Billy Sparkman, Executive Director of Alabama Industries for the Blind, was awarded the U.S. AbilityOne Commission Chairperson’s Award for Leadership on Oct. 8, 2014, at the National Industries for the Blind National Conference. The award recognizes leaders who consistently meet or surpass the Commission’s statutory and regulatory requirements, fulfill its guiding principles for a Quality Work Environment and exhibit business acumen that leads to increased employment opportunities for the AbilityOne constituency.
During Sparkman’s nearly 20 years as Executive Director of Alabama Industries for the Blind, AIB has become a $30 million retail and manufacturing organization, employing 320 staff and production workers, of which 210 are legally blind. Currently, AIB is the fourth largest industry for the blind in the United States, offering all employees minimum wage or better, along with the same health benefits as Alabama State employees. AIB has a range of employment settings, including facility-based manufacturing jobs, BSC retail jobs and service positions in mailrooms or offices. Under Sparkman’s leadership, AIB has expanded into several new lines of business such as manufacturing toner cartridges, demonstrating strong industry partnerships and understanding of a rapid product development and time-to-market cycle. AIB has been recognized by its customers for performance excellence while maintaining an Outstanding Commission compliance audit rating and consistently meeting or exceeding the 75 percent direct labor ratio requirement for blind employment.
Sparkman has a 40-plus year career in vocational rehabilitation and providing employment opportunities to people who are blind. Sparkman has contributed to the QWE initiative since its inception. As a member of the Steering Group, he recommends process improvement and mentors other agencies. Particularly impressive is Billy’s partnering approach to work with other AbilityOne CEOs, whether associated with NIB or SourceAmerica, and to build relationships with key customers such as Redstone Arsenal. He’s served in numerous leadership roles on the National Industries for the Blind Board and within the NAEPB, as well.
“As a component of the Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind (AIDB), we are very proud of the Quality Work Environment initiatives in place for our employees who are blind or deaf at the Alabama Industries for the Blind,” said President John Mascia. “We have worked extremely hard to diversify our job and business opportunities and improve wages and benefits for our workers who are blind. It is our mission at AIB to provide jobs for blind people – that is our successful product! I commend Mr. Sparkman for his leadership.”