Blind Industries gets contract from state

September 03, 1994|By Kim Clark | Kim Clark,Sun Staff Writer

Blind Industries and Services of Maryland, which has suffered from huge losses and layoffs in its sewing and papermaking divisions in recent months, has opened its first new business venture in years -- a two-person laser printer cartridge recharging operation.

The 86-year-old nonprofit corporation dedicated to training and employing blind Marylanders won a one-year contract from the state government to rebuild about 1,200 laser printer cartridges for $31.25 apiece.

Jim Miller, manager of the project at BISM's Baltimore headquarters, said yesterday he hopes to win other printer cartridge recharging contracts to create two more jobs next month.

And he hopes eventually to create more jobs recycling other kinds of computer and printer supplies.

More than a dozen blind people have applied for the $7-an-hour jobs, he said.

Although it is a small start, the new venture is winning widespread praise, even from those who charged as recently as this summer that the agency has been mismanaged.

Ralph Sampson, a former director of the agency, said he has long felt that Blind Industries' managers were relegating blind workers to outdated skills and products, such as washcloths and paper pads.

"It would be much better if people in the (blind) industry could fit into modern technologies," he said. "At least they are apparently doing that" now, he said.

Mr. Sampson has criticized the agency for losing more than $500,000 in the past two years and cutting its workforce from a high of 230 last summer to as low as 90 early this year.

He and other critics had charged that the agency was being run by well-paid sighted people who sank the agency's funds in ventures that wouldn't hire many blind people and were doomed to lose money.

But agency board chairman Fred Puente said yesterday that Blind Industries is starting to rebound. The agency receives about $1 million a year from the state for providing training, and pays the rest of its costs from the sales of its products.

New orders for paper pads and washcloths have enabled the agency to recall several dozen workers, bringing the total workforce back up to about 130, he said.

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