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Blind, Visually Impaired Untapped Resource In The Workforce

DENVER (CBS4) - There are 20 million Americans who are blind or visually impaired, and 80 percent of them are unemployed. Now a Denver organization is working nationwide to get these people jobs.

Mike Hess has been legally blind since he was a child. He uses accessible technology to run his business.

"I've had to figure out over time how to get stuff done," Hess told CBS4.

He, like so many other blind and visually impaired people, have figured out how to make the world work for them. Three years ago, Hess started the Blind Institute of Technology. Now he talks to organizations nationwide about what he calls the greatest untapped resource in America.

"They're sitting on the sidelines right now, unfortunately, waiting for an organization to say, 'Yeah, I'll take that chance,'" Hess said.

Jimmy Verretta at Breo Solutions, a Denver-based management consulting firm, took that chance. He hired Mike Kemp, who's been visually impaired since birth.

"Mike is great at leading teams. He shows a lot of confidence," Verretta told CBS4.

"How did you feel when you heard the statistic that 80-percent of the blind and visually impaired community is unemployed?" asked CBS4's Jim Benemann.

"I was floored," Verretta responded. "I've found that these folks are so intelligent, so in tuned with everything around them that there is just no reason not to a least give them a chance."

Kemp does project management work for Breo Solutions. He leans into his computer to see the type – a simple accommodation for a dedicated and valuable employee.

"So I can help coach my employer through, 'Okay, here's the process for me.' Which may be different for someone else," Kemp told CBS4.

"Mike, as you go about your career, do you see yourself as an ambassador for what other blind and visually impaired people can bring to these jobs?" Benemann asked.

"We all want to contribute to the world. I have a two year old son at home and I want to make a world that I want him to live in," Kemp replied.

The Blind Institute of Technology has placed 30 people in a wide variety of jobs. Mike Hess has a goal of 10,000

LINK: The Blind Institute of Technology

Libby Smith is a Special Projects Producer at CBS4. If you have a story you'd like to tell CBS4 about, call 303-863-TIPS (8477) or visit the News Tips section.

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