As war winds down, blind Dallas workers seek civilian projects



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Posted on September 12, 2012 at 11:20 PM

Updated Thursday, Sep 13 at 2:55 AM

DALLAS — No one likely pays closer attention to the U.S. military than those who work at Dallas Lighthouse for the Blind.

"A whole lot, almost every day," laughed employee Laurence Ellman.

Just north of the Dallas skyline is a manufacturing operation that's among the last of its kind.

"We are looking for and welcome new contracts — especially from local entrepreneurs," said Nancy Perkins, president of the organization.

Right now, 90 percent of its business is from the military. Projects include sewing straps together to hold cargo for air drops;  making 16 million markers a year;  plus eyeglass cases for the Navy, shovel pouches for the Army and award binders for all the Armed Services.

"At first I didn't know if I was going to be able to work again," said Roy Sanchez, who —  like most employees here — is legally blind.

Sanchez worked as an auto mechanic for 20 years until his eyesight faded. Now, he sews chin straps for Army helmets at the Dallas Lighthouse for the Blind.

"I've been making this for two years, now," he said.

Dallas County has more than 40,000 blind or visually impaired citizens, and more than half of that group cannot find jobs. The Lighthouse knows that military work might not be around forever considering that wars are winding down. That's why it is desperately trying to diversify.

Butch Harmon of No Napkin Needed, Inc. brought them some welcome new business.

He's having his product, the MySleev, sewn here. It's like a sock for your arm you can use as a towel or napkin while jogging or working.

"There's just not that much manufacturing going on in the United States, and really what you do find, they only cater to the large industry," Harmon said.

But the Dallas Lighthouse needs more products like My Sleev to supplement military contracts and keep the blind in business.