2018 NIB/NAEPB Training Conference and Expo: Commitment to Serve


National Industries for the Blind (NIB) held its annual NIB/NAEPB Training Conference and Expo November 13-16th in Washington, D.C. The event had an excellent turnout of more than 800 attendees who enjoyed several days of education and networking within the AbilityOne community.

The theme of this year’s NIB Conference was Commitment to Serve, with an emphasis on the support NIB, its associated agencies, and business partners provide the U.S. military and our nation’s veterans through the AbilityOne Program.

“It was incredible to have so many people under the same roof, united by their involvement with the AbilityOne Program.” says LeAnna Redmill, AbilityOne Program Coordinator for Supply Chimp. “This was my first NIB Conference, and the energy when I walked into the venue was palpable. I’m very excited to see what good things are in store for the AbilityOne Program in 2019.”

General Session

During the General Session, a variety of speakers gave their remarks and showed their support of the AbilityOne Program. Featured speakers included LTG Darrell Williams, Director of the Defense Logistics Agency, and Emily Murphy, Administrator of the U.S. General Services Administration. Both GSA and DLA celebrated their partnership with NIB, its associated nonprofit agencies, and the AbilityOne Program, and they reinforced their commitment to continue to work with the Program in the future.


Congressman Sanford Bishop also gave remarks at the event. He spoke about the progress that has been made in terms of creating employment opportunities for people who are blind, and he encouraged everyone to continue this work. Historically, Congressman Bishop has been an active champion of people who are blind, sponsoring bills and leading letters that will directly impact them, now and in the future.


U.S. AbilityOne Commission and Senior Staff members Thomas Robinson, Robert Kelly, Tina Ballard and Kimberly Zeich also attended the General Session, participating in a panel-style discussion with attendees.

Robbie Makinen

Robbie Makinen, CEO of the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority, told his story during the General Session. Robbie lost his vision in 2013 when a rare condition, ischemic optic neuropathy, affected both eyes. As he adjusted to his loss of eyesight, he set his sights on a new goal: Becoming an example of persistence and resilience for his two sons and proving to them that you don’t need eyesight to be a person of vision.

Robbie Makinen has been an instrumental force for public transit reform in Kansas City, leading the march and implementing changes to the way public transit works. His updates have made public transportation a reliable option for people who are blind or disabled in his region.

Steve Baskis

Steve Baskis, Army veteran, avid adventurer and motivational speaker, also spoke at the General Session. “Stare into the darkness and you will never find your way. Explore through the darkness, and you’re bound to stumble upon a great adventure!”

Steve lost his eyesight in 2008 during a patrol in Iraq. An EFP detonated by his vehicle, taking Steve’s vision and taking the life of his friend, Staff Sergeant Victor Cota. When Steve recovered from his injuries, he set a worthy challenge before himself: To make the most of every moment, from that moment forward.

Steve is a force of nature, climbing not one but three mountains (and counting!), biking, skiing, kayaking and mountaineering. His tenacity is an inspiration.

Daryl Wells

Daryl Wells from Industries of the Blind, Greensboro, took the stage and told his story as well. In 1980, he joined the United States Army and became part of the Airborne Infantry. “Training was rough and rigorous at times, but I was ready to defend the freedom of our country. Anywhere in the world, 18 hours, boots on the ground.”

In 1982, Daryl joined the Division Boxing Team, and during his time as a boxer, he sustained an injury that led to a lifelong visual impairment that ended his military career. After rehabilitation therapy, Mr. Wells moved back to Greensboro, North Carolina. There, he connected with Industries of the Blind, Greensboro, and began working with them. Daryl started out on the manufacturing floor, built valuable skills as he worked in various departments, and eventually moved to the distribution center where he is currently an expediter.

“Working at Industries of the Blind as part of the AbilityOne Program has been very rewarding for me. I have obtained greater independence.”

Commitment to Serve

The relationship between AbilityOne and veterans is a circular one: NIB associated nonprofit agencies create products specifically tailored to meet the needs of the warfighter; in turn, the production of these same products also generates jobs for many veterans who lost their vision while serving our country.

