by John Gibbs, Director of BSC Operations

Portrait of John Gibbs.

John Gibbs

This year marks the 25th anniversary of National Industries for the Blind (NIB)’s AbilityOne Base Supply Center (BSC) program. The Lighthouse for the Blind Inc. has a long and storied history in the manufacturing of government products including entrenching tools, canteens, and whiteboards, but in 1999 the Lighthouse joined the AbilityOne Base Supply Center program and opened its first BSC in Fallon, Nevada.

This BSC began providing supplies to the Navy, ensuring the men and women at Naval Air Station Fallon had all the supplies needed to perform their best. Following the opening, the Lighthouse continued the growth in government service, including the opening of an additional eight BSCs in Washington State and California and an additional two distribution warehouses.

In 2021, the Lighthouse will open a Coast Guard BSC in Seattle, WA and six new stores in support of the General Services Agency (GSA) 4PL program in California. This tremendous growth in a short period of time marks a milestone for both the Lighthouse for the Blind, Inc. but also for National Industries for the Blind (NIB).

What are BSCs?

BSCs are retail stores located on military installations where active duty military members and contractors are able to pick up needed supplies. These supplies include military uniforms, office and janitorial products, furniture, and specialty items. More importantly, the BSCs are locations where people who are blind, DeafBlind, and blind with other disabilities are able to be employed and assist the military members in accomplishing the mission of defending the nation. This meaningful employment and critical role provides fulfilment to people who are unable to join the military by being a vital link in the government supply chain.

How does the AbilityOne program impact people who are blind?

The program has provided employment opportunities to people who might be overlooked due to their disability. Jobs that have become available have been in manufacturing, office staff, retail sales, and communications. The AbilityOne Program has been a leading entity that has promoted the opportunity to improve people’s lives through giving them a chance.

The AbilityOne Base Supply Centers that the Lighthouse operates employ over a dozen people who are blind or visually impaired, with more positions expected to accompany the stores opening in the upcoming year. Employees who are blind and visually impaired hold positions such as District Manager, Receiving Clerk, Purchasing Specialist, and Retail Sales Associate.

What kind of technology is in place that allows BSC employees to perform their job functions?

Employees who are blind utilize a wide array of tools to perform their jobs. These tools include hand held magnifiers, screen-reading tools that tell the user what is on the screen, and Zoom text that magnifies the computer screen. The Lighthouse’s philosophy is that each employee be provided with whatever supports are necessary for success in the workplace.

Employees are also able to utilize common tools that most people are unaware of, like the iPhone’s accessibility settings and a wide variety of Microsoft suite accessibility tools.

What kind of items will someone find when visiting a Base Supply Center?

Each store is slightly different. Currently, the Lighthouse operates BSCs serving the Army, Navy, Air Force, and the Coast Guard beginning January 2021. The Air Force BSC provides more uniforms and office products, while the Army BSC locations contain more tactical supplies. These supplies range from green heavy-duty tape, storage containers, and weapon cleaning kits. Some stores contain lawn maintenance equipment and fire extinguisher to purchase.

What kinds of COVID-19 products do the BSC stores have in stock?

BSC stores are the primary avenue to gain needed COVID-19 disinfectant and personal protective equipment on the bases that they serve. The BSCs stock disinfectant wipes, disinfectant sprays, hand sanitizer, personal wipes, and nitrile gloves. The pandemic placed a heavy demand on the supply system but the members of the BSC were able to obtain these critical supplies and stock an appropriate amount to ensure organizations could remain proactive and prevent the spread of the disease.

What kinds of protocols have been implemented to ensure the safety of employees and customers since the onset of the pandemic?

All BSC locations have a strict mask policy in order to enter the stores. Hand sanitizing stations can be found at each entrance and store equipment is sanitized before and after transactions. Six feet of space between patrons and employees is mandated in each store. These measures have facilitated zero positive COVID infections for all employees. The employees have performed remarkably to keep both themselves and the general public safe.

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