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photo of ashburton cafe run by MCBBraintree’s Rick Swan, who is legally blind, runs a small coffee shop in the lobby of One Ashburton Place in Boston – home to many state agencies including EOHHS. Swan started running the shop with his wife, who is also legally blind, approximately four years ago.

The shop, which sells food, coffee, lottery and scratch tickets, is a favorite spot for many, and is licensed through the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind (MCB) Vending Facilities Program. Authorized by Federal and State Randolph-Sheppard legislation, the Vending Facilities Program provides U.S. citizens who are blind with remunerative employment and self-support through the operation of vending facilities on federal, state and county properties. The program, enacted by Congress in 1936, was intended to enhance employment opportunities for trained, licensed individuals who are blind to operate facilities. The federal law was subsequently amended in 1954 and again in 1974 to ultimately ensure individuals who are blind a priority in the operation of vending facilities, which includes cafeterias, snack bars, and automatic vending machines. Consistent with MCB’s mission, this program fosters independent and full community participation.

Swan’s own experience with MCB started when he was 5 years old. After being registered with MCB, the agency helped him through school by providing him with large print books, adaptive technology, and other needs. Having aspirations of becoming an entrepreneur, Rick expressed an interest in learning about the Vending program. He completed a comprehensive 12-week vocational training program, which provides training in the nuances of running a vending facility as well as start-up inventory, assistance with equipment, assistive technology, and licensure to operate a vending facility in the Commonwealth. He went through the official MCB bid system that lists job openings for people registered with them and was later given the opportunity at a Department of Transportation stand in Kendall Square. Rick ran that operation for 16 years before moving over to One Ashburton Place.

ashburton place mini cafe

Currently there are twenty seven vending facilities and one vending machine route operated by individuals who are legally blind. MCB has recently appointed a new Director of the Vending program which the agency is seeking to modernize.

Swan can be seen daily at the stand with his wife, and two other employees, Sonia and Michelle. When asked about working with his wife of 43 years, he said that it was “fine, no problems” with a chuckle. Swan enjoys his growing relationships with customers at Ashburton “It’s getting to that point, where there are some customers that I’m very friendly with, and it’s good kidding around with them. I’m starting to get to know them well.”

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