Blog News

How the American Rescue Plan Act Affects Your Nonprofit

VSA will continue to research and share updates on the ARPA as more info becomes available. Several items to note as of now, 1) The deadline to apply for the PPP loan has NOT been extended beyond March 31st, 2) Be aware of the new extension of COBRA coverage (see below), 3) the new Charitable Incentive bill.

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Paycheck Protection Program

Adds $7.25 billion for the Paycheck Protection ProgramExpands PPP eligibility to charitable nonprofits that operate at multiple locations and employ not more than 500 employees per physical locationExpands PPP eligibility to other types of nonprofits, but with a 300-emplyee limit per locationNo changes to Second Draw PPP loans eligibility. PPP application deadline is Mar. 31, 2021 unless extended by Congress(Section 5001)

Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL)

Includes $15 billion for the Targeted EIDL Advance program instructs SBA to spend $10 billion in payments to covered entities that did not receive full amounts to which they were entitledAllocates remaining $5 billion to covered entities that have suffered an economic loss of at least 50% and have 10 or fewer employees(Section 5002)

Employee Retention Tax Credit (ERTC)

Extends the Employee Retention Tax Credit through Dec. 31, 2021(Section 9651)Paid Leave Tax Credits for EmployersExtends through Sept. 30, 2021 the refundable payroll tax credits for paid sick and family leave originally established in theFamilies First Coronavirus Response Act and voluntarily provided by employersIncreases the amount of wages for which an employer may claim the paid family credit in a year from $10,000 to $12,000 per employeeExpands leave to cover obtaining vaccinations and any resulting injury or illness related to vaccination(Section 9641)

Charitable Giving Incentives

The new law does not expand incentives for charitable giving, but on Tuesday, March 9, Senators and Representatives introduced the Universal Giving Pandemic Response and Recovery Act618 and H.R 1704. If enacted, the legislation would allow taxpayers who claim the standard deduction, rather than itemizing deductions, on their tax returns to take a deduction for charitable giving valued at up to one-third of the standard deduction (around $4,000 for an individual filer and $8,000 for married joint filers). This added giving incentive would be available for tax years 2021 and 2022. Read the full article from Candid


OIB TAC Weekly Brief

OIB TAC and NRTC of Mississippi state logos

OIB TAC Resources

The Older Individuals who are Blind Technical Assistance Center is a part of the National Research & Training Center on Blindness and Low Vision (NRTC) at Mississippi State University.


Leaders Added to the APH Hall of Fame Plaque

Recent VisionServe awardee recipients of the Excellence in Leadership Award Elly du Pre (Florida ASB), and John Mitchell (Former CEO of Cincinnati Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired) have been added to our plaque in the APH Hall of Fame for Leaders and Legends of the blindness field. We are proud to work with these tremendous leaders. 


VSA Member Works With Local Officials to Create an Accessible Vaccine Distribution Plan

LBB logo

Here’s how one of our member CEO’s Kim Galban-Countryman of Lighthouse of the Big Bend (LBB), worked with her county’s officials to ensure the process for vaccine distribution is accessible: “Our local association of human service organizations hosted a Zoom meeting with the Health Director in charge of vaccinations for one of our counites. On the call, she reviewed the current process for getting the vaccine which involves being in a vehicle and moving from station to station. Our local paratransit services cannot accommodate this type of service – they are strickly a pick up and drop off service. I emailed her, along with two of our state legislators and a member of our Transit Advisory Council to explain that the current vaccination process creates a major barrier for any citizen with mobility issues, including 200 of my senior clients.
I proposed two solutions. The first was to create satellite vaccination sites at organizations like mine and have our staff serve as sighted guides for our clients to safely get them off the bus, help them with paperwork, get them through the various stations until they receive the vaccine, and get them back on their bus. My second suggestion was to vaccinate the employees I have listed on my auto insurance policy so we can pick up clients and bring them to the vaccination site ourselves…The member of the Transit Advisory Council immediately looped in the director of StarMetro and within two weeks the City of Tallahassee announced that the paratransit guidelines were being changed and paratransit clients would now be able to use the service to ride through the drive-through vaccination clinic.” Contact Kim Galban Countryman at

Blog News

Call for Presentation Proposals Spring 2021

VSA is currently accepting presentation proposals for its spring 2021 virtual conference until Feb. 12, 2021. Attendance at the VisionServe Alliance Executive Leadership Conference is open to any and all leaders in the field of blindness, low vision, and visual impairments. The Conference Committee is especially but not exclusively interested in proposals on the following subjects:

Speaker standing in front of a crowd
  • Innovative program ideas
  • Innovative fundraising ideas including running virtual fundraising events
  • Facilitating culture change towards more diversity or other Diversity/Equity/Inclusion topic presentations
  • Team Building and ensuring your employees’ mental health
  • Remote service delivery especially mental health and delivery to rural communities
  • Designing accessible programs at your organization (internally and externally)

Guidelines: Because presentations will be pre-recorded, presenters should be comfortable presenting virtually. Please include links to previous virtual presentations if possible. Please also include the following:

  • Name(s) of presenter(s) (Panel discussions will be considered) along with title and email:
  • Title of proposed presentation (100 characters or less):
  • Description of presentation (500 characters or less):
  • Attach headshot and bio for all presenters
  • Include online links to relevant media

Submit your proposal: Email to with the subject line: ELC 2021 PRESENTATION PROPOSAL. Deadline to submit proposals: Friday, Feb. 12, 2021 by 5pm CST. If your proposal is not selected for this event, it may also be considered for an additional VSA virtual event.


2020 Award Winners

  • Excellence in Leadership Award
  • Cathy Holden Excellence in Managerial Leadership Award
  • Roxann Mayros Organizational Champion Award

Excellence in Leadership Award

One of the ways VisionServe Alliance honors the work of its member CEOs is through the prestigious Excellence in Leadership Awards. The VisionServe Alliance Excellence in Leadership Award honors an Executive Director, President, or CEO of a member organization, current or former, who has shown exemplary industry and professional leadership over the course of at least five years.  It is expected that the nominee’s contributions have been significant at a local, regional, and/or national level.

