Representatives from the Army Contracting Command -- Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., took part in a kick-off ceremony in upstate New York for an AbilityOne contract.

The contract established the Central Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired as a prime foreign military sales vendor with the U.S. Army Security Assistance Command.

The AbilityOne Program represents nonprofit agencies that assist people who are blind or severely disabled by giving them the opportunity to acquire job skills, receive wages and gain greater independence.

"Contracts under the AbilityOne Program provide government customers with quality products at reasonable rates and also offers meaningful employment to individuals with disabilities," said Terry McBee, contracting officer and FMS Team Lead with Aberdeen Division D.

The $6.5 million contract was an indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity type which will provide troop support equipment and clothing items to FMS customers.

McBee and Shelby Saum, a contractor supporting ACC-APG, traveled to Utica, N.Y., for the contract signing ceremony. Also in attendance were congressional representative Richard Hanna, 24th District, N.Y., members of the chamber of commerce and the mayor.

"It was a very humbling experience and I felt a sense of pride that I contributed in this contract that will benefit the employees of CABVI," McBee commented.

With the signing of the contract, CABVI became an FMS vendor to supply products on an as needed basis through the FMS process.

"The FMS process allows foreign governments to coordinate the purchase of items through USASAC, stated McBee. "As our customer, USASAC will request the purchase through ACC-APG and we will coordinate the purchase. Having this contract in place is really a time-saving measure."

Rudy D'Amico, president and chief executive officer of CABVI, said the unemployment rate for the blind or visually impaired is 70 percent nationwide.

"This contract helps CABVI continue its mission to help people who are blind or visually impaired find meaningful employment with competitive pay and benefits," he said.

After the ceremony, both McBee and Saum toured the factory to see CABVI employees sewing pajamas for the Department of Veterans Affairs.

According to McBee the employees expressed appreciation for a job in which they could contribute their skills and gain a degree of independence.

"It was really a great experience to see these visually impaired employees performing their duties with great confidence," Saum added.

Employment is the key to economic security and personal independence of all Americans, especially Americans with disabilities, added Tina Ballard, executive director of the Committee for Purchase from People Who Are Blind or Severely Disabled. This committee is an independent federal agency that administers the AbilityOne Program.

"Through employment, this group of Americans will not only enhance their sense of well-being and gain more confidence, but will also be able to enjoy a reduced dependence on government support and join the ranks of taxpayers," Ballard said.