Clothing & Textiles employees meet blind, visually impaired partners in warfighter support

By Mikia Muhammad | DLA Troop Support Public Affairs | August 02, 2017

PHILADELPHIA -- Employees with the Defense Logistics Agency Troop Support Clothing and Textiles supply chain toured production lines at Vision Corps in Lancaster, Pennsylvania July 26, where blind or visually impaired individuals operate machinery or package item parts for military customers.

The items DLA purchases for the military creates jobs for people who are blind or visually impaired, said Dennis Steiner, Vision Corps president and chief executive officer. Vision Corps is a government contractor through the Ability One program, a mandatory source for some DLA items.

Vision Corps manufactures cushion pads and chin straps for Army combat helmets, rifle slings, Navy neckerchiefs and packaged rice for DLA Troop Support customers. Vision Corps, DLA Troop Support and their respective legacy organizations have been partners since the early 1980s, Steiner said.

“I can’t stress enough the good partnership we’ve had over the past 25 years,” Steiner told the visiting C&T employees. “You’re our number one customer [and] you guys are really the backbone of [the National Industries of the Blind].”

Vision Corps employs more than 150 individuals throughout Pennsylvania, 75 percent of whom are blind or visually impaired, Steiner said. In addition to employment, Vision Corps provides rehabilitative and charitable services to more than 2,000 people from toddlers to senior citizens.

“All of our programs are designed for people to gain independence,” Steiner said. “We can do anything [and] we believe blind people can do anything.”

Vision Corps is one of two manufacturers for helmet pads and makes 75 percent of those C&T procures, said Ray Jacquette, C&T safety team supervisor. Vision Corps makes approximately 1,800 pads a day, including curing, cutting and packaging them.

While helmets provide ballistic protection, the cushion pads help prevent concussions upon impact, Jacquette explained.

“What you’re doing for us, and the [manufacturing] process is pretty amazing,” Jacquette told Vision Corps employees.

Vison Corps employees are cross-trained to operate several operations, with an emphasis on what they can do, versus their respective limitations, said George Tobler, director of manufacturing.

“We feel it’s about our abilities, not disabilities,” Tobler said.

Vision Corps’ employees who are blind or visually impaired include front-line production workers and senior management.

The Vision Corps visit was the first vendor visit for Ryan Perna, C&T individual equipment team contracting specialist.

“It was a great visit to see firsthand what some of the suppliers are helping provide to service members,” Perna said. “It really gives you a new perspective, seeing the people and the environment they work in.”

Michelle Falkowski, also a contracting specialist on Perna’s team, said the production line was fascinating.

“In addition to the perspective of seeing what our manufacturers are making, it’s rather heartwarming to see Vision Corps’ impact on the community, employing people who may not have those opportunities,” Falkowski said.

Perna and Falkowski were among C&T contracting specialists, and supply and demand planners to visit Vision Corps. Defense Contract Management Agency quality assurance personnel also attended the visit as they routinely review products and conduct risk assessments at Vision Corps’ facilities.

Ability One Army blind C&T Clothing & Textiles DLA DLA Troop Support helmets Navy neckerchiefs rice Subsistence vendor visually impaired warfigher support