N.Y. man breathes new life into Blind Center

Hilary Smith

When Bob Waldorf graduated from Canandaigua Academy in 1968 and headed off to SUNY Albany to study business, there were no hints that he would veer into the not-for-profit world, said Waldorf's father, Jim.

Yet that's where Waldorf has ended up. After a career in machining, robotics and business that led him across the country, working for companies in California, New Mexico and Wisconsin, Waldorf landed in Las Vegas. There, he has worked for three and a half years at the Blind Center of Nevada.

He is currently the vice president of operations for the center, which offers 500 members — all of whom are blind or visually impaired — a forum for socializing with other people who are blind or visually impaired, as well as free personal-development classes like job and computer training.

Waldorf was featured in the Las Vegas Business Press and Las Vegas Life magazine this spring for his efforts to revitalize the center.

Until about 10 years ago, the center was mostly a "social club" and had only about 20 members. Then, a group of local business owners set out to expand the center's offerings and to create a business model that would both earn money for the center and create jobs for the blind and visually impaired.

It was during this effort that Waldorf joined the team, answering an ad in a Las Vegas newspaper. He had plenty of ideas.

Many of the center's users are older and had never developed computer skills, but Waldorf had noticed that younger people, still in their 30s and 40s, were losing their sight as well. Because many of these younger people had grown up with computers, Waldorf set about to create jobs for them that were more technology-based.

Now, the Blind Center of Nevada has a business side. There's a packaging assembly operation that serves local manufacturers and casinos; a distribution business that sells janitorial supplies to high-volume customers like McCarran Airport and the Las Vegas Convention Center; and a two-year-old computer recycling business.

State government offices, major casinos and other donors give the Center their unwanted computers, many of which are still functioning but not technologically up-to-date. Center workers sort through the donations, selling working computers on Internet sites like eBay and selling the remaining parts to refiners for recycling. The Center has become the largest electronic recycler in Nevada, diverting several hundred thousand pounds of electronics from landfills each year.

The recycling program employs members of the center. Adaptive technologies magnify portions of computer screens, allowing blind and visually impaired workers to coordinate the Internet sales of refurbished computers. Working for the center gives blind and visually impaired people gainful employment in a technology-dependent field, and their work in turn helps to build the center, as all the proceeds from the sales fund its services.

For Waldorf, the job has been revelatory. Having never worked with blind or visually impaired people, Waldorf didn't realize their abilities would so outnumber their disabilities. He has been awed by their ability to discern the tiniest imperfections in the products the center produces.

Hilary Smith can be reached at (585) 394-0770, Ext. 343, or at

hsmith@mpnewspapers.com.