Saturday, January 27, 2007

Company gives a chance to visually impaired people to make a living!

Jackie Ackley had worked at the Milwaukee County Zoo for 22 years when she went blind from diabetes and had to give up her job. Sitting at home listening to soap operas, she wished to die."Sitting on the couch does not appeal to me," said Ackley, 55. "I have a strong work ethic.

I like to function on my own."She's been able to do that at Wiscraft Inc., a small Milwaukee nonprofit that began doing assembly, packaging and machining work for the federal government and companies such as Harley-Davidson Inc in 1985. At least 75 percent of Wiscraft's workers are legally blind."The job gives you a feeling of accomplishment," said Ackley, employee of the year in 2005. "You have contributed something."

Wiscraft is not a charity, workers are quick to point out. It competes with for-profit companies for contracts and receives no tax subsidies."We don't want people to give us these jobs because we're blind," said Gene Hubbard, 57, a trainer at the plant. "We don't want the sympathy kind of thing. We want the job because we can do the work for them."The company recently received ISO 9001:2000 certification, which is an international benchmark for quality.

Its business also grew under president and CEO Bill Piernot, who retired Dec. 31, chief financial officer Kelly Draves said. A new leader has not yet been named.Robert Buettner, rehabilitation services director at the Badger Association of the Blind and Visually Impaired, said companies such as Wiscraft, which was founded in 1903 as the Wisconsin Workshop for the Blind, provide important job opportunities for the blind. But they shouldn't be their only opportunities, he said.

A number of Wiscraft workers said they chose the company over other employers because it was flexible in adapting work to their abilities.Production coordinator Emeric Rokay, 48, who has an engineering degree from the Milwaukee School of Engineering, said Wiscraft took a chance on him when others wouldn't.

The company "has meant a lot to me," said Rokay, who is legally blind. "It's provided a steady income. It's given me the opportunity to do some of the things I was educated to do."


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