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The Javits-Wagner-O'Day program.

A source of viable employment and training options for Americans who are blind or have other severe disabilities

Yoseph Getachew is a customer service representative who is blind. He works under a service contract with Virginia Industries for the Blind at the General Services Administration Customer Supply Center in Franconia, Virginia. Gail Whritenour is a mailroom researcher with cerebral palsy who works under a service contract with Fairfax Opportunities Unlimited at the Environmental Protection Agency in Washington, D.C. Roberta LeBlanc is a packaging and assembly worker who is deaf and blind. She works for the Tandy Wire and Cable Company, having gained work experience on federal contracts performed at the Lighthouse for the Blind of Fort Worth, Texas.

These are just a few examples of the wide variety of work settings and employment options available through today's Javits-Wagner-O'Day (JWOD) Program to people who are blind or have other severe disabilities. With average wages exceeding $6.50 an hour and a growing number of program participants working at federal facilities, it is time to take stock, re-examine old perceptions, and look to the future of this unique federal, state, and local partnership.

The JWOD Program uses the purchasing power of the federal government to generate employment and training opportunities for people who are blind or have other severe disabilities. It provides a major and stable source of employment-generating contracts for over 600 nonprofit agencies, also known as community rehabilitation programs (CRP's), located throughout the United States. Recent changes in the way the federal government purchases supplies and services are breaking down old distinctions between the government and private sectors. As a result, people with severe disabilities now have a greater access to employment opportunities in a wider range of settings where commercial practices and consumer choice prevail. Rehabilitation professionals and consumers need to be aware of these changes as new vocational options become available through JWOD-participating agencies in their communities.

Historical Perspective

At the beginning of the 20th Century, the production of handcrafted items, particularly brooms, was a significant source of employment for blind people in the United States. In response to legislation enacted by Congress establishing controls over the practice of using prison labor for the production and sale of a range of goods to states and the federal government, the blind community was concerned that its market for brooms and other similar items would be threatened. Peter J. Salmon, Assistant Director of the Industrial Home for the Blind in Brooklyn, New York, together with M. C. Migel, President of the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB), and Robert B. Irwin, Executive Director of AFB, sought to preserve this market as a source of employment for people who are blind and to prevent "ruinous" competition for such business among nonprofit agencies employing blind persons.

After positive discussions with prison officials, labor leaders, industry representatives, and members of Congress, two individuals, Senator Robert E Wagner (D-NY) and Representative Caroline O'Day (D-NY), both deeply interested in issues affecting blind people, agreed to sponsor bills in the Senate and House of Representatives. Both bills were passed and what became known as the Wagner-O'Day Act was signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on June 25, 1938.

The law mandated that the federal government purchase at a fair market price brooms, mops, and "other suitable commodities" from nonprofit agencies employing blind people. Thus, it used the purchasing power of the government as a catalyst for both sustaining and expanding employment opportunities. The law also required that at least 75 percent of a participating organization's direct labor employees be people who are blind.

The new law also established a Presidentially appointed "Committee on Purchases of Blind-Made Products" to oversee the program and to authorize a central nonprofit agency to facilitate the distribution of orders and perform other related functions. In this regard, a group of representatives from 20 local agencies serving blind people in 11 states met at the American Foundation for the Blind soon after the law was passed. A committee was appointed to address various aspects of the law, and it was out of these discussions that National Industries for the Blind (NIB) was created. NIB was subsequently authorized as the Program's first central nonprofit agency by the Committee on Purchases of Blind-Made Products.

In 1971, Senator Jacob Javits and a coalition of agencies serving people with a range of severe disabilities spearheaded efforts to expand the WagnerO'Day Act. The resulting Javits-Wagner-O'Day (JWOD) Act (41 U.S.C. 46-48c) permitted nonprofit agencies serving people with "other" severe disabilities to participate in the program and authorized nonprofit agencies to provide not only supplies, but also services to the government.

Among the organizations responsible for seeking expansion of the Wagner-O'Day Act were Goodwill Industries International, the National Easter Seal Society, the American Rehabilitation Association, The ARC, the United Cerebral Palsy Association, and the International Association of Jewish Vocational Services. In 1974, these six groups formed a new organization--National Industries for the Severely Handicapped (NISH)--whose purpose was to support the JWOD Program and seek authorization as a second central nonprofit agency.

