Originally published in Spanish on June 7, 2018 in El Diario Nueva York by Carmen Molina Tamacas. Read original article here.
“Ricardo Rivera is a Puerto Rican who began losing his vision 14 years ago due to illness. At Alphapointe he has developed skills that allow him to have a decent job.
With a skill that only gives practice, Ricardo Rivera takes the ends of a strap for military medical use, makes several folds until it is the standard size and regulated, ready to pack. It only takes a few minutes for each maneuver, since it is a task he has been carrying out for several years at Alphapointe, a foundation located in Borough Park, Brooklyn, which opens opportunities for the blind and legally blind.
Rivera was born in New York in 1974. His mother is Puerto Rican and her name is Miriam Rivera and his father, of Salvadoran origin, is José Rivera and is a veteran of war who lives in Virginia.
“I was born with bad eyesight and I have been legally blind since 2004,” Rivera said. Before being diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, he worked as a security agent, but it wasn’t until two years later that he performed all the procedures to receive social benefits, for both he and his 13-year-old daughter.
In the training they taught him to use all his senses to carry out the work, not only folding the belts but elaborating other products. “Using the tips of my fingers I can feel how it is bending. It is also a job that fills my heart because it is a product used by soldiers, my father was a soldier and I work with my heart for them,” he said.
Ted Rios, is also Puerto Rican and serves as national sales manager and Alphapointe New York and serves as a guide on a tour of the facilities of Alphapointe; he tries to fold the belts, but quickly gives up and we follow the road to other sections of the factory, where 196 people work, of which 123 are legally blind. Regarding the ethnic origin of the employees, the majority (31%) are Asian, followed by African-Americans (25%), Caucasians (24%) and Hispanics (20%).
With 106 years of existence, Alphapointe facilitates the manufacture, the assembly of third-party products, the storage and production of more than 400 products for various municipal and state agencies. Currently it is the only industrial employer of visually impaired in New York City.
Among the products that they produce are straps for patients, combat t-shirts and tourniquets for private use of the army, emergency kits, mops, brooms, brushes, dishwashing sponges, mop buckets, bags for the transport of mail, among others. The labels contain certifications such as Skilcraft, the registered trade name of the National Industries for the Blind (NIB), Rios explained.
One of the most important challenges for Alphapointe in the present is to employ skilled labor especially in the area of sewing; This is due to changes in the sector where services are purchased abroad, usually in Asian maquilas, he added. They also provide a ‘call center’ service.
They move to Queens:
In 2014, Alphapointe acquired New York City Industries for the Blind. In the face of escalating rental prices, their managers identified a property in Richmond Hill, Queens two years later for their future home, explained Gina Gowin, vice president and executive director of the Foundation, from the central office in Kansas City.
The new facilities will have a specialized training area that will help build the skills of each worker. The stations will include packing, sewing, among others using computers and high-tech equipment. The estimated cost of this investment is $ 400,000, which has been covered by a fund granted by Lavelle Fund for the Blind.
In addition, among other benefits, the space will have a special lighting that helps reduce the brightness, which affects workers with visual impairment, contrasting colors on the walls to help them in their movements, ramps and an open space for sensory stimulation.
“In the new facilities, job opportunities are going to grow, we are very excited because that will allow workers to reduce the commute. These are real jobs, it is very important that they have conditions to conserve them,” said Gowin.
Job opportunities, youth services and training services to employers in both Brooklyn and the new facilities of Richmond Hill, Queens, can be accessed directly here: https://www.alphapointe.org/employment/
To take note
5 times more: People with visual disabilities are more likely to be unemployed.
Unique in NYC: Alphapointe is the only industrial employer that stays in NYC for blind people.
Labor force: Alphapointe employs 398 people, of whom 229 are legally blind. In New York, it employs 196 workers, of whom 123 are legally blind.