Today VisionServe Alliance joins many other organizations and companies in a collaborative project to collect data and information about the experiences of adults who are blind or have low vision during the COVID-19 pandemic. Our goal is to understand how the COVID-19 pandemic is impacting the lives of adults with visual impairments and to identify solutions for these challenges. Participants will have the opportunity to share their experiences in the following areas:
• Social experiences
• Access to meals, food, and supplies
This survey is open to anyone over age 18 with a visual impairment in the United States.
VSA is proud to join this effort to create a world with no limits—which means that people with visual impairments are not limited in our access to healthcare, information, education, online work environments, transportation, food and other supplies, or voting during the COVID-19 pandemic or at any other time. If we’re going to flatten the curve, we need to ensure everyone is included and has access to critical information and services.
We encourage you to participate in this survey and to forward on to your employees and constituents who are blind/have low vision. If you know of an adult who doesn’t have access to an online survey, reach out to help them in filling out the survey. We want all US adults with visual impairments to have a voice in how we can work together to flatten the inaccessibility curve.
Please share! Here is some language for a social media post:
Has the coronavirus left you without needed resources? Leaders in the field of blindness want to know how it has impacted you. We have joined together to create a survey that will better help now, and break down barriers in the future. Help us flatten the inaccessibility curve by taking the survey at bit.ly/fin-a11y #FlatteningInAccessiblity #A11y #TeamAccessibility
March 19, 2020 – VisionServe Alliance joined over 144 national nonprofit organizations calling for the federal government to pass a stimulus bill to support nonprofit organizations facing the COVID-19 crisis.
Writing your senators and representatives is easy; just click those links and find your officeholders. The message is easy: “I want you to understand what this pandemic is doing to the ability of my nonprofit to serve your constituents.” Tell your story. Close with something like, “I urge you to include the policy solutions proposed by the nonprofit community in any COVID-19 relief and stimulus legislation.”
The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (H.R. 6201) was signed by President Donald Trump on March 18. A congressional summary of H.R. 6201 can be found here.
The measure is the second emergency aid package that Congress approved amid the coronavirus outbreak. This legislation would provide affected individuals with paid sick and family leave and create tax credits for affected employers, expand food and nutrition services, allow for emergency state unemployment insurance grants, and increase Medicaid funding to states. The Joint Committee on Taxation estimates that the package will cost $104 billion.
On March 6, Congress approved a $8.3 billion emergency aid package, Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act (H.R. 6074), which increased funding for testing of the COVID-19 virus and lower costs for related medical treatments.
“There is lots of work to be done, and together we can do it.”
181 leaders in the blindness and low vision field attended VisionServe’s Executive Leadership Conference in Atlanta, Georgia this past November. This figure sets a record high attendance for any of our conferences and included representatives from 75 VisionServe member organizations (61% of VisionServe’s total membership).
Attendees came to hear about the latest developments, participate in discussions, and network with other leaders in the field. Admittedly, some were initially both skeptical and curious about the new format for this year’s event which was held as an Open Space Technology meeting. But judging from attendees’ feedback, the unanimous response was that people felt tremendously engaged by the opportunity for their voice to be heard as opposed to being “talked to.”
“There needs to be greater focus on coming together with a unified message,” said one post-conference survey respondent. “This will help us with soliciting support from donors and legislators. We need to standardize services in the collection of information to show outcomes. We need more opportunities like this for the entire alphabet soup to come to the same table and discuss issues so we can move forward as one united front.”
Having a diverse blend of representatives (the ”alphabet soup”) from the multitude of organizations serving the blind and visually impaired brought a lot of excitement to the conference’s break-out discussions. Attendees included representatives from agencies providing direct services, dog guide schools, state agencies, schools for the Blind (including higher ed institutions that train future personnel), foundations funding initiatives in the field, and vendors specializing in technologies to improve everyday life for people living with blindness and low vision.
Funding from The Gibney Family Foundation allowed leaders from an additional 15 non-member organizations to attend the conference. This was all part of VisionServe’s plan to ensure that all voices in our field would be represented.
