Floridians who are blind or visually impaired create opportunities in the face of Covid-19 adversity

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Remote learning opens up access to training, and a nimble workforce responds to community needs.

The 17 member agencies of Florida Agencies Serving the Blind (ASB) have been using technology to reach even more individuals than ever before, including some with unusual hurdles to access.  One member, Lighthouse Works has even found a way to employ an additional 60 persons and is hiring and training right now.

All of ASB’s member agencies have been meeting twice a week via Zoom to share strategies, resources and success stories.  One student who really appreciates the remote learning being offered at Lighthouse Central Florida’s program for teenagers is a 17 year-old female with optic atrophy.  Virtual programming during the week has solved a conflict in her schedule. Her typical attendance is limited due to family religious obligations that conflict with the usual Saturday event schedule. Now that schools are closed and programming is during the week, she says she can participate in Transition events more often.

Mike Walsh, VP and Chief Programs Officer at Lighthouse Central Florida (LCF) says, “I think overall the new mode of service delivery has more engagement from students that don’t normally like to share or they’re shy and quiet. The digital platform has allowed them to step out of their shell, so to speak.  Also, I have been blown away with how open the kids are to participating and how engaged they are in their learning.”

Meanwhile, at Lighthouse Works, a new contract with Florida Department of Economic Opportunity opens up more than 60 new call center positions.  Their agents are helping with the surge in unemployment claims triggered by the economic shocks of COVID-19.  Please take a moment to watch some recent news coverage of Lighthouse Works’ expanded call center contract with the state’s Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO).

From Lighthouse Works’ Products division, which makes protective face masks, the local Orlando community  received 500 masks to protect the cashiers and customers at United Against Poverty Orlando, which provides affordable food to families most in need.

Many have likened the Covid-19 crisis to a World War.  Indeed, during WWII blind manufacturing created by the Works Progress Administration, sustained Navy efforts by manufacturing rope and other essential items. Our current crisis is showing the many contributions of unsung heroes doing their usual work which now is recognized as truly essential.

Perhaps Sophia, a call center agent says it best.  “I am 42 years old. I am completely blind in both eyes due to diabetic retinopathy. I have been with Lighthouse Works for three years. The hardest part in dealing with this pandemic has been reassuring my children that everything will be okay even though things are so uncertain. I have always been grateful to have a job where I could make a difference in people’s lives, so to be able to offer a little hope when some situations are so bleak I certainly realize how fortunate I am.”