The JWOD Team

Under the authority of the JWOD Act, there are three organizations that work, often behind the scenes, to help nonprofit agencies provide supplies and services to the government. Their efforts generate a wide range of vocational opportunities for people who are blind or have other severe disabilities, which, whenever possible, prepare them to engage in competitive employment. These three organizations are the Committee for Purchase From People Who Are Blind or Severely Disabled (the "Committee"), NIB, and NISH (formerly National Industries for the Severely Handicapped).

The Committee is a small, independent federal agency that is part of the Executive Branch. It is composed of 15 Presidentially appointed members, 11 of whom represent governmental agencies (see Fig. 1). In most cases, these representatives are career executives who have a wealth of experience and knowledge about how the federal procurement system works. The remaining four members are private citizens representing the concerns of people who are blind or have other severe disabilities, including those who are employed by the JWOD participating nonprofit agencies associated with either NIB or NISH.


Among its many responsibilities, the Committee:

* Determines which supplies and services purchased by the federal government must be procured from nonprofit agencies employing persons with severe disabilities;

* Establishes the fair market prices to be paid for these items;

* Oversees compliance of nonprofit agencies with Committee rules and regulations (through onsite reviews of agency operations and other means); and

* Assists federal agencies in expanding their JWOD procurement, thereby creating more employment opportunities for people with severe disabilities.

To help carry out its mandate, the Committee has a full-time staff of 19 located in Arlington, Virginia.

The other two organizations that are part of the JWOD team are NIB and NISH. The JWOD Act directs the Committee to designate "a central nonprofit agency or agencies to facilitate the distribution" of government orders among nonprofit agencies employing persons who are blind or have other severe disabilities. The Committee has designated NIB and NISH to perform this and other functions. They provide a range of consultation and technical assistance services by working closely with government contracting specialists and local nonprofit agencies to match government requirements with the capabilities of the agencies.

NIB and NISH are independent private organizations, not federal entities. Each of the 626 CRP's that participated in the JWOD Program at the end of FY 1997 is affiliated with either NIB or NISH. Major functions carried out by NIB and NISH in conjunction with the JWOD Program are:

* Allocating government orders for JWOD items among participating CRP's;

* Assisting CRP's in developing new JWOD products or services for the Committee's consideration; calculating proposed JWOD prices; addressing production/service provision problems; and complying with Committee regulations; and

* Evaluating and expanding capabilities of CRP's to provide specific supplies and services.

Other key members of the JWOD team are the local CRP's across the country that participate in the program and the individuals with severe disabilities to whom these organizations provide direct services. These organizations are in the majority of cases private, charitable organizations with independent boards of directors. Some state agencies also employ people with severe disabilities under the program. To qualify for participation in JWOD, an agency must be nonprofit and at least 75 percent of the hours of direct labor performed by the agency annually must be performed by people who are blind, in the case of agencies affiliated with NIB, or in the case of agencies affiliated with NISH, by people who are blind or have other severe disabilities. This requirement is to ensure that the JWOD Program serves the intended beneficiaries.

In order to participate in the JWOD Program, CRP's, like other federal contractors, must be able to provide a quality commodity or service, on time, at a fair market price; and like other federal contractors, CRP's must comply with all federal regulatory requirements that govern entities that contract with the federal government. These requirements include, but are not limited to, environmental regulations and Department of Labor (DOL) regulations, including Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and wage and hour requirements.

Who Are JWOD's Customers?

The JWOD Program is focused on a subset of the overall population of people with disabilities--those with severe disabilities who need specialized vocational and adaptive skill training, as well as opportunities to develop real-world work experience, thus enabling them to fulfill their potential and, whenever possible, qualify for competitive employment. To be eligible for employment under the program, persons who are blind and those with a severe disability other than blindness must meet one of the following criteria:

* Legal Blindness--central visual acuity that "does not exceed 20/200 in the better eye with correcting lenses or...visual acuity if better than 20/200... accompanied by a limit to the field of vision in the better eye to such a degree that its widest diameter subtends an angle no greater than 20 degrees."

* Severe Disability--A severe physical or mental impairment (a residual, limiting condition resulting from an injury, disease, or congenital defect) that so limits the person's functional capabilities (mobility, communication, self-care, self-direction, work tolerance, or work skills) that the individual is unable to engage in normal competitive employment over an extended period of time.

Medical documentation for an individual's eligibility under one of the above definitions must be provided by a qualified professional.