Daryl Wells and the other vets who took the stage at the General Session said they were grateful for the opportunity to maintain gainful employment and achieve high levels of professional growth and performance.

Veterans who work within the AbilityOne Program are, in a sense, able to continue serving our country by serving those who serve. This equals purpose-driven engagement that leads to true satisfaction on the job.

Expo and NIB Marketplace


The Expo floor was lined with booths from many NIB associated nonprofit agencies, business partners, and other organizations in the blindness community. The Expo was a great opportunity to make the connection between SKILCRAFT® and other AbilityOne Program products and the people who make them. Purchasing these products leads to job creation, which is the ultimate goal of the AbilityOne Program.

AbilityOne Products

The booths showcased the many solutions NIB associated nonprofits manufacture, specifically designed to meet the needs of their federal customers.

These rugged pens are proudly manufactured by Alphapointe:


This set of SKILCRAFT pens, including the versatile SKILCRAFT tactical pen (3rd on the left), is made to be used by police officers and armed forces. They’re tough and heavy-duty, coated with a non-reflective paint for covert use in the field. The models with the red LED lights look cool, but the lighted tip also serves a purpose: the red light doesn’t carry far, but it does illuminate the paper someone is writing on, making it possible for them to see what they’re writing in the dark.

The SKILCRAFT brand continues to expand further into the maintenance, repair, and operating supplies (MRO) field. Pictured here are SKILCRAFT socket sets, made in the USA by people who are blind at BeyondVision:


Here is a selection of SKILCRAFT Towel products made by people who are blind at IFB Solutions:


The co-branded SKILCRAFT/Zebra gel pen is shown here in both black and blue, made by people who are blind at Industries of the Blind, Greensboro:


SKILCRAFT Notebooks from IFB Solutions come in a variety of sizes and are made from recycled materials, making them an eco-friendly choice:


This SKILCRAFT LED Work Lamp is an AbilityOne new release item for January. It’s made with pride by people who are blind at IBVI in Milwaukee:


Previewing the Future of Accessibility

Aira Access

Aira provided free Aira access at the venue, inviting attendees to download the app and use it for free as a guest during the event. Aira (AI + AR = Artificial Intelligence + Augmented Reality) is an innovative assistive technology powered by the AT&T network.

Aira refers to their users as Explorers. The Aira system connects Explorers with Aira Agents in real-time for those moments when the help of a person who is sighted is needed. Through a streaming video feed provided by the Aira glasses, a remote agent is able to provide visual information to the Explorer, making it possible to read a recipe, decipher signs in a new city and much more. This on-call service allows Explorers to do many tasks all on their own, without assistance.


WayAround also attended the event, showing off their simple yet powerful solution for sharing information in the digital age. WayAround uses tangible WayTags that can be sewn into clothing, stuck to objects, and placed on surfaces in a space. Using the WayAround app and your smartphone, these smart little tags communicate information when scanned, making them a useful way to share information, both with people who are blind and people who are sighted. Depending on how they’re set-up, WayTags can even be updated remotely.


For people who are blind, WayAround and WayTags make it possible to know what’s in each can in their pantry, which shirts and pants go together, which medication is in a bottle… etc. It’s an effective and easy-to-use solution for storing and sharing information about objects in your space.

The potential uses for this technology are really only limited by your imagination:

  • Update a WayTag in your kitchen with instructions for what to make for dinner.
  • Update a WayTag to let a new caregiver know your elderly patient is allergic to peanuts.
  • Update a WayTag in your office with the next steps on an important project.
  • … etc

There are infinite possibilities, and the best part is the fact that the information shared with WayAround is accessible for everyone, regardless of their level of eyesight.

NIB Expo Starts 2019 with a Bang


The theme of this year’s conference, Commitment to Serve, showcased the impact of the AbilityOne Program on the veterans who work with NIB’s associated agencies. AbilityOne products are what makes this employment possible. The 2019-2020 AbilityOne catalog is thicker than the 2017-2018 catalog, which means more products, more sales and by extension, more jobs for people who are blind across the country.

Want to help create more jobs for people who are blind in the coming year? Shop AbilityOne products here: https://gov.supplychimp.com/usa/abilityone-products



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