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Washington Voices

Community helped blind woman return to work

Thu., Sept. 3, 2009

I was new to Spokane’s Nevada/Lidgerwood neighborhood when I reached a point in life that many face. I had been a stay-at-home mom for 17 great years, but I felt it was time to go back to work.

I am legally blind. I lost all usable vision when I was 11 because of juvenile macular degeneration. I worked in my family’s restaurant before becoming a mother, and I volunteered at my children’s schools when they were younger. I was ready for something more, but I wasn’t sure who would hire me.

Through the grapevine I heard of a company close to my home that was hiring. Not only were they hiring, but they wanted people like me – people who are blind.

I started at the Inland Northwest Lighthouse on Sept. 9, 2008, as a production worker and am now one of 33 blind employees working there. We produce things such as file folders, easel displays, wallboards and paper trimmers that are sold to government agencies and office supply companies.

You might expect me to praise the Inland Northwest Lighthouse and the good it does for the blind community. While I do that plenty, I am equally proud of Spokane and my fellow citizens. When I tell sighted people about my work, I get a wide range of responses.

Some people don’t understand how blind people can do production and assembly work, while others are curious about the technology we use to make the heavy machinery safe. But everyone has been extremely supportive, particularly after coming in for a tour of the facility.

In preparations to set up shop in Spokane, the Inland Northwest Lighthouse got a great amount of support from the city, the Transit Authority and the business community. Along with adding a bus stop adjacent to our building on North Addison Street, the city installed three audible pedestrian signals at intersections near our facility and is dedicated to adding more. The INL also worked with the Spokane Transit Authority, which now provides paratransit service for our employees who are not able to walk to work or get there on the bus. Additionally, Greater Spokane Inc. was also very supportive of INL coming to Spokane and its mission of creating jobs for people who are blind, deaf-blind, and blind with other disabilities.

We live in a time when it seems like we hear nothing but the bad things going on in the world, the country and even our city. True or not, I wanted to speak up and let the city and people of Spokane know that they’re responsible for making a huge difference in my life and the lives of my co-workers.

There are a lot of things in life, like having a job, that let a person take care of and provide for his or her family, that tend to be taken for granted. I absolutely don’t take it for granted. Because of my employer, my city and my community, I am able to do this, as are 32 other people who couldn’t do it before.

Your support went a long way toward making this possible, and I thank you.

Teri Jensen can be reached at

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