Blind workers meet demand for safety vests after 'Sandy'

Posted at: 11/21/2012 5:55 PM
Updated at: 11/21/2012 6:19 PM
By: Beth Wurtmann

ALBANY - A sense of urgency filled the air along with the buzz and whirl of machines in an Albany manufacturing center Friday, where Shawn McLean was doing his part to assemble a reflective safety vest.

"I put the snaps to hold the vest together in the front and putting the sides together with the straps," he said.

McLean is 90-percent blind and among the 53 workers at the Northeastern Association of the Blind. All were determined to fill a windfall of orders in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.

"Our customers are the New York Transit Authority, Long Island Railroad, Metro North Railroad and the New York State Department of Transportation. And they're all responding to this disaster, getting the public transportation in order and the repairs and clean up," said Christopher Burke, Executive Director and CEO of NABA.

With demand up four to five times the usual volume, they expect to turn out about 95,000 vests this year, working longer hours plus Saturdays.

"If this is the best I can do to help out the Sandy Hurricane and everything the people that need help I'll do the overtime," said McLean.

Demand for products made by programs like this and others across the state may soon grow even more. Starting in December, the State Office of Children and Family Services is shifting the marketing and sales efforts to the National Industries for the Blind.

"OCFS expects that NIB’s expertise and demonstrated success will lead to increased employment opportunities for blind and visually impaired New Yorkers," said Jennifer Givner, OCFS spokeswoman.

"They're working together they're trying to come up with a better management system that's going to increase our ability to get more work employee, more blind people and grow this program," Burke said.

Those reflective vests sell for between 22 and 45-dollars each.

The money earned at the Northeastern Association of the Blind supports local rehabilitation efforts in the community.