James Kesteloot (BS ’67), Karen McCulloh (BS ’94), and James Omvig (JD ’66), all members of the U.S. AbilityOne Commission.

By: Dominic Calabrese

Out of a presidentially appointed federal commission of 15 experts, three are Loyola alumni—a fact they just recently discovered, despite having worked together for some time. Each is blind or visually impaired, and each is passionate about helping others with disabilities secure quality employment.

James Kesteloot (BS ’67), Karen McCulloh (BS ’94), and James Omvig (JD ’66) all serve on the U.S. AbilityOne Commission, which traces its roots back to a 1938 law stating that, whenever it could, the federal government should purchase products it needed from nonprofit organizations employing people who were blind. The measure has since been amended to add people with severe disabilities and to include services as well as goods. The AbilityOne Commission manages this program.

All three alumni note that the explosion in the growth of elderly Americans is already posing a public policy challenge, as many of these individuals will experience some form of vision loss and other disabling problems. McCulloh says that with an estimated national unemployment rate ranging between 70 and 75 percent among people who are blind and significantly disabled, the need to create new job opportunities is critical to their self-sufficiency and independence, as well as to the well-being of the national economy.

But all three are optimistic about the future and are hopeful that barriers will continue to fall. Citing its program to assist returning veterans who have experienced vision loss while fighting overseas, Omvig says that the AbilityOne Commission has an almost uncanny ability to come up with an innovative program to address a pressing need.

“I think that far too many people still think that because we may be blind or severely disabled, we can’t be productive,” says Omvig, who himself is totally blind. “We know that this is simply not true. All we ask for is a chance to show what we can do.”

Story courtesy of Loyola magazine (Winter 2012).