VisionServe Alliance is proud to announce the winner of this year’s award: John Mitchell, Former CEO of Cincinnati Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired, and Elly Du Pré, Executive Director of the Florida Agencies Serving the Blind. Watch their nomination and acceptance videos below.

Cathy Holden Excellence in Managerial Leadership Award

The Cathy Holden Excellence in Managerial Leadership Award was founded in 2018 following the untimely passing of Cathy Holden who was a member of my leadership team at New View Oklahoma, our Vice President of Program Services. The Award honors a high-level employee of a member organization who has made an impact on, contribution to, or led staff in the pursuit of organizational excellence. Nominees must be employed by a current member of VisionServe Alliance and have demonstrated exemplary organizational and professional leadership over the course of at least five years in directing departments and/or programs, expanding impact, developing best practices, streamlining processes, research and/or publications specific to vision loss and/or blindness, developing innovations, etc.  It is hoped that the nominee’s contributions have also been significant at a local, regional, and/or national level.

It is our pleasure to announce that the recipients of this year’s award, Leslie Montgomery, Vice President of External Affairs, Blind and Vision Rehabilitation Services – Pittsburgh, and Jacci Borchardt, Director of Operations, Vision Forward. View their nomination and acceptance videos below.

Roxann Mayros Organizational Champion Award

The Board of Directors decided to honor the exceptional service of its first paid staff person and Chief Executive Officer, Roxann Mayros, when she retired in 2019 after 14 years in this role. The Roxann Mayros Champion Award was created to highlight the legacy of her service to the field of blindness and low vision. Her accomplishments included the creation of a knowledge network and support system for leaders in vision rehabilitation, promotion of best practices nationwide, national efforts for third party vision rehabilitation services reimbursement, the inspiration of innovative and collaborative projects, and the galvanization of attention to issues of national relevance such as the Low Vision Rehabilitation Demonstration Project and the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act. Her leadership hallmark was passion and unwavering commitment to the promise of a better way forward leading to living well with blindness and low vision.

Eligible nominees are members of senior leadership for a member organization and will have demonstrated extraordinary service to the field such as founding a new organization, a subsidiary corporation or significant new programs; or turning around an organization that experienced significant loss, change or struggle of some other type; collaborating with external organizations to significantly expand mission impact of the organization for which the nominee works or worked.

VisionServe Alliance is proud to announce this year’s winner of the Roxann Mayros Organizational Champion Award is Cindy Hollis, Membership Services Coordinator, American Council of the Blind. View her nomination and acceptance video below.


Attendees Share Experiences From This Year’s Virtual Executive Leadership Conference

There’s always so much great content at our fall Executive Leadership Conference that it’s impossible to take it all in, and this year was no exception! With 22 sessions (many running concurrently), we elicited the help of some volunteer “reporters” to report on their experiences at VisionServe’s first ever virtual conference, and we received some great submissions from them!

Special thanks to our volunteer Reporters: Jennifer Brooks (Lighthouse for the Blind and Low Vision in Tampa, FL), Nillima Tanna (Low Vision Occupational Therapist in CA), and Deborah Gold (Balance for Blind Adults in Toronto, CA).

If you’d like to submit your own report on your take-aways from the VSA ELC, it’s not too late! Send them to Wendy Hymes at

Teri Yanovitch – Leading a Culture of Excellence

Submitted by Jennifer Brooks

Is your organization providing the highest level of service to every client who walks in your doors or – in today’s world – picks up the phone and calls?  Teri Yanovitch, a dynamic speaker, author, facilitator, and consultant, shared some practical (and easy!) tips that leaders can implement “to create and maintain a culture of service excellence”!  Here are just a few:

  • Recognize the emotions of the customer first. This helps the customer feel valued. Build a relationship!
    • Some easy strategies are: remember their name, have notes from prior discussions, ask questions to gain a fuller perspective of their needs.
  • Create a Service Map of the points of contact for your client. Analyze if each of these interactions created a “wow” effect. How can we understand the client’s point of view at each touch point and meet their needs fully?
  • Step back and gain a fresh view of the organization:
    • How is the environment? (clean, organized, décor?)
    • How is the phone experience? (Friendly? Explanatory? Nice hold music?)
    • How about the website? (Is it welcoming? Is it easily navigable? Accessibility friendly? Easy to find needed information?)

And finally, my favorite:

  • “Take Five” Challenge for all employees: Take just 5 minutes out of your day to “wow” the guest.
    • Not just meeting their expectations, but EXCEEDING their expectations!
    • Leave it open for creativity!
    • In the next agency meeting, have everyone share their “Take Five” ideas and successes!

Check out a recording of Teri Yanovitch’s full presentation here and implement some strategies in your organization today to exceed your clients’ expectations!

Lots of Fun at the Virtual Trivia Night

Submitted by Wendy Hymes

Screenshot from Trivia Night of Host Joe Bogart's many hats

VisionServe held its first virtual Trivia Night as a fun opportunity for networking Monday night during the ELC. We were hoping that this would attract attendees looking for adventure and a little competitive fun during the ELC, and we weren’t disappointed.

Our MC for the evening, Joe Bogart, entertained us with his winning charm and by wearing a different hat – 5 in all – one for each round. 22 participants joined in and through the magic of our Zoom break-out room facilitator, Gobika Sithamparanathan, were whisked into Zoom rooms where they got to know each other and decided on team names. Teams were: COVID Cooties, the Macular Degenerates, The Amazing Five, Dazed and Confused, and Disappointed Tourists.

We had four rounds each with five questions. The categories of the four rounds were: Famous Movie Quotes, Food, Fifty Nifty States, and Blind Trivia. The Disappointed Tourists came in 1st place with a score of 15, followed by a 3-way tie for 2nd place by the COVID Cooties, the Macular Degenerates and The Amazing Five, all with 13 points, and in 3rd place was Dazed and Confused with a respectable score of 12 points.

