Eliminate all barriers

by Diana Castro-Vazquez

There is a popular small coffee shop in Greensboro named 33 & Elm located at 924 W. Gate City Blvd. If you have ever been there, you may notice that they are right next to Industries of the Blind. Now, it is no secret that they are associated with Industries of the Blind, but what is this organization?

Industries of the Blind’s vision is “to eliminate all barriers for people who are blind or visually impaired” and their mission is “to provide opportunities for employment and personal development for people who are blind or visually impaired to achieve greater independence.”

1933 was a very difficult year for everyone in the world since it was right in the middle of the Great Depression. During this year, the first work program in North Carolina was organized for people who are blind. It was known as the Guilford County Association for the Blind and was composed of six people who made mops in a leased storefront.

According to the Industries of the Blind, The National Industries for the Blind was incorporated in 1938 as a result of the Wagner-O’Day Act – legislation that established a federal market for the purchase of products manufactured by organizations employing people with severe visual disabilities.

During World War II, they employed 35 new people. At the same time, the first part of their building on Lee Street was being constructed. In 1962, Industries of the Blind (IOB, Inc.) entered into its first $1 million contract and along with this came improvements and renovations to their building.

One of the most popular items that IOB, Inc. sells is pens. In 1967, then-GSA Commissioner Heinz Abersfeller sought a new supplier for pens and offered the National Industries for
the Blind the opportunity to produce the pens. In 1971, The Javits-Wagner-O’Day Act expanded the law that specifies that all federal agencies purchase particular supplies and services from nonprofit agencies employing persons who are blind or have other significant disabilities.

The Act was passed by the 92nd United States Congress. In 2006, Javits Wagner-O’Day Program was renamed to AbilityOne as determined by congress. In order for a company to be eligible for the AbilityOne program, 75 percent of the total direct labor hours must be performed by people who are blind or have other severe disabilities. In 2019 the planning and building of the coffee shop, 33& Elm began, and in 2020, during Covid-19, IOB started producing masks for the US Army. Instead of there being layoffs, they found themselves seeking more employees.

In the present day, Joshua Gould is the president and CEO of Industries of the Blind and has been with IOB since 2017. According to IOB, “every day Joshua is inspired by the tremendous work done at IOB and by the associates and their stories. Joshua has an extensive background and proven record in leadership, business development and lean manufacturing in successive roles at Danaher Corp, AAMCO and Emerson as well as through his prior consulting work.”

The director of community outreach and government relations is Richard Oliver. Oliver is a 1988 graduate of Greensboro College and completed business management training through the Darden School of Business in 2007. He was born with defects in both eyes, followed by two
retinal detachments within a six-year period that led to the loss of vision in one eye and diminished sight in the other. He has been legally blind for 30 years.

According to IOB, “over the last eight years, he has traveled to Capitol Hill to speak to Congress and staff about issues relating to the AbilityOne Program and the JWOD Act and the need for inclusion of people with disabilities into the main-stream of non-government business.”

George Hoyt is the current manager at 33 & Elm. Hoyt heard of the position of manager through a friend while he was looking for a change in his career. He has been in the coffee industry for a long time and he says that 33 & Elm was a good fit for him. Hoyt enjoys working for IOB and 33 & Elm.

“I love it, Industries of the Blind has a unique culture,” Hoyt said. “It was a good fit for me, to come into a business whose goal is to empower people.”

There were some challenges when he began working at 33 & Elm. He had to learn how to break down tasks into small increments so that he could teach visually-impaired individuals. The layout of the coffee shop is also designed to optimize a good experience. There are signs around the coffee shop to let customers know that the employees are visually impaired. Hoyt explains that “most people are excited to help a coffee shop that has a mission.”

IOB states “we’ve all heard it so many times, ‘You can’t do that.’ Here at the Industries of the Blind, we like to stay away from that kind of negative mind- set and talk.”

If you wish to learn more about what Industries of the Blind do you can contact them at 336-274-1591 for their main office, 1-800- 909-7086 for customer service, or e-mail them at customerservice@iob-gso.com.

Make sure to check out 33 & Elm and all their amazing items – from smoothies to coffee and baked goods. Additionally, 33 & Elm is offering a discount to GC students for the rest of the
semester. If you bring in any copy of The Collegian newspaper to the coffee shop you will be given a discount at check out.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s