AbilityOne – Milestones

A Brief History of the AbilityOne Program

In the late 1930s, leaders in the blindness community encouraged Congress to open up government markets to products produced by people who were blind. Their efforts were rewarded with the passage of the Wagner-O’Day Act in 1938.

In 1971, under the leadership of Senator Jacob Javits, Congress amends this Act (41 U.S.C. 46-48c) to include people with significant disabilities and to allow the program to also provide services to the Federal Government. This extraordinary socioeconomic program provides Federal customers with a wide array of quality products and services, while providing employment for tens of thousands of people who are blind or have significant disabilities.

In 2006, the program name was changed to the AbilityOne® Program from the Javits-Wagner-O’Day Program in order to leverage collective marketing efforts and show a unified program with broad capabilities and a clear purpose.


AbilityOne Timeline


President Franklin D. Roosevelt signs the Wagner-O'Day Act (named for Sen. Robert Wagner and Rep. Caroline O'Day) into law on June 25, which serves as the catalyst for providing long-term work opportunities to people who are blind. The law requires that the Federal Government purchase specified products made by nonprofit agencies employing these individuals.

Congress establishes the Committee on Purchases of Blind-Made Products and President Roosevelt appoints the first Committee members. Later that year, the Committee publishes its first Procurement List.

National Industries for the Blind (NIB) is incorporated as a 501(c)(3) private, nonprofit corporation on August 10.


American forces enter World War II and employees who are blind manufacture the mops, brooms, pillowcases, deck swabs and mail bags needed to support the military.


NIB launches SKILCRAFT®, the brand name for quality consumer products made by people who are blind.


The Korean War changes government procurement patterns and fosters new market opportunities which increase demand for hundreds of products and quadruple the products sold to the Federal Government.


The first military resale products reach the shelves in commissary stores.


NIB provides more than 1 million sanitation kits for the Federal fall-out shelter program during and after the Cuban Missile Crisis.


NIB establishes a Rehabilitation Services division to increase the skills and abilities of people who are blind.


The legislation becomes known as the Javits-Wagner-O’Day Act and also provides for a full-time civil servant staff to support the Committee members.

The first Javits-Wagner-O’Day Program service contract commences (ground maintenance for the Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, WA).


SourceAmerica® (then NISH) is incorporated on June 26 with the mission to create employment opportunities for people with significant disabilities and build core competencies in providing custodial services, grounds maintenance, food services and laundry services.


SourceAmerica adds its first product (Mechanic’s Creeper) to the Procurement List.


The first commissary shelf-stocking project and first full food service operation launches at Sheppard Air Force Base, TX.


The AbilityOne® Program provides jobs to 7,500 people, resulting in 3.8 million direct labor hours that pay $11.6 million in direct labor wages.


People with significant disabilities provide custodial services within the GSA Public Buildings Service.


NIB constructs a new Technical Center to provide staff with advanced laboratory facilities, production line testing, rehabilitation engineering and training capabilities.


People with significant disabilities provide services for the first time at the Postal Service Center for the Air Force at Barksdale Air Force Base, LA.


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 meet the challenge of supplying American troops with millions of dollars worth of mission-critical products. Never before have participating nonprofits been called upon to deliver so many products and services in so short a period of time.

The Committee changes its name to the Committee for Purchase From People Who Are Blind or Severely Disabled to reflect its broader mission.


The first military base supply center opens in October at Fort Bragg, NC, establishing a new distribution center for NIB“s expanded SKILCRAFT® product line, which now includes more than 3,500 SKILCRAFT® products available at more than 140 AbilityOne Base Supply Center stores at military bases and Federal government installations nationwide.

NIB-associated agencies take on new service contracts in warehousing and distribution, customer service, order entry, invoicing, data entry and database management.


The Committee authorizes the first commercial distributors for Javits-Wagner-O’Day products; among them is OfficeMax.


The Program supports 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.

Launches the AbilityOne Network Design Challenge, which encourages high school and college students develop assistive technologies that tackle real-world challenges people with significant disabilities face every day. Through their designs - created in consultation with AbilityOne nonprofit agencies and people with significant disabilities - students enable people with disabilities to improve productivity.


