Back in March and April when there was a toilet paper crisis due to hoarding at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, I couldn’t help but think of a Fun Club tour when we were surrounded by an abundance of toilet tissue.
Recently I ran across some photos of that tour and thought it would be fun to share the experience, once again, with our readers.
In July 2013, the Fun Club toured a factory in Omaha as part of a Mystery Tour. The factory, Outlook Nebraska Inc. (ONI), is still the largest employer of the blind and visually impaired in a seven-state region.
Nationwide, 70% of blind and visually impaired working-age adults are unemployed. Not so in Omaha. ONI provides employment opportunities for more than 40 blind and visually impaired individuals. They offer competitive wages and benefits to this underutilized yet very capable group of citizens.
What is ONI?
The facility is described as “an operation that supplies 100 percent recycled fiber content washroom paper products to the U.S. Government and other customers.” In simple terms, they make toilet paper and paper towels.
Even though this tour was seven years ago, I still remember making tour arrangements with a delightful person named Janis. I had been in contact with her and other ONI staff members for several months prior to our tour.
I vividly remember walking into their lobby that day with the first group of Fun Club travelers. I was blown away when I realized Janis was legally blind. Not only that, but most of the office workers and training staff we encountered were also legally blind or visually impaired.
How did they manage? Well, to start with, the human spirit is an amazing thing and technology is an impressive helpmate. Screen magnifying software, split screen technology, voice-activated equipment and other amenities were all in use in this incredible facility.
Touring the office
What happened next was a surprise to our whole group. Four tour guides were introduced to us and, if you can believe this, most of the guides were legally blind or visually impaired. But off we went with the blind leading the sighted. The tour guide for my group was Dan who had lost his vision several years earlier. He was now considered legally blind but you would never know it. He spoke with confidence and walked with confidence throughout the facility.
He introduced us to Ben, who was also legally blind. Ben showed us how a blind person was able to work in the accounting department. And then he introduced us to Doug, their totally blind tech guy, who told us about the latest technology they use in training and educating their clientele.
Then Dan took us through the break room and showed us the talking vending machines and talking microwave ovens. He pointed out the large lounge area with comfy looking sofas. He said a comfy lounge was necessary because most of the employees can not drive and sometimes had to wait a long time after their shift for public transportation or to catch rides with family or friends.
Touring the factory
When we walked into the massive factory we saw the enormous 8½ foot tall, 2,300 pound “parent rolls” that were used to make the paper products. We learned that 25 to 27 of these giant rolls were used daily when the plant was in full swing. They double-stacked these monsters in long rows and it was an amazing sight.
Dan pointed out various factory machines and explained how a blind person is able to successfully work on the line. Obvious to all of us was the bright yellow path with raised red sides that allowed the workers to walk with ease throughout the factory. Red cross-boards told them when to turn.
It was a unique experience and I’m pretty sure most of us gained a new appreciation for what the blind can accomplish when given the opportunity. Due to the current pandemic, ONI has had to close the factory to tours and make other adjustments for the protection of their workers. But it’s a place where the 97 Fun Club travelers who visited that day have surely not forgotten.