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Target 3 Special: Access Ability

A steady, day-to-day job is something many of us can take for granted.  For the hundreds of Texomans with a disabilities, a job means a sense of independence many of them have never had the chance to experience.
    For the past 32 years, Brenda Terry has worked as a data entry clerk at Beacon Lighthouse in Wichita Falls, a job she never imagined she'd be able to do.
    "For visually impaired people, this is about the only place that we have an opportunity to be employed. I'm able to work with peers, people who have visual impairment just like myself," Terry says.
    Terry was born with full sight.
    But when she was 23-years-old, life as she knew it changed overnight.
    "I picked up a phone book one day to read it. I could read it the day before, and that day I couldn't read it," she says.
    Terry was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa, a hereditary disease of the retina that ultimately leads to incurable blindness.
    "I was frustrated. I was angry. I felt sorry for myself. Finally one day I decided I was tired of being like that, and there were other people that were in the same situation I am or other people in a worse situation than myself, and it was time to pick up the pieces and go about my life," Terry says.
    And she did just that by getting a job at Beacon Lighthouse.
    Most of the lighthouse's employees are blind or visually impaired.
    Jacquelyn Davis, a press operator, says, "Each lighthouse has a beacon. It guides ships and stuff to port. People who are blind, we act lost because of our vision. But this lighthouse leads us all into this facility and gives us another chance."
    Employees produce the Lighthouse's major product lines, including cleaning products, kits for aircraft cleaning, emergency lights, and stainless steel sponges.
    "We keep the military afloat. We keep the air force afloat. We know we keep the navy afloat because they use our stainless steel scrubbers," Davis says.
    Bill Archer is part of a four person sales team at the Lighthouse.
    Three of the four, including Archer, are legally blind.
    "We use different forms of equipment to carry out our jobs," Archer says.
    He uses a software called "Zoom Text" so he can see what he's working on.
    "This particular equipment will take a page and blow it up to whatever size I need to see the material that's actually on there," Archer says.
    Archer is loyal to the Lighthouse and has worked there for nearly 20 years.
    He says modern technology has opened the window of work opportunities for him and others.
    "Things that I do now I could have never done when I first began here," he says.
    Recently released statistics show unemployment for people with is higher than that of people without disabilities: 12.9 percent compared to 8. 7 percent.
    "I think one of the best things you can do for someone with a disability is give them an opportunity to get a job."
    Jerry Bettenhausen, CEO of Wichita Falls Work Services Corporation, one of the nation's largest employers of people with disabilities, employs people with any type of disability, including intellectual, mental health, visual, speech, and hearing disabilities.
    In fact, he says he thinks people with disabilities make better employees than people who don't have a disability.
    "When they get a job, they value that job more than I would say the average employee does.  That results in an employee that's better committed, more loyal to the organization, and has a better work ethic," Betthausen says.
    The company is perhaps best known for its paperclip manufacturing operation, which employs people with some of the most severe disabilities.
    "Whether it's the president of the United States or astronauts in NASA, or people working at Sheppard Air Force Base, they all use paperclips that are made right here in Wichita Falls," Bettenhausen says.
    Rhonda Lovett has worked in the paperclip factory for five years.
    She inspects each and every paperclip as it comes out of the press.
    "My job means a lot to me. I've been here five years. It means a lot to me. It means family," Lovett says.
    Lovett suffered a stroke in 2005.
    "Since then, I couldn't do any other work but this," Lovett says.
    She says it's been a long, hard road, and she's had a lot to overcome.
    But, she says she wouldn't trade her job for the world.
    "Every day. I haven't missed a day! I have my vacation time and my sick time, and I haven't missed a day. I love it! I just like being here," Lovett says.
    "I can be independent and self-sufficient and not have to worry about being unemployed," Terry says.
    "It's taught me about being independent," Lovett says.  "I wasn't independent after I suffered the stroke. I'm independent now. I pay my bills. I live by myself. That's just great for me!"
    Work Services Corporation is now also focusing on employing wounded warriors, so those injured while defending our country have a job to come home to once they return from overseas.
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