Discussion topics were wide-ranging from public policy, distance learning, braille literacy, AT equipment, accreditation and certification, early intervention, employment opportunities and challenges, outcome measurement and service data collection, blinded veterans, nonprofit sustainability and transportation issues.
VisionServe Alliance was also featured in“A Closer Look with Rose Scott” on WABE, the local NPR affiliate, who interviewed several attendees about the using technology to improve their lives living with blindness and low vision. Sharon Giovinazzo, President of World Services for the Blind in Arkansas, modeled several pieces of technology to the radio show host, including: her OrCam MyEye device recognizing faces; an app on her phone audibly reading the text on a business card; and her digital braille reader.
Another session called “Tech Tools” featured hands-on demonstrations of the latest technology for people who are blind or visually impaired from Aira, OrCam and Vispero.
Some attendees noted that they were surprised to connect with leaders from other states dealing with similar problems. And they took things a step further, coming up with key action items and contacts at other agencies willing to work with them on these issues. “The key is solidarity on all issues. Nationally we are all dealing with the same problems,” remarked one participant.
Thank you to everyone who came to this “tremendous opportunity to network and learn on a professional and personal level.”
November 3 – 6, 2019 at the Georgian Terrace in Atlanta, GA
St. Louis, Missouri – July 24, 2019 – Join us this fall at the VisionServe Alliance Executive Leadership Conference—a new kind of conference designed to foster participant involvement and spark creativity. All leaders involved in the provision of service to or with people who are blind or have low vision are invited to attend and participate.
This year’s conference will use the Open Space Technology meeting format, a format different from our typical conferences in that participants will be the ones to generate the program and structure the schedule for each day, encouraging conversation, planning, and action on a wide range of topics and initiatives that will impact the future of blindness and low vision.
Kathleen Zeider, President/CEO of ACVREP notes that, “VisionServe Alliance is uniquely positioned to convene this important summit in our field. We are excited that it will refine the collective focus and strengthen the collaboration in our field resulting in a greater impact for those we serve.”
Mike McGowan, Executive Director of NOAH, said his organization, “enthusiastically supports the efforts of VisionServe Alliance to gather the field together to discover ways to build a better world for people who are blind or have low vision. There is no limit to what we can accomplish when we work together.”
There are more than 26.9 million American adults in the US and 226 million more around the world living with blindness and low vision, with thousands more projected to join these ranks, all of whom have a vested interest in dramatically enhancing education, services, transportation, digital accessibility, employment and other opportunities.
Participants at the VSA Executive Leadership Conference will seek to ask, discuss, and suggest solutions to challenges in the field of blindness & low vision that might include essential questions such as:
Are public and private education resources meeting the needs of students?
What are the emerging challenges and solutions in employment?
How can we significantly enhance the resources for training and support for seniors?
How can we improve care for our veterans through care partnerships with the private sector?
What can be done to assure access to all digital information including government websites, applications and voting processes?
This event is convened by Lee Nasehi, President & CEO of VisionServe Alliance, and John Mitchell, President/CEO of the Cincinnati Association for the Blind, Board Chair of VisionServe Alliance. Co-facilitators include David Morgan, President & CEO of Future In Sight, Lee Nasehi, and VSA Board of Directors in a variety of small and large group conversations with participants.
There is strength in numbers. The scope and diversity of services to people with vision loss are keys to VisionServe Alliance’s strength. The features that distinguish your Alliance – your spectrum of talents, missions, and nationwide view – are much of what make VisionServe Alliance’s members an unparalleled force for progress and social cohesion. Just as important is the characteristic that VisionServe Alliance members share a fundamental, collective commitment to the public good, to generosity and voluntary effort.
Yet, for the things you have in common, for your unifying values and common needs, it’s essential to have an organization that stands for the whole.
