The Chicago Lighthouse just made its 6 millionth clock. But that's not what makes one of the last U.S. clock factories remarkable.
It's that those 6 million clocks were made almost entirely by visually impaired people.
"With the eye condition, this glaucoma, that I discovered that I had, I lost one eye on the right hand side, and left eye is 40 percent functioning," said Freddy Feizer, a material handler at Chicago Lighthouse. "So it was kind of difficult moving along, trying to get a decent job because I did forklift driving for 20 years."
"I feel like I’ve been lifted."
It's estimated that about 10 million Americans are partially or legally blind, according to the American Foundation for the Blind. More than 15 percent of those people are unemployed, while 79 percent aren't even in the workforce, period, according to the National Federation for the Blind.
"It took me about six, seven years to find a job. My previous job was UPS," said Ivan Garcia, a 36-year-old who handles printing of the clock designs.
The Chicago Lighthouse Industries, a nonprofit helping visually impaired, senior citizens and veterans, wants to make sure people like Garcia and Feizer find a full-time job with benefits quickly. And it's been doing so for more than 100 years.
“It makes it very, very difficult for people to then achieve the things that they’re more than capable of achieving if they don’t have those opportunities to do so," said Pam Tully, the chief operating officer for The Chicago Lighthouse.
Tully says a lot of the people hired at Industries stay there for a long time because it's difficult to find job security elsewhere as a blind person.
"What we can see, our visually impaired staff feel."
The factory has a contract with the federal government, so you can find a lot of their clocks at government agencies. Recently, they've started expanding, inking a deal to have their clocks for sale at three Chicago-area Target stores. One of their clocks even makes a cameo in NBC's "Chicago P.D." You can buy the clocks online via Amazon by clicking here.
To make these timepieces, the clockmakers are supervised by sighted people and trained on repetitive actions.
“What we can see, our visually impaired staff feel," said Heidi Asheville, the director of the operations at the factory. "And so, they’re feeling for things that you and I probably wouldn’t be able to tell the difference of.”
For a job like this, employees like Nick Siavelis are willing to travel as far as two hours.
"This is a job that I love and, so, I love coming in every day to work with the people here," says Siavelis. "It’s definitely worth it to me."
What may seem like just another assembly line job to some has turned into a saving grace for others.
"I kind of closed myself out, you know, because I was all into forklift driving, and then when I found out I lost my eye, I went into a depression," said Feizer, who started working at the factory a month ago.
“Now, I feel like I’ve been lifted."
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