Fort Worth

Fort Worth Machine Shop Hires Blind Staff

Every Monday through Thursday morning at 7 a.m., a unique group of workers starts their day.

Their jobsite has motors roaring, conveyor belts moving and industrialized staple machines clamping together boxes. One wrong move could be catastrophic.

“When I first started doing this I was a little scared,” Richard Simpson said.

Simpson is a machinist. Like the majority of his 86 coworkers, he is blind.

“Once I started doing it with the supervision and the people training me on [the machines] I was real comfortable on it,” he said.

That's what they do at Lighthouse for the Blind of Fort Worth. The non-profit organization gives opportunity to the visually impaired in Tarrant County being the largest employer in the country for people who are blind.

“If we can create the opportunity and create the confidence, then they can take that confidence anywhere and provide any job basically for any company,” Lighthouse President and CEO Platt Allen said.

Supervisors like Carl Commander train the workers how to use the equipment.

“It was an awkward transition at first because I’ve never worked with the blind and the first though in my mind was, ‘Blind guys and machine shop sounded unsafe,'” he said.

Surprisingly, injuries on the job are low. In fact, in the 12 years Simpson has worked at Lighthouse, he's only jammed his finger once.

Simpson has come a long way since he first went blind in 1996, when he was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa. He went from seeing clearly to seeing as if he were looking through a hole less than a half inch in diameter.

“After that I was just totally scared,” he said. “Because I was going to be totally blind and I didn't know what I was going to do. It’s just pretty rough.”

With a family to support, Simpson needed to work. He found Lighthouse in 2004. Every day he makes the trek from his home in Hurst, a mile walk to the train, then on the bus and he is never late for his shift.

“If they were limited before because somebody didn't take the time, than I’m going to take the extra time to give them the extra training so they have that economic independent opportunity,” said Allen.

Not only does the Lighthouse offer employment, but rehabilitation resources for Tarrant County residents who are blind.

“A blind person can do anything they want,” said Simpson. “Wal-Mart, Lighthouse, anything.”

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