In a 1996 survey of individuals with severe disabilities employed on JWOD jobs, over 50 percent had primary disabilities of mental retardation (32%) or mental illness (21%). People who are blind or visually impaired comprised 16 percent of the JWOD population. An estimated one-third of the people employed through the JWOD Program have multiple disabling conditions with secondary disabilities such as physical impairments (23%), mental retardation (16%) and mental illness (22%).(1)

JWOD's Accomplishments--A Status Report

Although JWOD has always been a national program, FY 1994 marked the first year in which nonprofit agencies in every state and the District of Columbia held JWOD contracts. Of the 626 CRP's that furnished JWOD supplies and services in FY 1997, 547 were associated with NISH and 79 were associated with NIB.

The number of people served by the JWOD Program has increased steadily over the years (see Fig. 2) and it continues to grow. In FY 1997, the JWOD Program generated employment opportunities for 31,819 people who are blind or have other severe disabilities. The number of hours worked by program participants in FY 1997 totaled 26 million, while wages paid to JWOD workers with severe disabilities totaled $172.6 million. The average hourly wage was $6.64, an increase of approximately 4.5 percent over FY 1996 (see Fig. 3). This trend is expected to continue as efforts to partner with federal agencies seeking to contract out for higher paying service jobs bear fruit. Figure 4 illustrates the distribution of JWOD work in each state, broken out by the number of employees with severe disabilities, the number of hours worked by those employees, and wages paid.


Figure 4

JWOD Impact By State
ALABAMA 453 526,333 $3,277,493
ALASKA 144 146,321 1,314,801
ARIZONA 443 316,605 1,998,199
ARKANSAS 339 233,843 1,280,599
CALIFORNIA 2,275 2,266,041 18,326,918
COLORADO 465 401,927 2,453,287
CONNECTICUT 516 223,287 878,229
DELAWARE 11 7,135 46,722
D.C. 589 561,823 3,962,141
FLORIDA 1,476 1,386,076 8,532,806
GEORGIA 744 700,801 4,438,396
HAWAII 193 204,882 1,397,190
IDAHO 339 154,087 848,571
ILLINOIS 993 690,144 4,693,576
INDIANA 285 195,669 7,236,354
IOWA 60 71,572 504,956
KANSAS 162 142,402 838,281
KENTUCKY 393 153,520 930,356
LOUISIANA 577 574,905 3,242,165
MAINE 52 56,044 309,612
MARYLAND 1,517 1,227,784 8,358,148
MASSACHUSETTS 473 386,445 2,567,888
MICHIGAN 837 499,710 3,286,325
MINNESOTA 706 964,960 5,855,431
MISSISSIPPI 926 815,268 4,944,654
MISSOURI 743 480,464 2,774,366
MONTANA 224 119,914 405,208
NEBRASKA 276 216,517 1,002,033
NEVADA 51 61,911 507,368
NEW HAMPSHIRE 88 43,468 333,420
NEW JERSEY 250 256,446 1,987,731
NEW MEXICO 500 365,807 2,315,765
NEW YORK 1,545 1,319,946 12,985,539
NORTH CAROLINA 910 844,903 5,472,321
NORTH DAKOTA 142 115,876 653,070
OHIO 1,049 705,307 5,216,136
OKLAHOMA 645 388,666 2,389,940
OREGON 340 255,238 1,982,607
PENNSYLVANIA 1,475 1,060,525 5,031,214
RHODE ISLAND 167 136,731 1,203,460
SOUTH CAROLINA 571 283,506 1,747,372
SOUTH DAKOTA 430 299,797 1,765,311
TENNESSEE 392 213,096 1,205,148
TEXAS 2,632 2,333,693 14,151,492
UTAH 292 201,882 1,194,575
VERMONT 14 9,733 103,111
VIRGINIA 2,282 1,946,418 13,898,195
WASHINGTON 733 678,155 4,841,792
WEST VIRGINIA 242 271,541 1,824,116
WISCONSIN 809 428,601 2,272,399
WYOMING 49 41,905 368,322

From its inception in 1938, when only mops and brooms were produced, the JWOD Program has undergone significant change and expansion. Today, over 4,000 supplies and services are furnished to federal customers by participating nonprofit agencies. The supplies include office products, textiles, medical supplies, and wood and metal products. They range from pads of self-stick removable notes to suture removal kits for VA medical centers and camouflage clothing for the military.

JWOD service contracts provide a variety of employment opportunities in a wide range of work settings. Functions performed under such contracts include administrative support, food services, laundry and dry cleaning, grounds maintenance, shelf stocking, janitorial service, and microfiche reproduction. Under the JWOD Program, people with severe disabilities are entering data into computers at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, performing mailroom services at the Department of Energy, and operating switchboards at the Department of Veterans Affairs. This work is performed onsite in government facilities and often involves working closely with federal staff. The recent development of an agreement for the provision of temporary administrative support services to federal agencies has also added new opportunities and greater flexibility to the program.

