How a signature pen has been changing lives for 5 decades - CBS News

By Janet Shamlian, Alicia Hastey

November 2, 2023 / 8:18 PM EDT / CBS News office wholesale

Greensboro, North Carolina — More than four million pens roll off the assembly line at a Skilcraft North Carolina manufacturing plant every year.

But the people who make them have never seen them and don't use them.

"I think that this place saved me," Stefani Sellars told CBS News. "It brought me back."

Sellars, like most here, is blind, and working for the nonprofit National Industries for the Blind, which inked a deal to produce Skilcraft pens for the government 55 years ago. It has been doing so ever since.

"Coming here, you see what people are capable of," said Richard Oliver, a 27-year employee. "And I saw that the world was open to me."

The work has given Oliver, and hundreds of others over the past five decades, the ability to provide for their families, buy a house, put children through college. That's critical. because the unemployment rate for the blind and visually impaired hovers near 70%, according to the nonprofit group World Services for the Blind. 

"They wouldn't be working," responded Oliver, when asked where his fellow employees would be without their positions at Skilcraft. "They would be at home."

"There's a lot of us that are blind or impaired," Sellars added. "We got a reason to get up. We got a job, and we have fun doing it."

It's work that's changing lives. Even the pen, used everywhere from post offices to combat front lines, has not changed. It's perfectly designed to fit in military uniform pockets, is often used to measure distance on maps, even standing in for a two-inch electrical fuse, and coming in handy during emergency tracheotomies.

"So you think that people who are blind or have other disabilities can't produce, and they can't perform at the same levels of other people," Oliver said. "And we're proving that wrong every single day."

Janet Shamlian is a CBS News correspondent based in Houston, Texas. Shamlian's reporting is featured on all CBS News broadcasts and platforms including "CBS Mornings," the "CBS Evening News" and the CBS News Streaming Network, CBS News' premier 24/7 anchored streaming news service.

First published on November 2, 2023 / 8:18 PM EDT

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