SourceAmerica and AbilityOne Contracts – A History and Overview

August 23, 2023
6 min read

The AbilityOne program, formerly known as the Javits-Wagner-O’Day (JWOD) program, is a federal initiative aimed at providing employment opportunities for people who are blind or have significant disabilities. The program focuses on procuring products and services from nonprofit organizations that employ individuals with disabilities.

A brief history of the AbilityOne program:

  • The Wagner-O’Day Act: The origins of the AbilityOne program can be traced back to the Wagner-O’Day Act, which was enacted in 1938. This legislation was named after its sponsors, Senator Robert F. Wagner of New York and Congressman Olin Teague of Texas. The act’s primary purpose was to address the high unemployment rate among individuals who were blind by creating employment opportunities for them through government contracts.
  • National Industries for the Blind (NIB) was incorporated as a 501(c)(3), private, nonprofit corporation on August 10, 1938.
  • In 1952 NIB launches SKILCRAFT® – the brand name for quality products made by people who are blind.
  • The Javits-Wagner-O’Day Act: In 1971, Senator Jacob K. Javits of New York co-sponsored an amendment to the Wagner-O’Day Act to expand the program to include people with severe disabilities beyond blindness. As a result, it was renamed the Javits-Wagner-O’Day Act (JWOD).
  • In 1974 the National Industries for the Severely Handicapped (later to become NISH, and then SourceAmerica®) begins operations. It joins NIB as a Central Nonprofit Agency (CNA) in the JWOD Program.
  • In 1980 the JWOD Program provides jobs to 7,500 people, provides 3.8 million direct labor hours, pays an average hourly wage of nearly $3.00, and pays $11.6 million in direct labor wages.
  • The AbilityOne Program: In 2006, the JWOD Act underwent another amendment and was renamed the AbilityOne program. The amendment aimed to strengthen the program and increase its efficiency. Under this name, the program continues to operate to this day.
  • The AbilityOne Commission: The AbilityOne program is managed by the U.S. AbilityOne Commission, a federal agency responsible for overseeing the implementation and administration of the program. The Commission works in partnership with National Industries for the Blind (NIB) and SourceAmerica.

The AbilityOne identifies products and services that can be provided by individuals with disabilities and encourages federal agencies to purchase those products and services from qualified nonprofit agencies that employ people with disabilities. This creates a market for these products and services while allowing people with disabilities to gain meaningful employment.

The program continues to evolve, adapting to the changing needs of the disabled community and aligning with federal procurement policies and regulations. It remains an essential initiative in the United States to promote inclusivity, diversity, and economic empowerment for people with disabilities.

What makes an AbilityOne contract attractive to NPAs?

The AbilityOne program offers several attractive benefits to government contractors, including:

  • Social Impact and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR): By participating in the AbilityOne program, government contractors demonstrate their commitment to social impact and CSR. The program helps people with disabilities become more self-sufficient and contributing members of society. This aligns with the broader goal of fostering inclusivity and diversity in the workforce, which reflects positively on the contractor’s image and reputation.
  • Favorable Procurement Opportunities: The federal government is a significant buyer of goods and services. Participating in the AbilityOne program opens up access to a unique market segment, as government agencies are encouraged to purchase designated products and services from qualified nonprofit agencies employing individuals with disabilities.
  • Set-Aside Contracts: The AbilityOne program offers set-aside contracts, which means certain products and services are exclusively reserved for procurement from qualified nonprofit agencies participating in the program. This can be advantageous for contractors as it reduces competition for those specific contracts, potentially improving their chances of winning and securing long-term business with government agencies.
  • Simplified Bidding Process: The procurement process for AbilityOne contracts may be less complex than competing for standard government contracts. This streamlined process can save contractors time and resources, making it more appealing for companies looking to work with government agencies.
  • Support and Resources: The U.S. AbilityOne Commission, National Industries for the Blind (NIB), and SourceAmerica (formerly NISH) provide support and resources to contractors participating in the program. This assistance can include training, technical support, and guidance on meeting compliance requirements, which can be beneficial for contractors new to working with the federal government.
  • Tax Incentives: Some contractors may also benefit from tax incentives or other financial advantages by participating in the AbilityOne program, although these can vary based on the contractor’s specific circumstances and local tax laws.

Overall, the AbilityOne program provides a win-win situation, allowing government contractors to fulfill their business goals while positively impacting the lives of individuals with disabilities.

GSA National has built a reputation as a turnkey solution for NPAs navigating the AbilityOne landscape. We understand the bid implications of SCA compliance and can help you understand its complexities. If you have questions about your AbilityOne contract or are looking for guidance in the bid process of an AbilityOne contract, feel free to contact our team of SCA experts today at, or click here to schedule a consultation.

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