Many thanks to Balance for Blind Adults whose team leant their training support to the facilitators for VSA’s Trivia Night, and to Joe Bogart for being our MC. I hope that we can do this again. It was a lot of fun!

Vision Rehabilitation Promotes Improved Independence and Quality of Life

Submitted by Jennifer Brooks

This is not *Breaking News* for those of us working day-in and day-out within the field!  However, how do we get this message out to the general public? How do we reach those who need our services? How do we bring this message to the policy makers and legislators? How do we advocate for the essential supports necessary for us to continue these vital services to individuals with visual impairments?

Check out the important work that the Aging and Vision Loss Coalition is completing and join in the discussion! Visit the AVLNC page on the VisionServe Alliance website.

My Take-Aways from Four VSA ELC Sessions

Submitted by Nillima Tanna

I heard the first speaker, followed by another impressive speaker. Wow! The sessions have consistently had rich content by a tremendous line up of speakers. Over the past 3 days, I have learnt a lot about a range of topics from C.H.A.T. communication model to Culture of Excellence, Branding and technology. Shout out to the VSA team for the excellent lineup of speakers!!


Culture of Excellence by Teri Yanovitch

Teri’s talk truly resonated with me, as I believe in providing the highest quality service to my clients. I appreciated her practical tips on improving our clients’ service experience. Highlights for me were many but here is a list of my top 3:

  1. The concept of “Take 5” was unique.
  2. Leadership action for Service Philosophy and standards.
  3. “Enculturating” Service Excellence throughout the organization.

C.H.A.T. Communication model by Claudia Virga

Understanding the different communication styles made me think of some of my co-workers. Wish I knew the model and tips shared by Claudia, it would help tremendously in developing inter-personal and professional relationships.


Your Brand, Your culture, your bottom line by Mark Freid

Absolutely enjoyed his presentation.  Highlights were the follows:

  1. Managing the messaging – Fantastic information, practical tips that are easy to implement!
  2. “Values have to be connected to specific behaviors”
  3. Spelling out the Organization’s personality


I was impressed to hear from Virginia Jacko, President and CEO- Miami Lighthouse for the Blind, about their Accessibility scorecard. They have been using it, especially during the pandemic to assess the accessibility features on the websites of grocery stores and pharmacies. Companies then get the opportunity to fix the issues. The Accessibility scorecard was also used during the Presidential elections!

Take-Aways from the First Three Days of the VSA ELC

Submitted by Deborah Gold

It’s Wednesday now and after a few solid days of taking in so much relevant knowledge, my mind is buzzing with acronyms from C.H.A.T. to RSO to DEI and more. It’s filled with a bunch of wonderful “service” and “success” ideas like “service excellence”, “service maps”, “service philosophy”, “service standards”, “success stories”, “succession planning” and more. My notebook is filled with key take-aways about leadership, diversity, and governance; my hand aches from writing, and my staff already have an assignment due next Friday (and a shared folder where they can file the 3 behaviours they believe stand out for each of our 5 organizational values). Here are some “little WOWS” I picked up from several sessions, and am hoping to incorporate into our work, making us better and stronger as a team and organization:

  1.  Networking Your Way To Success Even In A Virtual World: Make Valuable Connections Easily When You C.H.A.T. Your Way Through The Virtual Conference – Well, from the above, you’ll know I lead with Action! So one thing we’ll be doing together as a staff team is figuring out our communications styles through the CHAT system, and then working together (and on our own) on how we can work better with clients if we think about THEIR communication styles when we are teaching them.
  2.  Leading A Culture Of Excellence – Teri Yanovitch, Author, Former Disney Institute Trainer – I learned that at BALANCE, we already have quite a decent culture of service excellence. BUT, we can do better! We are going to work together on a service philosophy statement (something we don’t really have yet, although we have contributed recently to a new vision and mission statement). And, we are going to do some work to look at what we do through the lenses of our clients. I want to make sure I’m always collecting great ideas from my staff that we can incorporate across the organization and across our service disciplines.  And, we’ll start working on modelling service excellence throughout the staff recruiting process…we can do better…we will do better. This session was so helpful.
  3. Non-Profit Marketing In The New Reality – Mark Freid, Founder Think Creative – Mark Freid’s session on branding was superb. His messages echoed Teri’s, and I found that I could immediately ask my staff to start thinking about our values and our behaviours. I loved his story compasses, and could see how, as we enter a new strategic planning phase next winter, we can implement the idea of 3 specific outcomes we are posed to have an impact on. It struck a chord that these outcomes need to be empowering INTERNALLY while also being exciting EXTERNALLY. “Branding IS Strategy.” We knew that of course, but Mark drove the point home well.
  4. The sessions today were wonderful examples of calling on the lived experience of some of our colleagues, and combining that experience with terrific panel moderators and expert consultants. The sessions on Succession Planning, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, and Governance (Board-CEO relations), ALL spoke directly to the work I am doing (perhaps many of us are doing) every day and RIGHT NOW in our organizations. So relevant. Having been hired into a position that had been vacant for 8 months, and to lead an organization that was somewhat troubled at the time, I could identify with what several of the panelists were talking about, and, like them, I want to ensure an excellent succession plan is in place for when I depart (and also for if I have to step away temporarily). In terms of Governance, I learned much about working with my Board in a remote/virtual context, and it was good to hear that we are doing a great deal RIGHT, and pick up some tips for how to do even better (I quickly learned how to run a virtual Board Retreat!).
  5. Discussion Of Diversity, Equity And Inclusion In The Field Of Blindness – Finally, the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion session was perhaps the most important session of this conference. If we cannot build truly equitable and inclusive organizations that are also diverse, given the societal context we are all living in, and given the extent of institutional oppression and systemic racism that is baked into our societies, then we will fall short of our aspirations and dreams of inclusion and equity for people who are blind. The intersectionality of the challenges we face (and lived every day by our clients, volunteers and staff) came through in this session. I have been working since early summer with my board and staff on the challenge of bringing an anti-racism lens to our work through a number of possible initiatives. The conversations have been meaningful, and have opened people’s eyes in ways they have not been opened before, including my own. I find that it has not always been easy, and when David talked about taking risks with this, to stand up for what is right, as the CEO, it touched me emotionally because I realized that was exactly what I needed to hear-acknowledgement that this work isn’t easy…and why should it be? Our societies (both in the States and here in Canada) are interwoven with multiple oppressions and white supremacy in all it’s insidious forms doesn’t like to be challenged. It’s not supposed to be easy. But it can be oh so rewarding, and I was so very grateful this session was held, that these panelists could give us so very many ideas to think about, and were so articulate, and that I could participate.

