U.S. Rep. Scott Perry, center, watches Allen Hale of Baltimore work on reformatting Library of Congress books-on-tape cartridges at ForSight Vision on
U.S. Rep. Scott Perry, center, watches Allen Hale of Baltimore work on reformatting Library of Congress books-on-tape cartridges at ForSight Vision on Monday. He is flanked by, from left, his deputy chief of staff Bob Reilly, production manager Michelle Shenberger and ForSight Vision President Bill Rhinesmith. The York City facility specializes in serving the visually impaired and preventing blindness. Hale, like most of the production center's employees, is visually impaired. (Bill Kalina — bkalina@yorkdispatch.com)

Congressman Scott Perry on Monday toured ForSight Vision Center, as 20 visually impaired and blind employees worked on a project for the Library of Congress.

For U.S. Rep. Perry, R-Dillsburg, it was a first-time visit to the facility at 1380 Spahn Ave., in Springettsbury Township.

"You can see the visually impaired are really capable. I think we, at times, underestimate their ability ... but this is proof positive what they can do when the right tools are available," Perry said.

For the Library of Congress, ForSight Vision workers have a contract to convert print documents to digital files.

"People who can barely see or can't see at all are doing the work on documents that will be read by people who can see," Perry said.

U.S. Representative Scott Perry tries on a pair of television glasses designed for visually impaired viewers while touring ForSight Vision Monday, August
U.S. Representative Scott Perry tries on a pair of television glasses designed for visually impaired viewers while touring ForSight Vision Monday, August 25, 2014. The York City facility specializes in serving the visually impaired and preventing blindness. Bill Kalina - bkalina@yorkdispatch.com

Challenges: But that work doesn't come without it's share of challenges and bureaucracy.

The work is awarded through a competitive bid process and is a result of the AbilityOne Program, a federal initiative that aims to help blind people and others with significant disabilities find employment.

There's a 70 percent unemployment rate among blind people in the U.S., according to the American Federation for the Blind.

The 20 workers at ForSight Vision work within a national network of more than 600 nonprofit agencies that sell products and services to the U.S. government.

Each of those employees are from York County and earn minimum wage or more and have full benefits, including health, dental, a pension, and short-term and long-term disability, said ForSight President Bill Rhinesmith.


Advertisement

Work ethic: Some of those workers travel an hour and half both to and from work each day by way of Rabbit Transit, which has a stop right in front of the center, he said.

"Our people have a very strong work ethic," Rhinesmith said.

But they face obstacles with "poor public policy," he said.

"They can only earn so much or they'll lose their health insurance (and disability income). I've had people tell me they can't take a raise or they'll lose their benefits. It's almost an incentive not to work," Rhinesmith said.

The center has also faced challenges in the federal bid process, and Perry said he would be looking into it.

Having a job is just as important to blind workers as any other worker, he said.

"They pay bills just like the rest of us," Perry said.