reading a line, the pins go down and pop up again with the next line in the text. Refreshable braille displays are especially helpful for people who are deaf and blind and cannot use text-to-speech output.
Imagine not being able to see the screen of your phone. How would you text your friends? Use apps? Call someone? People who are blind also use screen readers on touch screen phones and tablets. This kind of software reads aloud all the text on the screen, including navigation buttons. Android devices use an app called Talkback. Apple iOS devices use built-in software known as VoiceOver, which uses text-to-speech output
Brenda noted that there are organizations that can help blind people get the equipment to participate in our digital society that are funded by state, federal and other non-government organization.
Beacon Light house is recognized for their community service, “Beacon Lighthouse is doing an outstanding job creating U.S.-based career opportunities for people who are blind,” said NIB President and CEO Kevin Lynch.  “This is a great example of the unlimited capabilities of people who are blind working in Wichita Falls, Texas and across the country.”
For more information on Beacon Lighthouse see their website by clicking here to see more and possibly consider a donation.