That’s it for me this late Wednesday evening…VisionServe Alliance has really upped the ante with this conference content. Thank-you for making it happen and making it possible for me to sign my staff up to attend as well.

2020 is THE year to be prepared for anything!

Submitted by Jennifer Brooks

“To be happy and productive during these unprecedented times of change, we need to be ready for anything.” Bob Kodzis is here to give us simple human lessons on how to be prepared for anything life throws at us – during 2020 and beyond! He speaks about the pain and fear that come with new experiences and change. However, he encourages us to continue to move past our comfort zone, into -and through- that fear, in order to come out on the other side. To the other side which is full of learning and, finally, growth.  We cannot have growth if we remain huddled within our comfort zone. Bob Kodzis shared amazing tips and stories to encourage us to change our own mindsets in order to handle the changes that life throws at us.

Check out the recording of his presentation in order to learn about becoming a master of change rather than a victim of change!

Attendees Find Ways to Network and Connect Virtually

Submitted by Wendy Hymes

The virtual VSA ELC explored new ways for attendees to connect virtually during the 5-day event. As a long-time meeting planner, I knew we had our work cut out for us to succeed in this area, so our team planned and scheduled new ways to help our conference attendees connect virtually.

Our first presenter, professional speaker Claudia Virga, started us off with her presentation which offered specific advice to attendees on how to network at a virtual event. She started off acknowledging  the dislike and confusion a lot of us feel as we are trying to make new connections through a virtual event online platform, which is so different from our preferred methods at a live event like striking up a conversation during a coffee break, meal or happy hour. Her solution? Remember the Platinum rule, a modified Golden Rule = Treat others as THEY would like to be treated. She broke down the four communication styles and gave advice for connecting with each type.

Along with Claudia’s advice, attendees connected during evening events such as the Happy Hour conducted on Zoom, which attracted a great crowd. New connections were made and fun conversation ensued.

Our beloved Dine Around was held virtually Wednesday evening during the conference. Despite a few technical hick-ups finding our groups, I enjoyed getting to know some new people, hearing them describe what they were cooking/eating that night, and just relaxing for an hour of conversations on what projects they were involved in to help our blindness field. I’m always amazed at the passion of everyone and enjoy learning more and this was a great opportunity. I was impressed that reps from our sponsors OrCam and Vanda joined us too.

I attended several of the themed Networking Lounges that were offered.  The Public Policy Networking Lounge on Wednesday was focused on – you guessed it – the election results. As you can surmise from the faces in the screenshot below, all of us were pretty stressed out from not knowing the end results, but this gave us a great way to commiserate together.

I camped out here just to listen to our Public Policy panelists continue their discussion (they had just presented shortly before the Networking Lounge opened) with Paul Schroeder, Rick Webster,  Sarah Brown and Clark Rachfal.

I attended three other networking lounges – the New CEO lounge on Tuesday and the Guide Dogs lounge and Physical Fitness lounge on Thursday – and enjoyed meeting more new people. Our partners from Leader Dogs were sharing tips about their current programs and talking to guide dog lovers who stopped in for a chat. Our new CEOs were doing a great job of networking virtually during the conference.

Ultimately, I found these virtual Zoom events allowed me the proverbial opportunity to put a face with a name, something that helps me remember new connections. It helped me feel connected to a great group of passionate people that I look forward to continuing conversations with in the coming weeks and months. I know connecting virtually is still a challenge for most of us, but I believe with patience and an adventurous spirit we can make progress.


2020 Inspiration Foundation Tech Grant Winners

Congratulations to the 2020 winners:

OrganizationCEO NameFunding use
Association for the Blind & Visually Impaired – MichiganMarcus MandersFusion software (JAWS & Zoom text)
Balance for Blind AdultsDeborah Gold1 laptop and 1 tablet for teaching clients remotely
Community Center for the Blind & Visually ImpairedMichelle GalvaniPad w/Smart Keyboard and Surface Go 2 w/Surface Go Type Cover; JAWS & Zoom text
Community Services for SightLori Lesantepurchase tablets for office and in home training
Computers for the BlindChristy HouseholterDuxbury for Windows Braille Translation Program for Braille Embossers and Braille Buddy Embosser
Earle Baum CenterBob Sonnenberg1 handheld electronic magnifier & 1 iPhone
In-SightChristopher ButleriPad tripod, Galaxy tripod, Appli iPhone, Samsung Galaxy phone, microphone headset, air pods, ear pods and cases
Lighthouse of PinellasKimberly ChurchFOCUS 14 Blue 5th Generation, braille display for us across all programs
Nu-Visions CenterJonathan CunninghamBraille printer
San Diego Center for the BlindKimberly GibbensZoom licenses for remote training, 2 web cams, a tripod for camera for ongoing remote training.
Savannah Assoc. for the BlindLois ModellFUSION device
The Vision Institute of South CarolinaJeanie Farmerlaptop, docking station & external monitor
Valley Center for the BlindShellena Heber5 Plantronics Voyager Focus UC Bluetooth USB Headset with Active Noise Cancelling for clients who are now employed with VCB

ADA Compliance and COVID Relief

The US Senate and House may complete negotiations this week, or early next week, on a COVID-related relief measure, likely the last one this year. Nonprofit advocates are asking the community to act immediately to request support for issues important to our sector.


