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The History of the Austin Lighthouse

Travis County Association for the Blind, also known as "The Austin Lighthouse", was founded in 1934 and made its first home in a small building near downtown Austin. As the shop grew, it began to expand operations beyond loom weaving mats and canning Hill Country peaches.

Lighthouse employees were soon turning out dozens of types of cotton mops and other household products. Many items were sold door-to-door around Austin neighborhoods. The US Government began buying the mops during World War II and this brought new opportunities to the Lighthouse. The mop contracts were the first of many to come by way of a new law, The Wagner-O’Day Act (later amended and called the Javitz-Wagner-O’Day Act). The Lighthouse received assistance from National Industries for the Blind to get these contracts.

In the late 1940’s, the Government asked the Lighthouse to assemble cotton trouser belts for the armed services. They obliged, and over 55 years later still produces those belts for our men and women in uniform.

The Company eventually dropped the “County” from its name and became Travis Association for the Blind, now also known as “The Austin Lighthouse”. In 1965, the Lighthouse moved from the Oltorf Street & South Lamar location to a place on Manchaca Road.

The 1970’s brought new assembly sub-contracts from other manufacturers in Central Texas. Blind workers assembled IBM typewriter keyboards, Dictaphone components, circuit boards, traffic lights, and various plastic products. New products included nylon slings, suspension assemblies, cargo tie-down straps, and waist straps for soldier pack frames.

After the State of Texas enacted a new law in 1975 which paved the way for state agencies to buy products and services from Lighthouses across the state, the Austin Lighthouse moved into high gear and began assembling highway reflector covers, loose leaf binders, lotion soap products, disposable safety vests, award plaques, and walnut desk accessories. Sales to the agencies were administered by Texas Industries for the Blind and Handicapped, now known as TIBH Industries.

By 2008, the Austin Lighthouse was employing more than 140 blind individuals to produce more than 4 million units per year. In 2005, the Lighthouse was operating in its new building on Business Center Drive. In addition to this 62,500 square foot facility, it operates additional distribution warehouses in southeast Austin by blind and visually impaired workers to supply various products to its customers nationwide. Here, workers learn new skills including computer operations, order processing, and customer service.

Over the years, Travis Association for the Blind has assisted hundreds of blind and visually impaired men and women to gain work skills and job experiences, which translates to their personal independence.