New Challenges and Opportunities Amidst Federal Procurement Reform

In meeting its goal of using the federal procurement system to generate employment and training opportunities for people who are blind or have other severe disabilities, the JWOD Program brings together the government's procurement system and the nation's vocational rehabilitation programs. The passage of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans With Disabilities Act in 1990 signified changing attitudes about the capabilities, rights, and responsibilities of people with disabilities. A more recent piece of legislation, the Federal Acquisition Streamlining Act of 1994, also affected the JWOD Program by significantly altering the government's procurement system. This combination of changing policies--regarding consumer choice in vocational rehabilitation and federal procurement--creates some challenges for the JWOD Program but is also releasing new energy and leading to expanded opportunities for JWOD participants.

The Federal Acquisition Streamlining Act is an outgrowth of the National Performance Review, which the Clinton Administration initiated in 1993 under the leadership of Vice President Gore. Its stated goal is "... to make the entire federal government both less expensive and more efficient, and to change the culture of our National bureaucracy away from complacency and entitlement and toward initiative and empowerment."(2) When it came to reforming the federal government's procurement system, the National Performance Review recommended that rigid procurement rules and government unique specifications be replaced with more flexible guidelines and an increased emphasis on commercial standards and partnerships with the private marketplace.

The JWOD Program was also scrutinized as part of the National Performance Review, which recognized JWOD's vital role as an employment and training program targeted to a group of Americans facing an unemployment rate that exceeds 65 percent. As a result of the Federal Acquisition Streamlining Act, however, the JWOD Program is now on a new playing field full of both challenge and opportunity.

For example, the new procurement law simplifies purchasing procedures, thereby facilitating the use of a government-sponsored credit card by hundreds of thousands of federal employees. Many of these new users are "program" employees with little experience in procurement and often no knowledge of the existence or purpose of the JWOD Program. Thus, instead of buying office supplies at competitive, and often lower, prices through JWOD's authorized government and commercial distributors, some government workers are beginning to buy them from nonauthorized retailers selling similar, but non-JWOD, items. In the "reinventing government" atmosphere, JWOD is working hard to inform a new population of government buyers about its benefits and to explore ways of increasing their access to JWOD supplies.

Military downsizing and the goal of both the National Performance Review and Congressional reforms to reduce the government's civilian labor force threaten JWOD sales and, thus, jobs, for people with disabilities who produce JWOD supplies. On the other hand, this very reduction in the government labor pool is creating new opportunities for the provision of services to federal agencies. As the personnel reductions take place, some agencies are "contracting out" for the services they can no longer provide in-house. The increased opportunities in areas such as switchboard operation, customer service, grounds maintenance, and copy and mailroom services holds considerable potential for community rehabilitation programs to train individuals with severe disabilities for work in new settings.

Strengthening Partnerships For the Future

While addressing both the challenges and opportunities created by federal procurement reforms, the Committee has not ignored the changes taking place in the vocational rehabilitation community. It established a Subcommittee on the Future to assess the effects of those changes on the JWOD Program and the people it serves as well as to increase collaboration between federal and state rehabilitation officials and staff of the JWOD team.

As a result of this effort, the JWOD Program is seeking to communicate more effectively with other vocational rehabilitation organizations about the full range of options available to persons with severe disabilities through NIB- and NISH-associated CRP's participating in the JWOD Program. Many NIB and NISH associates have aggressive programs for placement in competitive employment as well as other transitional training and employment options that include both supported and facility-based employment. As a consequence, referrals of people with severe disabilities to NIB- and NISH-associated agencies in most cases will provide such individuals with a range of choices, as opposed to the sole option of facility-based employment.

To expedite dialogue with other groups in the vocational rehabilitation community and clarify the Committee's position on the need for consumer choice and a variety of employment options--including those offered through JWOD--for people who are blind or have other severe disabilities, the Subcommittee on the Future recommended and the Committee adopted a policy statement titled "Support of Employment Options For People Who Are Blind or Severely Disabled" (Fig. 5). This policy statement established a foundation for discussion with other groups about JWOD options and the types of vocational rehabilitation organizations that receive JWOD contracts. Work on this policy statement, which was developed in consultation with staff of the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA), also led to the development of a new RSA Technical Assistance Circular on working relationships with JWOD CRP's. In addition to citing the importance of more traditional extended employment services for transitional job training or as a valid consumer choice for longer term employment, the circular gives specific examples of JWOD employment opportunities that meet criteria under the Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1992 for competitive employment in integrated settings.



