New Workforce Training Center For Blind People Coming To Wichita

Feb 12, 2018

The Wichita nonprofit Envision is building a new workforce training center designed to get people with vision loss into high-tech jobs.

Envision is partnering with sister agency LC Industries for the William L. Hudson BVI Workforce Innovation Center.

The training center is located at Envision's headquarters in downtown Wichita. It will feature accessible workstations, a technology makerspace and an experiential program area with computer hardware and software.

Mike May, the center's executive director, expects national employment opportunities for blind or visually impaired people who complete the training.

"I think there’s a lot of opportunity for jobs outside of manufacturing in the tech sector, and Envision wants to lead that charge," May says.

Envision officials say 70 percent of blind people are currently unemployed.

The training facility will also feature a call center for customer service operations.

In addition to technology skills training and job placement, the center also seeks to provide accessibility inclusion expertise to businesses around the country.

Mike May is the newly hired executive director for Envision's Workforce Innovation Center, which is expected to open by June.
Credit Deborah Shaar / KMUW

May says one major obstacle to getting people with vision loss hired is an employer’s attitude or lack of awareness.

"It’s our role at Envision to help facilitate that communication, access to the technology and to overcome that hurdle that the sighted-employer might have in terms of hiring a blind person," May says.

Michael Monteferrante, president and CEO of Envision, says the training center is about inclusion and offering upward mobility.

“We believe that the time is right to place an unparalleled focus on creating equal opportunities for white-collar, professional positions in the workplace for people who are blind or visually impaired,” Monteferrante says.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects growing demand in many industries in which people with disabilities have not been typically represented, including information technology, health care, scientific and green jobs.

Envision is one of the largest employers of individuals with vision loss in the nation, with more than 200 working in manufacturing.

The new center will cost about $3.1 million and is expected to open in June. Envision needs to raise $1.5 million by Dec. 1 to receive a $750,000 challenge grant from the Tulsa-based J.E. and L.E. Mabee Foundation. Funds will support the construction and ongoing operation of the new facility.

Envision held a news conference Monday to announce the new center. Civic leaders who spoke at the event included U.S. Rep. Ron Estes, Sedgwick County Commissioner Dave Unruh, Wichita Vice Mayor Bryan Frye and Greater Wichita Partnership President Jeff Fluhr.

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