A Brief History of the AbilityOne® Program
In 1938, the Wagner-O'Day Act was passed under President Franklin D. Roosevelt in order to provide employment opportunities for people who are blind by allowing them to manufacture mops and brooms to sell to the Federal Government.
In 1971, under the leadership of Senator Jacob Javits, Congress amended this Act (41 U.S.C. 46-48c) to include people with severe disabilities and allow the program to also provide services to the Federal Government. Over 70 years later, this extraordinary socioeconomic program provides federal customers with a wide array of quality products and services, while providing employment for thousands of people with severe disabilities.
The AbilityOne Program Today
In 2007, the AbilityOne brand was adopted in order to leverage collective efforts and to show a unified program with broad capabilities and a clear purpose.
The AbilityOne Program is the largest source of employment for people who are blind or have significant disabilities in the United States. More than 600 nonprofit organizations employ these individuals and provide quality products and services to the Federal Government at a fair market price.
The Program is administered by the Commission, an independent federal agency, with assistance from National Industries for the Blind (NIB), and NISH-Creating Employment Opportunities for People with Significant Disabilities.
The purchase of AbilityOne products and services by federal customers provides employment opportunities for people who face the greatest barriers to employment- Americans who are blind or have other significant disabilities.
AbilityOne Program - History Timeline
President Franklin D. Roosevelt signs the Wagner-O’Day Act on June 25, 1938. Congress established the Committee on Purchases of Blind-Made Products and President Roosevelt appointed the first Commission members.
(l to r) President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Senator Robert Wagner-NY, and Rep. Caroline O'Day-NY
NIB was incorporated as a 501(c)(3), private, nonprofit corporation on August 10, 1938.
NIB supplies the military prior to World War II – a longer history than many companies!
NIB launches SKILCRAFT® - the brand name for quality products made by people who are blind.
The first military resale products reach the shelves in commissary stores.
NIB establishes a rehabilitation services division to increase skills and abilities of people who are blind.
Senator Jacob K. Javits sponsors legislation adding the purchase of services and including agencies serving people with other severe disabilities to the original Wagner-O’Day Act. The legislation becomes known as the Javits-Wagner-O’Day (JWOD) Act.
Senator Jacob K. Javits - NY
The Act provides for a full-time civil servant staff to support the Commission Members.
National Industries for the Severely Handicapped (later to become NISH) is incorporated and begins operations.
The Javits-Wagner-O'Day Program provides jobs to 7,500 people, provides 3.8 million direct labor hours, pays an average hourly wage of nearly $3.00, and pays $11.6 million in direct labor wages.
GSA implements changes in procurement practices in the government marketplace relating to the Federal Supply System and government purchase cards. The Javits-Wagner-O'Day Program responds by collaborating with its federal customers to satisfy their needs with the best value products and services.
Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm create a massive production surge in Javits-Wagner-O'Day-participating nonprofit agencies, which met the challenge of supplying American troops with millions of dollars worth of critically-needed products. Never before have Javits-Wagner-O'Day-participating nonprofit agencies been called upon to deliver so many products and services in so short a period of time.
The Commission authorizes first commercial distributors for Javits-Wagner-O'Day products
The Javits-Wagner-O'Day Program provides surge support during Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. There is a significant growth in employment opportunities and the program expands product and service lines to provide military-unique requirements including chemical protective garments, uniforms, fleet vehicle maintenance, and document destruction.
In response to Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Wilma, NIB and NISH came to the aid of their impacted affiliated nonprofit agencies and employees with various forms of financial, technical, and logistical assistance and support. NIB and its affiliated nonprofit agencies donated more than $250,000 to assist affected employees who were blind. NISH authorized $5 million and created a Disaster Relief bulletin board on its web site to pair affected nonprofit agencies with those providing assistance.
For the first time, the Commission elects a Chairperson who is a Private Citizen and a person with a disability. The Commission also, for the first time, elected a Vice Chair who is a Private Citizen and who is blind.
The Commission changes the name of the Javits-Wagner-O'Day Program to the AbilityOne Program for people to recognize the brand and immediately know the program; and subsequently the Commission approves the logo.
President George W. Bush signs memo of support for AbilityOne Program; and the First Lady holds a recognition event at the White House with employees of the year.
The AbilityOne Program sales and services to the Federal Government are valued at more than $2 billion. While the AbilityOne Program continues to experience growth in wages paid to its more than 50,000 employees, AbilityOne Program sales to the Federal Government account for less than one percent of all federal procurement dollars spent.