The AbilityOne® Program, a federal government program that helps create jobs for people who are blind or have significant disabilities, is one of the largest sources of employment for these individuals nationwide. Many non-profits around the country work in support of the AbilityOne Program, and our spotlighted non-profit organization is North Central Sight Services, Inc. (NCSS).
This agency is based in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. NCSS provides blindness prevention education, vision screenings, services and employment to individuals in the communities of Bradford, Centre, Clinton, Lycoming, Sullivan, and Tioga Counties.
New Beginnings Through NCSS
The stories of three NCSS employees reflect its goals for opportunity, empowerment, and career advancement for all in the community.
Steve Britton has been with NCSS for over eight years. “After my tragic accident leading to my condition, I found NCSS.” Steve said that at age 58, he had worked over 40 years at one job, “…it was 24/7, managing packing and production”. After he was unfortunately laid off, his mother suggested NCSS.
A greeter at the front desk, Steve says, “I wear dark glasses, and people know immediately that they’re in the right place.” He loves his position. “I feel good about coming to work here every day… gives you a sense of being involved, not just sitting at home alone.”
Steve has been selected as employee of the year twice and has spoken around the nation, including in Washington, D.C. For the last six years, Steve helped raise over $23,000 for the needs of NCSS and individuals who are blind. “I was put up by my direct boss and CEO for an advocacy program, (and was) 1 of 12 in the nation to do that. It led me to go to DC for a public forum, and talk about NCSS and needs we have here and talk directly to staffers. That was a great event for me to do…. They’ve given me so many opportunities, I like to give back.”
He now also has a guide dog. “NCSS allowed me to go to guide dog school – (I) had applied for it, and it’s a rigid thing to be allowed to get. Imus was trained for about a year, and they then got me together with him for three weeks.”
“Imus does also lead me to church, goes underneath the pew – it’s great he is good at sitting still. I even bring him to church to greet people… he is the first dog to be included in the pamphlet as a greeter.”
“NCSS has been so great, to help me through a life-changing event. It keeps my spirits high. You can feel sorry for yourself, or keep moving on.”
Suellen Porter has been with NCSS for over three and a half years. After a 20 year career in the banking industry, an allergic reaction to eye drops led to her loss of vision.
“I knew about NCSS from my previous job…I actually talked to Steve, and we shared our stories.”
“I started in the CS dept, and now am moved to purchasing for products we send out,”
Suellen says. “It’s hard to explain when you’re so active and busy, that to step back is a big change… but, coming here it gives you so much hope to come into work and be proud of what you do.” Suellen has won employee of the year, and has done advocacy with state senators to get funding for clients.
“You know, the outside world is not always kind to those who are visually impaired,” she adds. “In my opinion, some of the people who are most discriminated against are those who are blind or visually impaired. So many restaurants, for example, their menus are not available in large print or in Braille, their lighting is very low.”
She feels that much of the visual world is not set up to help everyone equally, and that it helps to find out how others learn to live in it.
“NCSS is a very fun place to work, very laid back. Everyone gets accepted for who they are. Because of working with other people who are visually impaired, you get a sense that you are not alone in your journey, in your struggle.”
Having been with NCSS for just 13 months, Robert Ducharme (who prefers to go by Bob), nonetheless has a long history in his area of expertise. He assists with device usage, helping clients learn to use their smartphones and tablets with assistive technology. He helps many people at various stages of vision loss, guiding them through the transition phase.
“Losing my sight at 11, I have been dealing with it for over 34 years, and I can help them transition to their new lives,” Bob says.
“NCSS created this position for me,” he adds. Before coming to this position, Bob had worked for decades in software engineering. He tried to interact with every new type of technology as it came out, and still does. He says that he never thought about teaching others to use technology at first, but, he adds, “Being able to pass knowledge onto others was a benefit to them and to myself.”
He recommends Apple programs far above anything that PCs or Android systems can do. In assisting those living with visual impairments or blindness, he refers to Siri and Voiceover. Voiceover is a speech program available at no cost and fully supported by Apple. While it is possible to obtain a free screen-access program for Windows, you will not have the on-call technical support until paying hundreds for programs such as Window-Eyes, JAWS, or System Access. “The world, everything, was opened for me when I got my first iPhone… I haven’t put it down since last summer.”
Making Strides for Equality
Seven out of ten working-age Americans who are blind are not employed. It’s clear that we need the efforts of government programs and nonprofit organizations like NCSS to provide career opportunities for those who seek to join or re-enter the workforce. The mission of NCSS includes providing employment opportunities for people who are visually impaired or disabled. It is a passionate commitment to provide not just services, but employment and equal opportunity. NCSS offers a wide variety of employment opportunities for those living with blindness or visual impairment, and states that all full time associates receive the same level of employee benefits and are paid above minimum wage or on competitive salaries.
Comprehensive Support Services
For 58 years, NCSS has worked to provide a better quality of life for individuals living with blindness or visual impairment. They work to prevent blindness by providing free vision screenings, exams for children and financial assistance. Among their social services, NCSS offers individual assessment of needs and eligibility, then works to provide the services needed, such as:
NCSS also offers a variety of services and products to businesses and organizations, raising funds for clients in their communities. Through the AbilityOne Program, they manufacture, package and distribute SKILCRAFT® products to the state and the federal government.
The Sip for Sight® Drinking Water Service offers bottleless water coolers, featuring seven stages of filtration.
Document Management Services work to increase efficiency and security for NCSS’s customers. Their efforts are focused on reducing the amount of office space dedicated to file storage and to destroy records which are no longer needed.
A dependable vending service is also provided to local businesses and organizations. NCSS works closely with customers to offer a service that will work for them and their employees.
All of these services are organized around the main purpose to fund and provide services for those in the community who rely upon NCSS for rehabilitation, employment, daily assistance, and referral to resources. This goal aligns with the mission of AbilityOne.
Opportunity and Possibilities
The efforts of North Central Sight Services offer services to assist those in the community, providing business services as well as equal opportunity for employees to continue in the workforce, and assisting others with a disability. NCSS reflects its goal of opportunity in the stories of its employees and through its continued support of a diverse and accepting workplace as well as a provider of services and products benefiting members of the nearby community. Remember, your SKILCRAFT purchases enable non-profits like NCSS to continue their work and services. We are proud to spotlight their work as an AbilityOne Authorized Provider.