NIB establishes the Business Leaders Training Program, providing professional development for people who are blind, preparing them for upwardly mobile careers.


AbilityOne provides more than $2 billion in products and services to the Federal Government. The range of AbilityOne products and services grows to include medical, dental and vision-related products as well as total facility management, secure document destruction and contact center services.


NIB and SourceAmerica respond to Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma by coming to the aid of their impacted affiliated nonprofit agencies with various forms of financial, technical and logistical assistance and support. 


For the first time, persons who are blind or have disabilities are appointed to head the Committee. A private citizen with a disability is elected Chairperson and a private citizen who is blind is elected Vice Chairperson.

AbilityOne® Program name is published in the Federal Register.


The AbilityOne brand is officially launched on April 29. AbilityOne is adopted by the Committee for Purchase, NIB and SourceAmerica as a unified program. While the program name changes from the Javits-Wagner-O'Day Program to the AbilityOne® Program, the name and purpose of the act remain unchanged.

SourceAmerica creates the Institute for Economic Empowerment. The Institute conducts research, demonstration, and development projects to make significant progress toward the strategic goal of full and fair employment for individuals with significant disabilities, particularly those facing the most significant disability-related barriers to employment.


The Committee establishes the Quality Work Environment (QWE) initiative whose three guiding principles state that AbilityOne Employees should be provided competitive wages, a clear career path and ongoing training.

With NIB as the lead, AbilityOne establishes a contract management support (CMS) pilot program offering contract closeout services. In less than one year, people who are blind or have significant disabilities close out 3,000 contracts, leading to the de-obligation of more than $3.8 million (with another $1.8 million in the contracting officer approval queue) with a 99.99 percent accuracy rate.


The Department of the Army awards AbilityOne an indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity contract for provision of CMS contract closeout services for the Department of Defense.

AbilityOne provides contact center services for U.S. State Department following the magnitude 7.0 earthquake that strikes Haiti in January 2010. AbilityOne nonprofit agencies also provide much-needed supplies, equipment and monetary donations.

The first of several strategic partnerships are forged with respected industry leader Boeing, further expanding opportunities for people for people who are blind or have significant disabilities and increasing exposure for the program. Department of Defense partner Boeing Commercial Airlines has 30 contracts with AbilityOne nonprofits in the Northwest U.S. for an estimated 689,000 work hours annually. Each year, AbilityOne-authorized nonprofits manufacture more than 2 million Boeing parts. The following year, Boeing adds SKILCRAFT® office supplies to its catalog of products available for purchase by its employees.

In 2010, the U.S. AbilityOne Commission publishes the first edition of the AbilityOne® Program Magazine to coincide with National Disability Employment Awareness Month.


AbilityOne sets a historic program record of employing more than 50,000 people who are blind or have significant disabilities, including more than 3,000 military veterans and wounded warriors.

AbilityOne provides more than $3 billion in products and services to the Federal Government.

Program strategic partnerships expand to include Northrup Grumman and Service Disabled Veteran Owned Small Businesses

The AbilityOne national network consists of more than 600 community-based nonprofit agencies, and the AbilityOne Program operates at nearly 1,000 locations representing 40 Federal Government agencies nationally, including 140 base supply centers.  Approximately 500 small businesses are part of AbilityOne’s commercial distribution network.

The Committee for Purchase begins operating as the U.S. AbilityOne Commission®.

SourceAmerica formally establishes a Total Facilities Management Program Office and a project of excellence at Fort Knox to standardize and enhance all projects. Total Facilities Management encompasses comprehensive services covering all aspects of facility operation including building maintenance, grounds maintenance, public works services, mail and administrative services, engineering and construction management, waste management and more.


AbilityOne begins a year-long celebration of 75 years of success.

 “AbilityOne – It Works!”


SourceAmerica Logo NISH begins operating as SourceAmerica® to better represent the exceptional workforce that inspires its vision: employment for every person with a significant disability.


AbilityOne Program nonprofit agencies manufacture impermeable utility aprons and biohazard bags to help contain the Ebola virus. Both items will be used to support Operation United Assistance, the Defense Department initiative supporting the U.S. Agency for International Development-led effort to contain Ebola in Western Africa.