Seattle Foundation Blog

Lighthouse Celebrates 100 Years

The largest employer of individuals who are blind on the West Coast, the Lighthouse empowers people through meaningful work


December 17, 2018

Guest blog post by Barbara Ross, The Lighthouse for the Blind, Inc.

Lighthouse Foundation Board President, Barbara Ross

Note: Barbara Ross is President of the Foundation Board at The Lighthouse for the Blind, Inc., a not-for-profit social enterprise providing employment, support and training for people who are blind, DeafBlind and blind with other disabilities. The Lighthouse has an agency endowment with Seattle Foundation.

“My favorite thing about waking up and coming to work, is waking up and coming to work!” says Trieva, who previously became unemployed after a series of migraines left her blind. In a city like Seattle, with unemployment at all-time lows, this perspective is easily taken for granted.

For 100 years, The Lighthouse for the Blind, Inc. has opened doors for people like Trieva. As we celebrate our centennial, we want to share a bit of our story.

During World War I, many blinded veterans were returning home to the Pacific Northwest with virtually no job opportunities. A group of socially prominent women in the community started the Seattle Association of the Blind in 1914 and established a workshop in 1916 where people who were blind could make jigsaw puzzles and baskets by hand. To say that employment opportunities remained bleak for men and women who were blind would be an understatement — but a group of influential women in Seattle were dedicated to changing that.

On April 2, 1918, 25 women signed the Lighthouse’s Articles of Incorporation. Our founding mothers were exceptional for their time; almost all signed the document with their full name, rather than the prevailing title of the era, “Missus.” Progressive from the start, the Lighthouse continues to be an industry and cultural leader for employment opportunities in the blind community.

The unemployment rate for adults in the U.S. who are blind is 70 percent, and that figure rises to almost 80 percent for people who are DeafBlind. The need is great and we meet this need every day by empowering people through creating diverse, sustainable and meaningful employment opportunities.

Focused on manufacturing jobs, particularly in the aerospace industry, the Lighthouse employs more than 470 people. A not-for-profit social enterprise, we are the largest employer of individuals who are blind (over 260) on the West Coast and largest employer of individuals who are DeafBlind (over 30) in the entire country.

Machinist Dan Porter (right) demonstrates an Okuma router to a group of visiting students during a school tour at the Seattle facility

Machinist Dan Porter (right) demonstrates an Okuma router to a group of visiting fifth grade students during a school tour at the Seattle facility

Our customers include The Boeing Company, the Federal Government and the Department of Defense. We produce an array of machined parts and plastic injection molding for various aerospace manufacturers, providing our customers with advanced machining and fabrication services. The Lighthouse produces a variety of office products at our Seattle, Spokane and Summerville facilities including wallboards, display easels and spring back binders. We also make products for the U.S. military, including our 1-Quart Canteen and the MOLLE hydration backpack system. In addition to owning and operating nine retail stores on military bases that sell products made by people who are blind ,the Lighthouse employs people who are blind and DeafBlind in all areas of our work, including jobs in Human Resources, IT and Contact Center Services.

But more than the basics of a job, the Lighthouse provides extensive training and services for its employees in areas such as braille literacy, orientation and mobility, technology training, American Sign Language, English as a Second Language and more.

These professional and training opportunities have changed many lives, including that of my daughter, Richelle. For the past 30 years, Richelle has said that her best days are the ones spent working at the Lighthouse. With both sight and hearing deficits, our daughter knows too well the barriers that so often exist in pursuing opportunities. But at the Lighthouse, Richelle has achieved dignity, acceptance, friendship and a sense of self-worth through doing jobs and doing them well. Her job is fully accessible and she sets and achieves her own goals.

Without a place like the Lighthouse, many people who are blind in our community would be left with few opportunities for employment and independence. For 100 years, men and women in the blind community have walked through the doors of the Lighthouse with purpose and pride. For the next 100 years, we plan to expand our services and help lower the unemployment rate of skilled people who are blind in communities across the nation.

Note: This guest blog expresses the opinions of its author, who was invited by the Foundation to share a community-based perspective. The views expressed are not necessarily those of Seattle Foundation and the forwarding or reposting of this content should not be viewed as an endorsement.

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