Ben Beckman lost his eyesight in a head-on collision while street racing when he was 20 years old. But that didn’t slow the international solo traveler down. Now, he spends his days as the key accounts manager and call center supervisor at the Blind Center of Nevada—a sprawling community center that serves the blind and visually impaired in the greater Las Vegas area. On a typical weekday, you can catch Ben fielding customer service calls using a speech synthesizer. He takes a call in one ear and in the other ear, the screen speaks to him, and then types in the information on help tickets for the organization’s eBay store—Blind Center of Nevada Electronics.
The Blind Center of Nevada was founded in 1965 by F. Marion Keele, who became blind at the age of 38, and his wife, Effie. The organization says it’s focused on three key areas: personal development, social interaction and provident living.
Building Business, Creating Job Opportunities
For people like Ben, the center provides an opportunity for economic independence through meaningful work. The center’s mission is especially critical as the unemployment rate for blind people in the United States hovers at about 70%.
“Without eBay, we don’t exist,” said Cory Nelson, president of the Blind Center of Nevada.
More than 50% of the revenue that funds the center’s operating costs comes from selling refurbished electronics on eBay. And the organization’s business is growing—set to make $1 million in revenue this year.
Beyond Repairing Electronics — A Community
Stories like Ben’s are found throughout the Blind Center, with the organization empowering its blind and visually impaired employees with a chance to sustain independent lives. About 60% of the Blind Center’s employees in the electronics refurbishing business are blind or visually impaired. There’s Gary Nicholoson, an eBay lister, who was born with impaired vision and moved to Vegas from New York to escape harsh winters and to find opportunity; there’s Walter Argueta who lost his vision a decade ago in a shotgun accident; or Marco Martinez-Rodriguez who met his wife at the center.
Marco and Walter are at the heart of the electronics refurbishing and recycling operation. Both are blind, but that does not inhibit them from dismantling electronics at a pace that even those with full vision would have difficulty matching. These two big personalities spend their days alongside a group of blind colleagues who work at the same impressive pace. For Marco, not only has the center provided training for skills he now uses to support himself, but it also helped him re-learn basic mobility.
“The Real Deal” Center
On a recent visit to the center, eBay President and CEO Devin Wenig met with the center’s team. For Cory, the center’s president, it was important to show Devin what eBay makes possible for the community he’s so passionate about. The facility’s expansive campus includes a professional kitchen, fitness center, music studio, eBay listing center, and a sophisticated electronics refurbishing and recycling operation.
“The thing that is so stunning is that the center’s building was built on their eBay sales; the meals are served on their eBay sales; the meals are cooked on their eBay sales. The programs are supported by their eBay sales,” Devin said. “There were a number of people that were members of the program that were visually impaired that were supporting the program by supporting their eBay sales … I was blown away.”
He told Cory, “I’ve toured a lot of facilities, and you guys are the real deal.”