In 1938, Congress created what is now called the Javits-Wagner-O'Day (JWOD) Program to generate jobs for people who are blind or have severe disabilities by enabling them to provide necessary products and services to the federal government. The Committee for Purchase From People Who Are Blind or Severely Disabled was created to administer the JWOD Program by working in partnership with community rehabilitation programs and the state-federal vocational rehabilitation system. This unique partnership between the federal government and state and private agencies has achieved a number of well-documented benefits for people with disabilities: stable jobs, competitive wages, good working conditions, potential for upward mobility, placement assistance into competitive employment, increased sense of self-worth, and a choice of career alternatives.

The opportunity to exercise freedom of choice with respect to employment options should be afforded to people with disabilities just as it is to other Americans. Persons who are blind or severely disabled have widely divergent abilities, backgrounds, levels of education, and aspirations; their interests and capabilities may change over time. A variety of options is therefore necessary for the accommodation of individual needs.

The Committee urges that the importance of providing diverse vocational opportunities for people who are blind or have other severe disabilities be recognized and reflected in both policy and practice at the federal, state and local levels. Based on its experience with such programs, the Committee views the community rehabilitation program model, which offers a range of employment-related and other assistance, as a particularly viable approach to accomplishing the goal of providing diverse opportunities. By supporting organizations that as a group or as individual service providers offer a full array of options, public and private funding agencies should assure the maximum possible benefits for Americans with disabilities.

Another outgrowth of work done by the Subcommittee on the Future was a formal policy statement on membership of people who are blind or have other severe disabilities on CRP governing boards. The policy statement emphasized the important contributions which the individuals served by CRP's can make and urged CRP's which had not already adopted such policies to do so.

The members of the JWOD team--the Committee, NIB, NISH, and JWOD participating CRP's--invite all interested parties to assist in capitalizing on the changes now occurring and in exploring additional and more diverse vocational opportunities for Americans with severe disabilities. Professionals, consumers, and students involved with vocational rehabilitation issues and the employment needs of people with severe disabilities are urged to request a listing of the JWOD participating agencies in their state and to schedule a visit. The Committee's Annual Report provides a complete listing of NIB- and NISH-associated CRP's currently employing people with severe disabilities through JWOD contracts. It also provides more detailed information about JWOD and its participants. To request the Committee's Annual Report or further information about the work of the Committee, NIB, or NISH, please visit the Committee's web site ( or contact a member of the JWOD team:

Committee for Purchase From People Who Are Blind or Severely Disabled:

Robert Hartt, Program Analyst Kimberly Zeich, Public Affairs Specialist (703) 603-7740 Crystal Gateway 3, Room 310 1215 Jefferson Davis Highway Arlington, Virginia 22202-4302

National Industries for the Blind: Patricia Beattie, Director, Public Policy and Consumer Relations (703) 998-0770 1901 North Beauregard Street Alexandria, Virginia 22311-1727

NISH: East Regional Office (CT, DE, DC, ME, MD, MA, NH, NJ, NY, PA, RI, VT, VA, WV) Philip Saulnier Executive Director (703) 560-6610 Dunn Loring, Virginia

North/Central Regional Office (IL, IN, IA, MI, MN, OH, WI) Martin Williams Executive Director (847) 699-8890 Des Plaines, Illinois

Northwest Regional Office (AK, ID, MT, NE, ND, OR, SD, WA, WY) Susan Milstein Executive Director (206) 285-6160 Seattle, Washington

South/Central Regional Office (AR, CO, KS, LA, MO, NM, OK, TX) Ed Arnold Executive Director (817) 649-5419 Arlington, Texas

South Regional Office (AL, FL, GA, KY, MS, NC, PR, SC, TN, VI) Jon Higginbotham Executive Director (770) 424-9093 Marietta, Georgia

West Regional Office (AZ, CA, HI, NV, UT, Guam & American Samoa) David Dubinsky Executive Director (510) 417-6880 Pleasanton, California


[1.] Committee for Purchase from People Who Are Blind or Severely Disabled (1996). Unpublished preliminary results from "Benefit/Cost Analysis of the JWOD Program." Study is in progress and final report is expected to be published by December 1999.

[2.] Gore, Albert (1993), Creating a government that works better & costs less, Report of the National Performance Review, Executive Summary, Preface.

[3.] LeFevre, Robert (1966), The Story of the Wagner O'Day Act, National Industries for the Blind.
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Title Annotation:includes policy statement
Author:Milkman, Beverly
Publication:American Rehabilitation
Date:Mar 22, 1998
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