Wiscraft provides manufacturing work for the blind

If the unemployment rate is high among the general Milwaukee population, it’s through the roof among visually disabled Milwaukeeans.
According to the 2010 U.S. Census, Milwaukee unemployment was at 9.5 percent in 2009, while the visually disabled unemployment rate was at 23.1 percent, with another 43 percent not in the workforce.
Wiscraft Inc. is trying to change that. The contract machining, packaging and assembly facility at 5316 W. State St. in Milwaukee has 40 employees, 30 of whom are legally blind.
A computer program reads typed instructions to employees on the assembly side, while sighted employees set-up equipment before visually disabled employees take over in the machining area.
“There’s nothing we can’t do,” said Mike Girard, assembly and packaging manager. “We’re no different from the company down the street.”
The non-profit, which has one assembly and packaging shift and two machine shop shifts, currently does about 50 percent government contract work and 50 percent local manufacturing work for companies like Harley-Davidson Motor Company and Rockwell Automation Inc., Girard said.
Products include engine tubing, computer privacy shields and construction equipment parts.
Recently, Wiscraft began trimming rubber door and anti-fatigue mats for the government and plans to hire another one to two employees for production.
The company also added a call center last year for local companies who want to outsource customer service calls, and plans to hire four more operators.
Wiscraft is actively seeking area companies that need contract CNC machining or packaging and assembly work completed, Girard said.
It also advocates for other employers to hire blind workers, said Jim Kerlin, president and CEO. Many don’t realize the average investment to accommodate a disabled worker is only $500.
 “We have close to zero turnover,” he said. “It’s really hard for (the visually disabled) to find a job, plus they really appreciate having a job.”

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