Together … You Speak With One Voice
There is strength in collective expertise. By weaving your various efforts into a strong and consistent commitment, VisionServe Alliance members help other members to adapt, innovate, and excel. Most important, your coalition improves lives. Through your membership, members hear their individual voices amplified nationally. Each of you benefit from the collective expertise and knowledge of colleagues from around the United States. Through VisionServe Alliance, leaders providing services to people with vision loss collaborate to find creative solutions to some of this country’s biggest challenges.
Together … You Improve Lives
There is strength in coalition. VisionServe Alliance members enrich lives and communities throughout the United States and now in Canada in diverse ways such as teaching independent travel with white canes or guide dogs, preparing toddlers for school, opening access to jobs and careers, teaching skills for independent living, teaching the use of and providing access to Braille, using magnification to enhance residual vision, advocating on behalf of people with vision loss, assuring high quality standards and certifications exist, and providing access to equality in education.
Drawing such a large and varied community together, envisioning your collective potential, and organizing your vast network of talent and resources is crucial to the success of communities everywhere.
Together … You Are More Effective
There is success through experience. Through VisionServe Alliance, members share vital expertise that enriches and enlarges their work. Assembling information from a wealth of practical and technical resources, allows you to spotlight successful approaches to accountability, effectiveness, communications, and best practices in services to people with vision loss or blindness. By sharing expertise, each of you help organizations of all types respond to problems and enrich lives.
Together … You Are Smarter
There is power in knowledge. Your attendance at twice annual conferences provides a premier opportunity to explore pressing issues from around the country and to network with top leaders from throughout the country. The connections that result, which often lead to continuing partnerships, create new ways of thinking and practical plans of action for organizations and for communities. By working together, VisionServe Alliance members extend their impact far beyond any one service system or organization!
St. Louis, Missouri—February 20, 2019 – VisionServe Alliance has launched a pilot program of its new web-based patient referral system known as “VisionRefer!” The web-based referral system will help make referrals of low vision patients by their doctors to vision rehabilitation centers nationwide easy, fast, and HIPAA compliant. The goal is to make VisionRefer! available to every ophthalmologist in the country by year end and to increase referrals to VisionServe members.
Developed with seed money from the Gibney Family Foundation and in partnership with the tech team at Lighthouse Works (a subsidiary of Lighthouse Central Florida in Orlando, Florida) the VisionRefer! pilot programs have begun in three states: Florida, New Hampshire, and Oklahoma. Florida began its pilot in October, 2018, and Oklahoma and New Hampshire pilots will launch in March at NewView Oklahoma and Future In Sight in New Hampshire to test the efficacy and impact of state-wide single provider systems. It is projected that a nationwide roll out will begin in late summer.
The supervising agency of the twelve-month pilot program of VisionRefer! in Florida is the Florida Agencies Serving the Blind (Florida ASB), where they have begun introducing VisionRefer! to ophthalmologists statewide. Referrals are already successfully being received, beginning with an initial referral made by an ophthalmologist and sent to the Manasota Lighthouse on January 11, 2019.
“VisionRefer! is a 21st-century solution that will allow physicians to easily and quickly refer patients of all ages for vision rehabilitation services,” notes Roxann Mayros, the President of VisionServe Alliance who came up with the idea of VisionRefer! “I am excited to see the pilot project already generating referrals, just like we knew it would.”
Florida ASB and 17 other Florida VisionServe member agencies received additional funding support for the pilot project from Florida Division of Blind Services to create marketing materials such as a tear- off flyer, a door hanger and print ads. Additional marketing support is being provided by the Florida Society of Ophthalmologists and their partner, Eschenbach Optik, who will begin traveling statewide introducing VisionRefer! to ophthalmologists.
“We hope that this pilot project will share the benefits of vision rehabilitation services to patients and their practices and dispel myths about our professions and fears that patients will be diverted from their care,” says Dr. Elly du Pre, Executive Director of Florida ASB. “Our goal is to make adoption of VisionRefer! easy by helping them put VisionRefer! on their desktops and provide handouts to give to their patients.”
