I’m still processing what my colleagues and I experienced two days ago. We shot another Gemba Live episode in Seattle which isn’t out of the ordinary. What was very different was the location. We were blessed beyond words to be able to capture the story of how Brent Weichers and the amazing people at the Lighthouse for the Blind are using continuous improvement to elevate humanity like I’ve never seen.
In this picture you can see the face of an amazing man named Chris. Chris is deaf-blind (completely blind and completely deaf) yet he does the same sort of work sighted people do. Today he runs a CNC machine. This involves setting it up, loading programs, and measuring his own parts. To say things like 5S are important is an understatement.
My words can’t accurately describe how breathtaking it was to watch this man work. The two ladies are interpreters. The lady beside me told me what Chris was saying while the lady beside Chris communicated with him using Pro-Tactile ASL. This involves signing by touching his back and hands.
Over the years I’ve interviewed many people… but, for the first time ever, I wept towards the end of my conversation with Chris. It was more than I could process. When people say lean knows no boundaries they speak the truth.
Our team has begun the post-production work of this Gemba Academy Live episode (GAL) which has allowed us to really dive into what we experienced. There are going to be several themes explored throughout this series of videos including what Carlos, from our video production team, has coined “sensorial management.”
We lean thinkers are very familiar with the phrase “visual management” but, obviously, if someone is blind or deaf-blind things like andon lights and computer monitors don’t mean a whole lot. This is why the team at the Lighthouse for the Blind has tirelessly worked to make their entire workplace “accessible.”
For example, nearly every piece of equipment has been modified to “talk” to the operator. And it’s not just equipment like CNC machines that talk… hand tools like digital calipers, which are critical for quality control, have been modified for audio playback.
These audio enhancements work well for blind employees but deaf and deaf-blind employees require different types of accessibility which is why these same digital calipers have been modified to also output their results in braille. This how Chris, who’s pictured above, “reads” his digital calipers. He also uses a braille keyboard and other aspects of his equipment are enabled to output braille.
Additionally, things many of us lean thinkers are used to like “kaizen foam” that’s been carefully cut out to hold tools brings on an entirely new meaning to the Lighthouse for the Blind employees. Having a place for everything and ensuring everything is in its place isn’t just ideal… it’s absolutely essential.
There are many other aspects of sensorial management used included special flooring and modified inspection equipment we’ll be sure to share in the full episode GAL episode.
In the meantime I’d challenge every person reading this to examine their workplace. How strong is your visual management? If I were to walk up to any employee in your company and ask them the simple question “are you winning or losing right now” would they know? I can tell you, with 100% certainty, that the Lighthouse for the Blind employees do.