Retirement of John McInerny

headshot o John McInerny

John McInerney recently retired as the Interim CEO of the Pennsylvania Association for the Blind where he held this position since April, 2018.   As the Chief Executive Officer of the Corporation, he was accountable to the Corporation’s Board of Directors. As such, he was responsible for overall planning, integration of effort, fiscal accounting, supervision of operations and staff, and evaluation of programs toward attainment of the PAB’s mission, and work, as expressed in approved grants, contracts and work plans. 

Prior to accepting this position, John served on a Board of Directors for the non-profit organization, Blind and vision Rehabilitation Services of Pittsburgh.  John retired from the Westinghouse Electric Company as VP of Engineering in 2015 after a 40 year engineering and management career in the commercial nuclear power industry.  John consulted in the nuclear industry until accepting the interim CEO position at PAB.

After stepping away from the day-to-day corporate environment, I wanted to give back by pursuing a second career in the non-profit sector with a focus on visual impairment/blindness.   Specifically, having lost my functional vision in my early 40’s because of Retinitis Pigmantosa (RP), I clearly understood the needs and challenges that visually impaired individuals are faced with as they move through different phases of their lives.  Whether it is being a student trying to learn without vision, a young adult struggling to enter the workforce, or a mature adult trying to cope with a degenerative eye condition, I can relate first hand to their struggles and challenges, both from a physical and psychological perspective.  Consequently, my personal and corporate management experience provided me with the opportunity to work in a nonprofit in order to help improve the lives of those dealing with vision loss.

Blog News

Working to Achieve Medicare Coverage of Low Vision Devices

The Independence Through Enhancement of Medicare and Medicaid (ITEM) Coalition was formed to raise awareness and build support for policies that will enhance access to assistive devices, technologies, and related services for people with disabilities and chronic conditions. The coalition is broad-based including disability and aging organizations as well as health and provider associations.


Breathe in…Breathe Out

Today is Monday, April 27, 2020, which would have been our first full day together in Albuquerque, New Mexico for our CEO-Focused Summit. I was feeling sentimental over the weekend – grieving for what might have been.

View the photos from the Atlanta conference

But I awoke today in Winter Park, FL to what I consider to be THE perfect morning. Low 60’s, sunny blue skies, low humidity, a gentle breeze and birds singing. Beautiful and peaceful. I drank my Nespresso coffee while sitting on my back patio, watched the squirrels eating a few seeds that fell from the birdfeeder in the backyard and gave thanks for the opportunity to slow down and breathe. Inhale – exhale. I can hear my Pilates instructor’s voice in my head: breathe in through your nose . . . and out through your mouth. . .  (I miss her too.) 

There has not been enough of these moments during work hours over the last few weeks – we have been busier than ever. But the mornings and evenings – and the weekends – have been lovely. Lovelier than usual. Until recently, some of that was lost on me because I was preoccupied with worrying about things that have not yet happened. 

I have always been a purpose-filled person and for me that meant being fixed on the future – what comes next. What do I need to be doing to assure that next thing happens? I like to be in control – or feel like I was. And anxiety for me came primarily from feeling I had lost that control. So admittedly, I have been anxious for months. 

This pandemic experience has removed much of that control I used to think I had. I am reminded that the only thing I really have control over are my thoughts, words and actions. And it is much more difficult to predict the future in the current economy.  So, what can I do?  

First, I can breathe; express and feel grateful for the many things that are genuinely good in my life.  Secondly, I can trade fear for curiosity and get excited about doing things differently. Many of the things we are doing now out of necessity are ideas we explored and discussed over many years but may never have moved forward – until we had no other choice. I actually like change – there are so many opportunities for that right now. Thirdly, I can choose to remain positive and help my colleagues, friends and family do the same.  We will survive. We have the ability to figure all of this out. I know we will. 

Breathe in through your nose – long and deep – and out through your mouth. And next year, in Albuquerque! 

Blog News

Resilience and Responsiveness in a Time of Unprecedented Challenge

Author: Paul Schroeder, April 8, 2020

Across the US, businesses, and agencies, and the communities and individuals they serve are struggling in countless ways to maintain well-being – physical, mental and economic. And, our political leaders are also struggling, with limited resources and levers to provide assistance and guidance. Recently enacted legislation has certainly helped and most agree that more action will be needed. In light of these unprecedented times, making our voices heard, on behalf of those we serve, those we employ and those we care for is more challenging than ever. Over the next several issues of Enews, we will try to keep you informed of developments and action needed regarding policy advocacy and provide resources here and on the website. Read on to see current threats to education, accessibility, and voting rights.


David Ekin Receives Lifetime Achievement Award

David Ekin shaking hands with John Mitchell as he receives the Lifetime Achievement Award

Dave was the President of the Board of the National Council of Private Agencies for the Blind and Visually Impaired (NCPABVI) from 2001-2004 . 

Back then NCPABVI was a loosy-goosy volunteer led organization, so whoever was President of the Board also was a full-time Executive Director of a blindness organization.  At the first meeting he presided over, he told us that he believed NCPABVI’s members could be the leaders of the field because together we held the power and knowledge to influence policy, improve services, and communicate with the public.  Dave recommended that the members participate in a strategic planning process, which they agreed to.  It took place at the next 2 or 3 NCPABVI meetings.  Dave was absolutely phenomenal during the process as it was important to him that every single member was given a voice. 