Originally founded in 1987 as the National Council of Private Agencies for the Blind and Visually Impaired (NCPABVI) and renamed in 2008, VisionServe Alliance is a consortium of 118 nonprofits located throughout the United States and Canada that provide unique and specialized services to people who are blind or with severe vision loss. Members include organizations focusing on national advocacy and/or service issues, employment and manufacturing, adult vision rehabilitation, K-12 residential and on-line schools, early intervention and pre-school, dog guides, low vision clinics, and braille production. Members engage regional and national leaders in building a better world through services to people with vision loss by promoting leadership development, ethical management, quality services, and professional growth.
By Roxann Mayros, President & CEO, VisionServe Alliance
In 2018, VisionServe Alliance saw 8 of its members retire, and there are already 5 who have announced their intent to retire in 2019. Over the years, I combined the following information from various sources and have given it to specific members. With the number of members who recently retired or have announced their intent, I thought this would be good information for all members to read and keep handy … just in case you are the next to announce your retirement.
Please Note: This document was created from several sources over several years. I thank those authors from whom I pulled information, and apologize for not being able to give credit.
How do we define success? It’s hard to overstate the importance of defining success. To define success, you don’t need an exhaustive up-to-the-minute strategic plan, but you do need a collective expression of the board’s aspirations for the organization. At a minimum, as the surrogate for the full board, the search committee should be able to coalesce around preliminary answers to the big questions affecting the organization’s future.
What worries us the most? A clear understanding of shared concerns at the board level can prove enormously useful in discussions with potential CEOs. The concerns usually reflect issues of culture and competence, and the pendulum is always swinging between the two. Clarity around the board’s biggest worries will help CEO candidates understand the board’s priorities.
How much change can we stand? In nonprofits with more than a few minutes of operating history, there will be some vocal board members and staff who want everything to stay the same and some who want to change everything. Every new CEO faces the challenge of honoring the organization’s past while securing its future. Within this balance of heritage and hope lie enormous challenge, risk, and reward for the board and the next leader. Which aspects of the organization (and its culture) do we want to preserve, and which aspects do we know should be amended? How big, really,is our appetite for change?
How can our new CEO add the most value? An organization with any momentum at all can project future results from current operations, perform a basic gap analysis to understand what is needed to get from here to there, and then recruit to fill the predicted gap. By asking, “How can our new CEO add the most value,” however, the committee substitutes what’s likely with what’s possible. Given the assets and issues you know about and the results to be expected under normally competent leadership, ask what are the possibilities under abnormally competent leadership? The real added value may have little to do with vision and everything to do with execution. The trick is to determine the best combination consistent with your mission and values.
How can we ensure the CEO’s success? In most cases,the search committee’s members will become the new CEO’s most logical champions. More than most other board members, they will be the new CEO’s natural allies, sounding boards, and mentors. At the outset of the process, every committee member should examine ways in which she or he could be most supportive of the future CEO. CEOs new to a community or to blindness and vision loss will profit from help negotiating the twists and turns of the new environment. Managers new to the CEO role itself will profit from a link to peers outside the organization. This is why I always recommend new CEOs become active in VisionServe Alliance where they will network with, and learn from, their peers … other CEOs.
VisionServe’s 30th Annual Executive Leadership Conference took place October 28 – 31, 2018, in the heart of downtown Portland, Oregon. 124 conference attendees took part in three days of executive training, networking and discussions with peers in the blindness and visual impairment field.
Conference activities included the welcome reception, great speakers, a Dine Around, and especially having flex time for networking and collaborative brainstorming sessions. Willa Adams, attending from Nu-Visions Center in Lewistown, PA remarked, “I liked the amount of time to meet with other attendees and get out of the building and look around. The lunches were relaxed and conducive to talking to new people.”
