National Industries for the Blind Helps Wounded Soldiers

By March 27, 2012August 23rd, 2014General, Science and Technology
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By Angela Poffenberger

Did you know a person is considered legally blind when the best corrected visual acuity is 20/200 or the visual field is 20 degrees or less, meaning that he or she can only see the “E” on the eye chart?

Seventy percent of people who are blind lack employment, but the National Industries for the Blind (NIB) has a vision to change that statistic.

Look at the pad of paper you’re using to take notes. Look at the pen you’re using. Do they say SKILCRAFT? If so, then they were manufactured by NIB. Employees who are blind have manufactured or assembled those supplies for decades—and that’s not all they’ve manufactured.

“There is great pride in knowing we are doing our part to support our servicemen and women while sustaining and creating jobs in one of the country’s most densely populated areas for people who are legally blind,” said Brenda Mee, Director for New York City Industries for the Blind’s (NYCIB) Business Development. “This is truly a win-win for all.”

NIB and the U.S. Army Medical Materiel Development Activity (USAMMDA) Medical Support Systems (MSS) Project Management Office have worked together for years under the AbilityOne program. AbilityOne is a federal purchasing program that implements the Javits-Wagner-O’Day Act, a federal law that requires federal agencies to purchase products and services from nonprofit agencies employing people who are blind or have other disabilities. NIB has 90 associated nonprofit agencies all over the country.

MSS works with the NYCIB on the patient litter straps that secure a wounded Soldier to the litter, and with Arizona Industries for the Blind on the litters that transport injured Soldiers from the battlefield.


New York City Industries for the Blind and Arizona Industries for the Blind manufacture litter straps and litters, respectively, for the Army. Here, SSG Jason Bierschbach, 3rd Battalion, 361st Regiment “Mountain Warrior,” 5th Armored Brigade, secures litter straps on a simulated casualty at Fort Bliss, TX, March 2, 2011, during one of the lanes he completed to receive his Expert Field Medical Badge. (Photo by Kris Maxfield)

Litter Straps

NYCIB has not always manufactured the litter straps, but people who are blind have. In the early 1990s, Helen Keller Services for the Blind (HKSB) made the straps. When it closed, Lighthouse International of New York City bought the equipment and inventory and hired the HKSB employees to continue manufacturing the litter straps.

When the manufacturing division of Lighthouse International of New York City closed, NYCIB was created, hiring all of the displaced blind employees. Successful in securing the Defense Logistics Agency contract for the litter strap, NYCIB has made them ever since, providing approximately 45,000 straps a year to the military.

Now that the litter straps are changing, MSS began searching for a strap alternative and teamed up with NYCIB to develop prototypes with buckle release options that offer greater safety and reliability. Testing showed that the prototype featuring a strong, load-bearing, quick-release buckle with a two-part fastener was more reliable. The new litter strap requires additional stitching, which creates new jobs at NYCIB.

The litter straps are in approximately 75 different medical equipment sets, such as the ground, air, and Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) ambulance sets. The U.S. Army Aeromedical Research Laboratory is finalizing airworthiness certification, and the new straps will be available in 6 to 12 months.

“This new strap has surpassed our expectations at meeting a capability gap and will greatly improve our ability to evacuate casualties safely,” said Jaime Lee, USAMMDA Product Manager.


Serving to heal … Honored to serve the medical needs of our military through acquisition, logistics, and technology

Standardization of Litters

Arizona Industries for the Blind (AIB) began building litters for the Army in 1982 and has been improving them ever since.

The litters transport wounded Soldiers, while helping to prevent further injury. The litter covers are made from a polypropylene mesh material, which is flame-retardant and resistant to chemical warfare agents and decontaminating solutions. The litter supports up to 1,600 pounds and collapses for shipping and storage. Retractable handles allow for easy grip, and aluminum legs provide strong support. All of the components for the litter are machined and assembled by 25 employees at AIB. Each year AIB provides the military with about 20,000 litters.

Now AIB and MSS are working together to modernize the current litter and make a single, cost-effective litter that is compatible with all casualty evacuation platforms, including standard ground ambulances, MRAP ambulances, Black Hawk MEDEVAC helicopters, and fixed-wing aircraft.

“Standardization of litters in the Department of Army is a big issue, and this is the first step in the right direction to address this,” said Lee.

This effort began with a Request for Information from the Field Assistance and Science Technology Team on the many types of litters on the battlefield. With all the different types of casualty evacuation and MEDEVAC platforms, litter standardization needs to be addressed. Currently, the standard NATO litter does not fit in the MRAP ambulances. The new litter will include the strengths of the standard NATO litter, such as the ability to decontaminate and fold them, and will work in any of our ground and air evacuation assets. In addition, the litter needs to be functional, simple to operate and assemble, compact, and lightweight.

In addition to reasonable pricing and employment opportunities, by working with NIB, MSS has a long-term supplier for its products.

  • ANGELA POFFENBERGER is the Technical Writer for the USAMMDA MSS Project Management Office. She holds a B.S. in English from Frostburg State University and an M.A. in English from National University.