Dave made sure that those who could afford to come to meetings weren’t the only voices heard and the only opinions considered.  He spent considerable time connecting and talking to everyone – small and large organizational leaders – those at meetings and those who had never attended a meeting.  The overwhelming outcome of the planning process was that members knew that NCPABVI needed to professionalize – to apply for 501(c)(3) status, hire an executive director, and set up an office.  Dues back then were $150 (give or take a few bucks) for every member no matter the size of the organization.  $150 from 50 members wasn’t going to pay for staff or an office, so Dave was very thoughtful and inclusive (once again) in trying to figure out how much dues should be.  After much discussion by a committee and with members, Dave proposed raising dues big time and that dues be paid upon budget size.  Every member was going to see a dues increase, but the middle and large sized agencies were going to see the biggest increase – from $150/annually to upwards of $2,000/annually. Not one member dropped their membership!   In addition, Dave asked every member to consider contributing to a start-up fund so the administrative person could be hired right away.  He started the fund with $1,000, and 35 (plus or minus) additional members contributed $1,000!  With money in hand to hire someone, Dave then offered to host NCPABVI’s office at his agency’s building in St. Louis, donating furniture, computer, telephone, and access to the copier, FAX machine and his staff.  Dave is the reason NCPABVI professionalized and grew, and became the VisionServe Alliance we know today!  And his in-kind donation of office space is why VisionServe Alliance is headquartered in St. Louis.  As they say .. And the rest is history.

David Ekin delivering a speech after receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award

Dave’s national influence at AER, creating ACVREP, and professionalizing NCPABVI into VisionServe Alliance are all important reasons why David is so deserving of VisionServe’s Lifetime Achievement Award.  And also, how he took his agency the St. Louis Society for the Blind from a small little thing to a multi-million-dollar budget and one of the leading Low Vision Clinics in the country! 

AER- As the Treasurer Dave, negotiated with AFB to make JVIB an AER member benefit.

It was the AER Board that “invented” ACVREP – at the time, AER had a “certification” process that was so simple that it didn’t really verify expertise or knowledge. 

Dave was a big part of knowing that to make the World aware of our vision professionals and the services we provide, that there had to be a way to assure that World that vision rehabilitation therapists, O&Mers, and low vision therapists were deserving of respect and that was to test their knowledge.  ACREP was invented. 

Successes at the St. Louis Society for the Blind. 

. David has served on the Boards of MacMurray College, the National Vision Rehabilitation Network, the Academy for Certification of Vision Rehabilitation and Education Professionals, the National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving the Blind and Visually Impaired, the Association for Education & Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired, and as President of the VisionServe Alliance.

For 25 years, David Ekin led for this Society and for the blind and visually impaired individuals it serves. From 1994, when he originally was recruited, to the present, the Society has increased its services to its clients from $400,000 per year to over $2,000,000 per year. The Society now serves more than 1500 individuals with low-vision assistance through the Drews Low Vision Clinic, rehabilitation, mobility, technology, and other training that clients can access.

David’s commitment to the visually challenged began almost as soon as he left The Brown School of Social Work at Washington University in 1984. He immediately began his career at the Illinois School for the Visually Impaired while serving as an instructor in Social Work at MacMurray College. After briefly moving to Los Angeles to work for the Foundation for the Junior Blind, he was recruited back to St Louis to become the CEO of the Delta Gamma Center where he was able to improve the fiscal health of the organization and to incorporate community members into the governance structure.

In 1994, our Society for the Blind and Visually Impaired lured him away from Delta Gamma to become the tenth CEO of our organization and has now become our longest-serving director. In the past quarter-century, he has implemented school-age services to area school districts, developed a relationship with the university of Missouri St Louis School of Optometry to expand Low Vision Clinic services, overseen development and implantation of the first and subsequent Strategic Plans, implemented outcome measures for programs and services, hired the first Development Director to address the need for more diverse funding sources, assisted in implementation of a more robust grant writing program that has garnered increased funding for Society services, worked with the Board of Directors to implement a term limits policy, improved Board recruitment, and reduced the dollar amount used from investments for annual operating costs by finding other funding sources.

But it will be his relationships with all levels of partners in this enterprise that will be hard to duplicate. He has established rapport with clients, staff, Board, and donors – a difficult, if not impossible feat. His responsiveness to multiple challenges, from leaking rooves to unexpected bequests, from downturns in the market and reduction in the endowment to loss of personnel has been upbeat, friendly, and optimistic with solutions found. All for the sake of helping those with visual impairments!


Rod Haneline Receives Excellence in Managerial Leadership Award 2019

Nominated by Sue Daniels, Leader Dogs for the Blind

Rod Haneline receiving the Excellence in Managerial Leadership Award from John Mitchell, Sue Daniels , and Lee Nasehi at the 2019 Atlanta conference.

“It is with great pleasure that we, the chief executive officers of Leader Dogs for the Blind and Guiding Eyes for the Blind, recommend Rod M. Haneline, vice president and chief programs and services officer, of Leader Dogs for the Blind for a 2019 VisionServe Alliance Excellence in Leadership Award. Mr. Haneline’s four decade career at Leader Dog is marked with accomplishment at every level – including service to the local, state, national, and international community of practitioners and organizations working on behalf of people who are blind or visually impaired. He has proven to be an excellent teacher, mentor, and thought leader for the community of service providers working on behalf of those with visual and/or hearing impairments.

Mr. Haneline came to Leader Dog after service in the United States Air Force (USAF) as a canine handler with
Military Working Dogs (MWD). He worked diligently to obtain both his Guide Dog Mobility Instructor (GDMI) and Certified Orientation and Mobility Specialist (COMS) credentials. It was his unique dual-training and understanding of the skills required to be a successful guide dog user that helped him design, develop, and implement an accelerated orientation and mobility (O&M) program at Leader Dog in 2002. Combining O&M with guide dog training in the cadre of programs and services available set Leader Dog apart on an international stage and earned industry recognition with the 2012 Access Award from the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB). His ability to connect the essential orientation and mobility skills with guide dog work has allowed him to simultaneously navigate both arenas for the past two decades, where he has also connected research and practice. A highly adept presenter and collaborator, even colleagues like Steve La Grow, Professor in the School of Health and Social Services at Massey University take notice, “One of the truly unique things about Rod is that he is one of the very few senior administrators from the blindness field who regularly attends O&M and guide dog conferences, and when doing so, directly challenges those working in professional preparation programs to ensure that their programs are up to date and relevant to those who are actively conducting research to answer the questions of practical importance to those who are delivering services.”