The conference’s two keynote speakers presented informative sessions on fundraising and generational codes. Lori L. Jacobwith, a fundraiser rated in the top 25 nationally, inspired all attendees with successful techniques from her own experience she used to develop better ways to reach out to donors. Anna Liotta of The Generational Institute, enlightened attendees with fresh ways to understand and work effectively with employees of all ages. “I especially enjoyed and learned from Anna Liotta’s generational presentation as this affects everyone from clients to the board members,” said Denny Moyer, President of Ensight Skills Center in CO. “Following the conference, I had a conference call which included many of the same people who were in Portland and by the comments and responses to the call I could actually identify (for the most part) the baby boomers and gen Xers. It was eye opening.”
Other well-received topics included crisis management, board management, Older Individuals who are Blind programs, impact investing, grants management and AFB’s new strategic plans.
The location of Portland did not disappoint, providing ample delicious Dine Around locations within walking distance enjoyed by over 100 attendees. “It’s always such a fun sight to watch folks meeting their Dine Around groups in the hotel lobby, introducing themselves, and becoming fast friends over the course of a meal together,” remarked Roxann Mayros, the outgoing President & CEO of VisionServe Alliance. “The next day we see lots of new friendships were formed just from spending this time together. We’ve thought about dropping this session because it’s a lot of work to put together, but it’s too popular. If we did, we’d never hear the end of it!”
Speaking of Roxann, after attending and planning upwards of 40 conferences, this was her last conference as the executive in charge of VisionServe Alliance. “Beginning in 1995, I have attended conferences as a member and as an employee of VisionServe Alliance. In both roles, I have learned from national experts, experienced local customs and cultures in the cities we visited, and most importantly, found life-long friends. Over the years, we’ve watched each other’s children grow, seen marriages come and go, provided support through sicknesses, and now, the blessing of grandchildren. This conference had many young strong leaders in attendance. So even though I was able to lift and affirm my long-time professional and personal friendships, I was most especially, encouraged and pleased to see this next generation of leaders actively participating and learning from one another.”
Cultivating and supporting this next generation of leaders is one of the main goals of the conference. First-time attending CEO’s are matched up with a “mentor,” another member CEO whose agency might share similar issues/goals. The pair touches base before, during and after the conference. Many members note how helpful that these relationships are to their success at their respective agencies.
Enjoying past successes and struggles was a sentiment shared by many other attendees, including outgoing board members Mark Ackermann and Steve Pouliot. “In my forty-year not-for-profit career, I have belonged to many professional associations, but I have never been part of an association like VisionServe,” noted Ackermann, outgoing Board Chair. “The professionalism, comradery, mentorship, richness of learning, are all second to none.”
Other soon-to-be-retired attendees in Portland included Pam Brandin(Vista Center in Palo Alto, CA),
Lou Tutt (AER in Alexandria, VA), Bob Scheffel (Metrolina Association for the Blind in Charlotte, NC) and Robert Kelly (Conklin Center for the Blind in Daytona Beach, FL). “I felt so nostalgic having it be my last one,” remarked Pam Brandin, who also served as Board Chair of VisionServe Alliance from 2005 – 2008. “It did make me feel proud to have been a part of our growth, looking at all the new leaders and knowing that the membership has expanded greatly in the last decade. It certainly was a lot of fun along with the hard work.”
The weather—which in previous years’ conferences has often presented challenges—included enough sun to give attendees the opportunity to explore the beautiful surroundings nearby including the Chinese Gardens, and the Oregon coastline and the Columbia River Gorge. The final Awards Night took place aboard the Portland Spirit boat, a picturesque setting where one could admire the downtown nightscapes as well as celebrate the award winners: Robert Kelly (Excellence in Leadership Award), Laura Park-Leach (Cathy Holden Excellence in Managerial Leadership Award), and Cathy Holden (Lifetime Achievement Award).
We thank everyone who joined us in Portland to network, learn and wish Roxann well in her retirement. Work hard, and we’ll look forward to seeing you at our next conference, our CEO Summit in Nashville, TN, May 5 – 8, 2019.
This event focuses on business development, comprehensive training on the AbilityOne® Program, and other topics relevant to growing sales and employment. It will include the Expo and NIB Marketplace, breakout sessions, customer/partner speakers, and an awards ceremony recognizing outstanding customers and partners.