News: Disabled, visually impaired employees equal to the task
Story by Staff Sgt. Veronica Montes
FAIRCHILD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash. - Every member of Team Fairchild plays an important role in completing the mission, yet what people may not know is that many of these members are disabled or visually impaired.
Fairchild will join the nation in recognizing National Disabled Employment Awareness Month, a national campaign that raises awareness about disabled and blind employees, during the month of October. This year's theme is "because we are all equal to the task."
The month originated in 1945 when Congress announced the first week of October as "Nationally Employ the Physically Handicapped Week." In 1962 the word "handicapped" was dropped and in 1988 congress expanded the week to a month and changed it to NDEAM.
Multiple organizations on base have employees who are disabled, and many of the products we use and wear were created by visually impaired and physically disabled workers.
Two organizations on Fairchild play an important role in employing disabled and visually impaired workers. Envision and SKILS'KIN. Both fall under the AbilityOne Program, which supports the National Industry of the Blind and Source America.
SKILS'KIN employs approximately 110 differently-abled employees working on base. With supervision, they perform grounds maintenance, custodial services, dining hall services and postal service.
"Every one of our employees takes pride in the fact that they are part of Team Fairchild," said Leona Eubank, SKILS'KIN project manager. "They contribute to the mission of Fairchild."
Eubank said the organization has a 75 percent disability employment rate, and it's important for people here to recognize this month and these workers.
"[Recognizing these employees] shows society that differently-abled people are just that, people," Eubank said. "They can and will work very hard. They then take more pride in themselves and the self-esteem increases beyond measure."
While SKILS'KIN employs many disabled workers, Envision, the company contracted to run the base supply store, employs those who are visually impaired.
Eric Fornoff, Envision cashier, has been visually impaired and considered to be legally blind for 10 years, while working at the base supply store for eight of those years. He said it was difficult to get back into the workforce after losing his vision, but coming to work on Fairchild was a great thing.
"Working here was one of the first work opportunities I got, and when I started there was another visually impaired member of the team to help me," Fornoff said. "Starting to work again after losing my eyesight was very scary but the staff and base were very supportive."
Many of the office supplies and uniform items sold to the Fairchild community are made by Envision or other organizations who employ visually impaired and disabled members. The base units purchasing these products are supporting the disabled and visually impaired employees, giving them employment and independence.
He said it means a lot that people are taking time to recognize the disabled and visually impaired members of Team Fairchild.
"What many people don't realize is the uniform they are wearing may have been made by workers who were visually impaired or disabled," Ken Dohmen, Envision regional manager and Base Supply Center store manager. "This month is about awareness of our handicapped employees, and it's great to have support from the base and leadership in recognizing them."