Through Mr. Haneline’s leadership, and because of his visionary contributions to our organization, Leader Dog addresses both diverse and traditionally underserved clients. We were the first provider of services to clients who are Deaf-Blind in the Western Hemisphere and remain one of only two U.S.-based guide dog organizations offering GPS-aided wayfinding because of his vision. Leader Dog has advanced the spectrum of services available to people who are blind or visually impaired by utilizing Haneline’s passion and continuous exploration of emerging technologies. As noted by Dr. William M. Penrod, Associate Professor of Special Education at Northern Illinois University, bridging the gap between service needs and service delivery has always been Mr. Haneline’s strength, “One very important accomplishment that has always struck me as perhaps his most important contribution to the field. Historically, the most prominent dog guide schools did not adequately address the needs of those persons who are blind and multiply disabled, those that were Deaf-Blind and those persons who were adult, interested in acquiring a dog guide, but had not been taught the necessary requisite skills in orientation and mobility to make them eligible for a dog guide.”

Mr. Haneline greatly expanded his leadership role by developing and increasing opportunities for aspiring professionals in orientation and mobility and veterinary care. His vision for a fully funded internship was realized in 2011 when the Edward T. and Ellen K. Dryer Orientation and Mobility Internship Academy was endowed. Since then, 22 students have completed a 14-week paid internship, inclusive of room and board. Seventeen of the former interns are now professionals accredited and working at VisionServe Alliance members or partners, including Miguel Reyes, an orientation and mobility specialist, with the Blind & Vision
Rehabilitation Services of Pittsburgh, who participated in the Dryer Internship and learned directly from Rod Haneline and his team during the delivery of accelerated orientation and mobility services. As a cosigner, he supports the innovative approaches led by Haneline and dedication to client-centered service delivery.

Mr. Haneline also led the redesign of the apprenticeship program at Leader Dog, now in its fourth update, which will collaborate with Guide Dogs for the Blind to fill a critical human resource need in the field. Utilizing E-learning modules, accessible anywhere in the world by apprentices, it will set a new industry standard. Mr. Haneline also observed that GDMIs leave the industry because upward mobility and leadership roles are not readily available, so he created Senior-level and Master-level instructor opportunities. Senior and Master distinctions, along with a financial incentive upon completion, have helped increase retention of these team members and ensure 100% of apprentice instructors, and 98% of GDMIs are satisfied with employment at Leader Dog. Through his guidance, Leader Dog continues to operate one of the most respected veterinary externships hosting 10-15 externs annually during a three-week rotation. Externs have gone on to work at service dog organizations, with military and police dogs, at the USDA, and are in private practice.

Our nomination of Rod Haneline rests on the legacy of contributions he’s made, which demonstrate local, national, and international impact. Mr. Haneline will retire from Leader Dogs for the Blind effective July 2020, and his contributions are nothing short of remarkable. Resting at the heart of our industry is the ability to meet the client where they are. No leader in our field perhaps better understands this than Rod Haneline. We are humbled by his ability to sync and view individually O&M and guide dog programming, so that all clients may travel, and live, more independently. His efforts to innovatively program for new, and developing client needs, like using GPS, envisioning a devoted Deaf-Blind guide dog training, and emerging groups – like older clients, urban travelers, and college-bound students, have provided a roadmap for the industry. However, when we look forward, it is his leadership across a variety of fields, among the next generation of professionals, that sets him apart from his peers. “

Sue Daniels

President and CEO

Leader Dogs for the Blind


Mike Gilliam Awarded Excellence in Leadership 2019

Presented by Erika Petach, BVRS- Pittsburgh

Mike Gilliam accepting the Excellence in Leadership Award from Lee Nasehi, Erika Petach,and John Mitchell at the 2019 Atlanta conference.

“Not only has Mike achieved tremendous success for the San Antonio Lighthouse for the Blind (SALB) during his tenure as CEO. He has also been a significant contributor to the field and a mentor for new leadership.
In the 14 years that Mike has served as CEO of SALB he has created an environment where individuals with vision loss love to work. His organization has won the “best places to work” award seven times from several different local and state-wide journals and magazines. He creates an environment where all employees feel valued and equal. He regularly throws parties for his employees, holds contests, and brings in meals to show his appreciation.

Additionally, the Lighthouse has grown significantly during his tenure, winning the “Fastest growing Lighthouse in the Nation” award from National Industries for the Blind. When Mike first came to SALB they were serving just over 1 ,000 people per year and now they are serving over 9,500 individuals with vision loss per year. He has also hired over 500 individuals with vision impairments in his tenure at SALB.
Mike has also contributed significantly to the field through his involvement on the boards of National Industries for the Blind, the National Association for the Employment of People Who are Blind, and on SALB’s board prior to becoming its Chief Executive Officer. Mike has chaired numerous committees and is always willing to help on a sub-committee when a problem arises. He has led a committee to work on reciprocal purchasing between National Industries for the Blind and Source America. His focus is to increase internal purchasing that will create additional jobs for people who are blind and to show outsiders that organizations “practice what they preach” by purchasing from each other.
Additionally, he created a group of nonprofit organizations in San Antonio that work together to address issues in Texas using a “strength in numbers” approach.

Improve the lives of persons with vision loss and related disabilities by teaching independence and self-advocacy
Mike is friendly to everyone and is always willing to help someone who is new to learn the ropes. He is always sharing practices from his organization that can help other agencies to create new opportunities for those they serve. He is passionate about his work and this is evidenced in everything he does.
It is our pleasure to nominate Mike Gilliam for the Excellence in Leadership award.”


