‘It’s empowerment:’ Central Florida nonprofit creates jobs for blind, visually impaired workers

Lighthouse Works celebrates hiring its 500th employee

ORLANDO, Fla. – The pandemic put a stress on so many nonprofits across Central Florida. Jobs were lost and people were in need.

But one nonprofit saw record growth in a different category—putting people to work.

Lighthouse Central Florida and Lighthouse Works help to train and employ the blind and visually impaired. They just reached 500 employees.

“The pandemic exposed two things that were crucial to our growth,” Lighthouse Central Florida President and CEO Kyle Johnson said. “A labor shortage and a lot of companies and agencies that were never open to working from home.”

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But a core part of Lighthouse Works business is in call centers, putting them in a position to expand. Lighthouse Works has quadrupled the number of employees since 2020, hiring more than 240 people. Johnson said they’ve created more than 50% of the new blind jobs in the U.S. last quarter.

“Seven out of 10 Americans who are blind are not in the workforce,” Johnson said. “These are very capable people and they’re on the sideline and they want to contribute to the economy, not rely on it.”

Malvin Fahie said he loves working at Lighthouse Works.

“They don’t focus on your visual impairment. They focus on your willingness to work,” Fahie said.

[INSIDER EXTRA: Hear more from Malvin Fahie about why he loves his job at Lighthouse Works]

He’s been employed in the Lighthouse Works call center as a customer service representative and senior agent for four years.

“I would have never thought I’d be sitting here at a computer,” Fahie said. “But this is something I have a passion for doing. I have a passion for helping.”

Fahie and many of the other employees use technology to navigate computers and make their jobs possible.

Fahie lost his vision about 20 years ago from diabetes complications. He’s totally blind but uses a program that allows him to hear what is written on his screen in one ear and listen to callers from the other speaker in his headphones.

He owned a car wash business in the U.S Virgin Islands before moving to Florida to be closer to family.

Fahie and about 90 other people who are blind or visually impaired work in a warehouse not far from downtown Orlando. The rest work from their homes across 17 states.

“It’s empowerment,” Johnson said. “Maybe they’ve done some skill exploration. They can’t be a carpenter anymore now that they’re blind, but there are other things they can be doing and we’ll help them achieve that.”

In addition to the call center, the company also provides supply chain sourcing and fulfillment, assembly and distribution services.

“This isn’t a work program. A training program, sure. We’re a business and training occurs but this is a real business, real customers, real revenue and real performance,” Johnson said. “Everything we do here at Lighthouse Works starts with value, performance and quality, period. If we aren’t meeting value, performance and quality, the blindness will never be a part of the conversation. Our customers benefit from terrific, competitive advantages because our workforce is unique, not in spite of them.”

The revenue from Lighthouse Works is reinvested into Lighthouse Central Florida, helping to grow and improve life-changing services. Lighthouse Central Florida provides rehabilitation training and real-world application to help individuals of all ages, who live with any degree of vision loss.

“So the double bottom line at Lighthouse Works is (to) create competitive careers for people who are blind, while generating net revenue to support blind services in our community,” Johnson said.

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About the Author:

Paul is a Florida native who graduated from the University of Central Florida. As a multimedia journalist, Paul enjoys profiling the people and places that make Central Florida unique.