Changing Lives Since 1934
The Travis County Association for the Blind (TCAB) was founded in 1934 by Dr. Henry L. Hilgartner and other civic minded citizens of Austin to provide a setting where blind men and women could come to learn skills and create products that were sold door to door. This first location was downtown on San Jacinto Street near Schlotz’s Bier Garten. Initial funding was provided by the Austin Community Chest.
During World War II, TCAB, better known as the Austin Lighthouse, manufactured deck mops for the U.S. Navy. In the late 1940’s, we received another contract to manufacture cotton web belts for new recruits in all branches of the military. These cotton web belts are still proudly manufactured today.
In the 1950’s, the word “County” was dropped from the Travis County Association for the Blind name to become known as the Travis Association for the Blind (TAB) as we expanded training and services to people in 26 Central Texas counties. By this time, TAB had been relocated at the corner of South Lamar and Oltorf Street. In 1965, we moved to our fifth home at 2831 Manchaca Road.
The Lighthouse grew and became more diversified, making the belts, mops, machine gun slings, cargo tie-down straps, loose-leaf binders, U.S. Army ground troop helmet suspension assemblies, disposable safety vests and bottled lotion soaps and shampoos. In 1978, following the amendment of the Wagner-O’Day act in 1971, Texas established the Texas Council on Purchasing from People with Disabilities, to encourage state and local agencies to also purchase available products from agencies that serve disabled employees.
In 1996, the government contracted with the Austin Lighthouse to begin storing and distributing trouser belts. In the 3,000 square-foot basement, TAB workers set up shop and eventually stored and shipped 63 different items to points all over the country. Within six months, the little warehouse operation ran out of space, and moved into a 16,000 square-foot leased space on Silver Dollar Circle, where it operated until 2001. Then, our mission grew again with the addition of 3,500 new items. We secured a lease in a newly constructed building in the South Park II business park, requiring 50,000 square feet for the job. The number of stock items continued to grow, exceeding 4,500 items.
With over 175 workers, the Austin Lighthouse had outgrown the manufacturing facility on Manchaca Road and acquired new space on Business Center Drive in Southeast Austin, which is still in operation today.
In 2013, TAB was awarded the U.S. Army contract Regional Logistics Support Center to warehouse, distribute, launder and repair U.S. Army uniforms and accessories. We acquired nearly 350,000 square feet of space amongst two locations. The larger space in Taylor, Texas, boast 310,000 square feet, while the remaining 40,000 square feet is located in Austin.
A new 450,000 square-foot dual purpose building was constructed in 2018 on South Pleasant Valley Drive in Austin and now houses our Headquarters, some manufacturing lines, and our large Department of Defense distribution center.
The building on Business Center Drive was renamed the Lippman Center, honoring Jerry and Goldie Lippman, founders of the GoJo and Purell soaps and sanitizers. We partnered with GoJo/Purell and now produce over 200 SKU’s of product, employing over 50 blind and visually impaired people on these production lines alone.
In March 2020, the 2019 novel coronavirus, COVID-19, was declared a global pandemic. The Austin Lighthouse was designated as an “essential business” by the City of Austin and the federal government to meet the need for hand hygiene products that are effective against the virus. We tripled the number of employees working on hand sanitizer and soap products. Production increased from 5 million bottles of hand sanitizer annually to over 20 million bottles between March 2020 and October 2021. Equipment used for military belts was repurposed to create cloth face masks for the community.
Austin Lighthouse stays true to the mission established in 1934 by TACB providing opportunities for independence to people who are blind, visually impaired or deaf-blind by creating, sustaining, and improving career options. We continue to grow and expand the services we provide to blind Texans.