Sharon Giovinazzo Awarded Roxann Mayros Champion Award

Presented by Lauren Branch, NewView Oklahoma

Sharon Giovinazzo accepting the Roxann Mayros Champions Award from Lee Nasehi and Roxann Mayros at the 2019 Atlanta Conference

“I respectfully nominate Sharon Giovinazzo for this year’s Roxanne Mayros Champion Award.  I believe Sharon embodies the spirit of this award.  I have known Sharon since her days as an employee of Central Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired in Utica, New York and have watched the significant impact she has made across our field over the years.  There is no greater evidence of this than what she has accomplished in her current position as CEO of World Services for the Blind.

Sharon was hired as the CEO at a time when the viability of the organization was in question due to both financial issues and lack of stable leadership.  Sharon was the 5th CEO in a period of 4 years and took the position knowing that she was going to need to dig in and turn the organization around quickly or the organization would not survive.  Sharon recognized that failure was not an option and has worked to build a solid team, rebuilding WSB’s name and reputation as a leader in blindness services. She has developed national relationships that have allowed WSB to develop and adapt programs to better meet the needs of their clients, customers, and community. 

Today, 3 years later, WSB is growing and thriving under Sharon’s leadership.  Not only have they revamped their programs, developed new revenue streams, and increased services for people who are blind, they are also embarking on a capital campaign to renovate their facilities and are well on their way to meeting their goal.

In addition, Sharon has proactively worked to bring their programs to other areas of the country via collaborative relationships with other agencies such as NewView.  She has been willing to share their expertise and programming so that we can build and enhance our programs here in Oklahoma.  She is creative and innovative and continues to focus her efforts on doing everything in her power to improve the lives of all people who are blind one person at a time.”

Lauren Branch, President/CEO

NewView Oklahoma


Bryan Bashin Awarded Excellence in Leadership Award 2019

Present by Sassy Outwater-Wright, MAB Community Services

Bryan Bashin being presented with the Excellence in Leadership Award at the Atlanta conference 2019.
(Left) Lee Nasehi, Bryan Bashin, Sassy Outwater-Wright, and John Mitchell (right) presenting Bryan Bashin with the Excellence in Leadership Award at the Atlanta conference 2019.

“The leaders who effect the most transformative change are those who, by their example, support the work of those around them, encourage exploration, and invite in diverse voices and topics of inclusion before, not after, decisions are made.

I am a woman. I am a blind woman who is neurodivergent. I am an LGBTQ person. I grew up in an Arab-American household as a Muslim-American. I am a survivor of domestic violence and sexual assault. I wear all these labels concurrently and many others. I sit in a position of executive leadership at my organization. I am there because my board and my superiors believed in me and believed that lived experience and intersectionality are powerful leadership qualities for better serving our constituents. I got to my position because I watched and learned from another blind leader and drew strength and courage from watching his organization in action.

How often do we get to look up to the corner offices and see those like us, with all their identifiers, reflecting who we are and the barriers we face, living intersectionality alongside us every day? I spent a long time fearing that my lived experience as many intersecting things would keep me from leadership or wouldn’t make me into a good leader. I’d been through too much, I’d tell myself, intersectionality wasn’t a required skill on a cover letter or job application. Then I read about the programs and services at the lighthouse for the Blind of San Francisco, and I changed my mind, and saw myself as a leader, because someone far away who didn’t know me put in the work necessary to ensure people like me were included in their programs.

Bryan Bashin has led the Lighthouse for the blind of San Francisco California for the past nine years. Those VSA members who attended the New Orleans conference two years ago may remember pausing as a group to grieve with the absent Mr. Bashin as he led his organization through a tragic time: Enchanted Hills Camp, an iconic place in the blind community, burned in the California wildfires. The Lighthouse, under Bryan’s leadership,  has since begun to rebuild Enchanted Hills, ensuring that the new camp buildings are accessible to and inclusive of as many people as possible who need a beautiful, natural place to learn and retreat. In addition to this, Bryan has worked to ensure inclusion at every level of the lighthouse:

  • ind leadership  at lighthouse over  his  tenure has increased measurably.  Not only half the Board of Directors, but half of the c-suite are blind.  There are blind people working in nontraditional jobs, such as HR, janitor, and Development.
  • Largest-ever contingent of more than 100 in San Francisco’s Pride Parade
  • Camp counselors went from 17 sighted and 3 blind to 17 blind and 3 sighted.
  • No NIB employee earns less than $16.50 per hour to start.
  • Lighthouse serves  undocumented blind people with no questions asked.
  • The Holman Prize has been awarded to blind people on four continents of all backgrounds.

In the past 25 years, it is safe to say that if you are a blind person on this planet, you have been affected by Bryan’s work, commitment to this community, and leadership within it. Bryan’s is a quiet leadership committed to the civil and human rights of blind and visually impaired people all over the globe. He works most often behind the scenes in a style of leadership that supports those working alongside him; he brings people forward who do not otherwise have a voice in public policy, and brings organizations and people together to break down barriers and confront stigmas that have kept minority groups within the blindness community away from services they need.

I did not know Bryan personally when I interviewed to become the executive director of my organization. I only knew that Bryan’s org was one of the few–if not the only organization at that time in our community–creating programs and services to include sexual assault survivors, LGBTQ+ individuals,  and many others. I didn’t receive services from the Lighthouse, but knowing the work was being done was enough to give me hope. The Lighthouse’s programming gave me the courage to believe I had a place and a voice in the blindness community, that I had value and intrinsic worth to this community, and that I could do a lot to change things, and build the inclusive world I want to be a part of in my daily life as a director and as a person with disabilities. Knowing an organization had committed to serving people like me was enough to push me to step forward, say loudly to my company that I was qualified and could do this job, and they chose me to lead.

A good leader inspires by example and nothing else. Bryan’s commitment to letting his programs and the services of his organization speak for themselves sets a loud and clear directive to all of us leaders: we need to commit to this community as a whole, see more lived experience and intersectionality in leadership, and see more inclusive programming and services wherever we look. My hope is that Bryan’s work reminds all of us to ask who is not at our table and may that goad us each into building the programs and policies necessary to put them there and let them lead.”