Mr. PRYOR. Mr. President, today I wish to recognize an organization that has been providing opportunities for Arkansans that are blind or visually impaired since 1940. The Arkansas Lighthouse for the Blind started as a dream of a blind Methodist minister, the late Rev. Jeff Smith, and became a reality thanks to $100 in donations from friends. Since those humble beginnings, the Arkansas Lighthouse for the Blind has grown into a nationally recognized manufacturing business, now employing over 80 people in Little Rock.
The Arkansas Lighthouse for the Blind is a partner of the AbilityOne Program, a Federal purchasing program that enables over 47,000 Americans who are blind or severely disabled to work and provides products and services to Federal and commercial customers. This year marks the 75th anniversary of AbilityOne, and I am pleased to have such an important organization promoting the employment and advancement of people who are blind and visually impaired in my State.
Today in America, 70 percent of blind and visually impaired working-aged Americans are not employed. Through the AbilityOne Program, organizations like Arkansas Lighthouse for the Blind harnesses the purchasing power of the Federal government to provide quality products and services from participating community-based nonprofit agencies dedicated to training and employing individuals with disabilities. These workers proudly manufacture a wide range of paper, textile, and apparel products. From the small SKILCRAFT memo pads on our desks, to the shirts on the backs of our men and women in uniform, they are a part of our American manufacturing base that keeps our government moving each and every day.
I have visited the Arkansas Lighthouse for the Blind and had several opportunities to meet with their employees. During each interaction, I have been impressed by the opportunities this organization provides their associates, both personally and professionally. It is a place that truly lives up to its mission and expands opportunity for persons who are blind throughout the State. I am a proud AbilityOne Champion and appreciate this partnership which allows us to work together to expand opportunities for individuals with disabilities.
The month of October serves as National Disability Employment Awareness Month and I recognize the Arkansas Lighthouse for the Blind, as well as the AbilityOne program, for the opportunities they have provided for Americans with disabilities. Americans that have worked through this program over the years have acquired job skills and training, received good wages and benefits, as well as gained greater independence and quality of life. It is for this reason that I stand in support of the work they do each and every day to open doors of opportunity for Americans who are blind or visually impaired.