At ForSight Vision, conversion task means more business, more jobs
The green and now blue of mailing containers peek out from mountains of cardboard boxes at York County-based ForSight Vision's facility near Mount Rose Avenue in Spring Garden Township.
More than 20 years ago, the organization, formerly known as the York County Blind Center, started recycling the green mailing containers, which hold cassettes for a Library of Congress program that lends audio books and magazines to visually impaired people.
To the tune of about a million units per year, people who are blind themselves would scrape off labels, clean them up or discard the broken ones and send them back out for reuse.
The workload has gotten a lot bigger and is helping more people who are visually disabled help themselves through work. This is thanks to a common refrain across a host of industries: digital conversion.
ForSight already has added a few workers to bring the staff employed on the Library of Congress work to about a dozen and is looking to hire another five to seven people, said William Rhinesmith, ForSight's president.
The organization provides social services and employment opportunities to visually impaired people in the community as well as eye care-related services.
For a few years now, ForSight has been disposing annually of about 3 million of the cassette units, called the "greens," and started two-fold processing more recently for the new digital system hardware, Rhinesmith said.
Containers called the "blues," for mailing new digital cartridges, are processed as ForSight had handled the cassette containers for years.
But the Library of Congress also has charged ForSight with processing the digital cartridges, which are worth more than cassettes, so they can be recycled back into the system, Rhinesmith said.
The work falls under what started with the 1938 Wagner-O'Day Act, which later was expanded as the Javits-Wagner-O'Day Act.
The act originally called for the federal government to buy products made by blind people and later was expanded to cover products made by people with other disabilities. The initiative today operates as the AbilityOne Program.
"It's a great public policy program that turns tax recipients into taxpayers," Rhinesmith said.
ForSight's workforce on the job needs to consist of at least 75 percent blind people under the program, Rhinesmith said.
The National Industries for the Blind facilitated ForSight originally getting Library of Congress work, he said.
Federal legislation from around the same era also established the audio and Braille media program itself, said Jane Caulton, head of the publications and media section of the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped at the Library of Congress.
The initiative began in the early 1930s to provide Braille materials to blind veterans and others who were visually handicapped, she said.
The program introduced the audio component on records a shortly thereafter, later moved to cassettes as the technology became available and launched digital cartridges in 2009, Caulton said.
The Library of Congress provides materials in either audio or Braille format to partner libraries across the country. Qualifying individuals borrow materials from these libraries, which ship through the U.S. Postal Service at no cost to the patron, Caulton said.
NLS also provides materials online and said the launch of an app happened early this fall. But that doesn't mean the imminent demise of the mailing system, Caulton said.
"Right now, many of our patrons don't have access to computers, so we expect the mail-order system will be around for a while," she said.
ForSight has been a good partner to work with over the past two decades as sole provider of container-recycling services for the program, said John Bryant, head of the NLS production control section.
The program also works with producers who make audio and Braille materials, he said.
Staff at the Library of Congress determine what new materials to put in audio and Braille format, including best-sellers and other content of interest, to go out to partner libraries, Bryant said.
They also provide quality-control oversight for contracted producers for what goes out to the partner libraries for people to borrow, he said.
As time goes on and the popularity of certain materials wanes, the libraries might not need as many copies in stock. They ship the audio materials and containers to ForSight so they can go back to producers and carry new content to users, Bryant said.
"And ForSight is a critical corner of that triangle for us," he said.