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An Unusual Occupation

Editor's Note: Editor's Note: Heather Ylonen lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba, where she is a ECE 2 at Lions Gate Day Care.

Technological advancements have made an immense difference in helping blind and vision-impaired persons secure jobs in a variety of different fields. Recent statistics found that only 39% of visually impaired Canadians who are actively seeking employment are unemployed. Wayne Matthews of Winnipeg, Manitoba started working in October of 1967, long before the appearance of computers.

Wayne got a job working for Woods Dryden Paper Bags, a warehouse on Pacific Avenue, through an initiative of CNIB. Thirty four years later he is still with the same company, although the name has changed to Red River Packaging Products and it is now located in Inkster's Industrial Park.

The word warehouse tends to conjure up images of giant buildings harboring fast moving and often dangerous machines, not the type of place one would find a person with little sight. This is exactly the environment that Wayne, who has 3% vision in one eye, works in. So what does he do?

Red River Packa ging Products produces millions of different paper bags for thousands of different companies. Wayne's official job title is "Bailer" and he bails, which is similar to wrapping presents, the finished bags together. Once bailed they are stacked on a pallet.

When the pallet is full Wayne uses a hand jack to move the pallet to its spot and bring over an empty one. There are 7 different machines that Wayne attends to and the bags range from a small 4" X 5" bag to a larger 8" X 12". Besides the strapping and bailing, Wayne uses a variety of different machines including industrial staplers, conveyer belts, stencil machines, gum paper machines and, most surprising, 2 guillotines capable of cutting through 11" of paper at once. His job takes him all over the warehouse and Wayne flawlessly navigates his way from place to place.

"I don't believe that a new person coming into the warehouse would have any idea that Wayne is blind." says Gord Bunt, Wayne's boss. I spoke with him to find out if there were any issues involved with employing a vision- impaired person. He told me there was no need to change anything in the warehouse to accommodate Wayne and that there has never been any safety issues. As a matter of fact, Wayne served on the Safety Committee for five years and was plant chairperson of the committee for three of those. "Wayne is a great employee," stated Gord "I'm happy we have the ability to employ a vision- impaired person."

His co-workers' comfort around him is obvious. Wayne is affectionately known as "Popeye" throughout the warehouse and co-workers delight in sneaking up to poke at his ticklish sides. It helps that Wayne is great at poking fun at himself, stating "I don't look too good" and asking "Can I borrow your eyes?" He has also been known to ask for Braille tape measures.

A warehouse may be a most unusual place to find a visually impaired person working but Wayne is definitely at home here.