History of industries of the blind


Times were tough for just about everybody in 1933—perhaps the worst year of the depression. It was in that year that the first work program in North Carolina was organized for people who are blind. It was known as the Guilford County Association for the Blind. The Association was composed of six people; they made mops in a leased storefront.


The National Industries for the Blind was incorporated in 1938 as a result of the Wagner-O’Day Act, legislation that established a federal market for the purchase of products manufactured by organizations employing people with severe vision disabilities.


During World War II we employed 35 people that were blind, all of whom enjoyed group benefits. The first portion of our building on Lee Street was constructed around this time.


A few decades later, in 1962, IOB, Inc. entered into its first one million dollar contract. Along with the growth of work opportunities came additions, improvements and renovations to our building.


The story of the pen began in 1965 when the General Services Administration (GSA) wrote a 16-page federal specifications document for a retractable ballpoint pen with a replaceable ink cartridge. After receiving a shipment of 13 million defective ballpoint pens from the original supplier in 1967, then-GSA Commissioner Heinz Abersfeller sought a new supplier and offered NIB the opportunity to produce the pens.


On April 20, 1968, the SKILCRAFT U.S. Government Pen was added to the federal procurement list, making it available to federal purchasers through the AbilityOne® Program.


The Javits–Wagner–O’Day Act expanded the law, requiring specified supplies and services come from nonprofit agencies employing persons who are blind or have other severe disabilities. The Act was passed by the 92nd United States Congress in 1971.


This was the start of IOB’s first distribution center contract. The contract was for lamps/lighting and is still active today. This period also introduced us to the hardware/software package called the Talkman.


IOB secures a distribution contract for springs, which is still active today. This is also the year that the Vista Gel Pen line was first rolled out.


AbilityOne becomes the new name of the Javits-Wagner O’Day Program as determined by congress. In order for a company to be eligible for the program, 75% of the total direct labor hours must be performed by people who are blind or have other severe disabilities.


 IOB leadership and the team introduced new manufacturing methods and equipment that dramatically boosted output while reducing errors. The improved performance resulted in strong growth which in turn allowed the organization to employ over 200 people. IOB now routinely performs manufacturing and distribution for a variety of national companies, as well as various departments of the U. S. Government.


IOB picks up a new distribution contract for wire, chain, rope, and cables.


Joshua Gould is appointed the new president of Industries of the Blind and together with a broad team including board members, IOB management, and IOB production staff collaborate on an IOB strategic plan to evolve the growth of IOB’s Mission and business.


The planning and building of the coffee shop begins.


IOB, while ensuring the safety of its team, operates during the coronavirus pandemic. At the same time, IOB successfully competes for a contract to produce masks for the US Army. At a time when we all faced pandemic and economic challenges, our strengths shone through; we did not fold, we did not let the challenges stop us from our mission. Instead, we now find ourselves seeking more employees. Together we are stronger and together we remain.

Skip to content