Meet Kevin O’Connor: VSA Executive Leadership Conference 2022 Master of Ceremonies!

Blue graphic with VSAELC logo that reads "Speaker Highlight: Kevin O'Connor." Beside is a photo of Kevin smiling at the camera.

Click here to listen to Kevin O’Connor on the Voices of Vision Leaders Podcast

Meet Kevin O’Connor, the Master of Ceremonies for our Executive Leadership Conference (VSAELC) 2022. Kevin is a professor at Loyola University in Chicago and a professional speaker specializing in nurse and physician leadership.

He has Master’s degrees in Education, Counseling Psychology, and Spirituality.

Close to Home

Kevin has been involved with the blind and visually impaired community since his son, now 33, was four months old. 

“We were sort of drafted into this blindness movement,” he said. “Since then, we’ve belonged to a club we never thought we would belong to.” 

He attributes much of his son’s development to the doctor and services they visited throughout his son’s youth, “It occurred to me how many people did not have those services.” 

Kevin was determined to give his son a life that wasn’t different from other children’s. When bringing him grocery shopping, he encouraged his son to bring his cane rather than hold his arm so that they could shop together. 

“I think it started to give him more confidence in his skills,” he said. Kevin’s son has since graduated with a double major from George Washington University and has worked in several leadership positions.

What to Expect

Kevin is no stranger to the Executive Leadership Conference, as he attended the virtual conference after the Covid-19 pandemic made it impossible to gather in person. He will be opening the conference at the reception on the first night and is excited to meet the guests. 

Kevin said that the conference is a place to learn more and lead better, not just by listening to the speakers but also by getting to know each other in the conference spaces.

“Our job in that very first time we’re together is to say, ‘Who can I meet?'” Kevin said. “Because they want to meet me too. We both have something we can exchange; we’re both on level ground with one another.” Hear more of Kevin’s discussion with VisionServe Alliance and what to expect at the conference on the newest episode of Voices of Vision Leaders.

VSA’s Executive Leadership Conference returns in person in beautiful Tampa this weekend! The 3-day event will offer opportunities to attend exceptional learning and networking sessions on topical issues, including specific learning tracks for CEOs, Programing, Fundraising/Administration, and Advocacy. 

Learn more about the #1 conference to advance your professional development, organizational effectiveness, and more.


Meet Gidget Hopf: A VSA Executive Leadership Conference 2022 Speaker

Blue graphic with VSAELC logo. Speaker Highlight: Gidget Hoph. Beside, Gidget smiles at the camera.

Meet Dr. Gidget Hopf, one of our inspiring speakers for our Executive Leadership Conference (VSAELC) 2022. Before retiring in 2020, Dr. Gidget Hopf served as President and CEO of Goodwill of the Finger Lakes for 34 years.

She earned her Ed.D. in Leadership and Organization Studies in 2005 from George Washington University and believes Executive Coaching is one of the most effective means for developing transformational leaders. She is an expert in board relations, having led local, state, and national boards.

She has an extensive history of working with individuals who are blind, have developmental disabilities, are victims of domestic abuse, and those who have been oppressed through systemic racism and social injustice.

Removing Barriers

Hopf graduated with a Bachelor of Science in speech pathology from Geneseo College in upstate New York and immediately began work with individuals with disabilities. Her relationship with the blind and visually impaired community grew stronger when in 1986 after she began as the CEO for Goodwill of the Finger Lakes and its affiliate, the Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired. She secured a major federal contract that created hundreds of jobs for individuals with visual impairments.

That was just the beginning, with many more contracts to follow, including producing products and services for the Coast Guard and Air Force and additional state and federal agencies.

Through all this, Hopf worked to implement many strategies that would allow individuals with visual impairments the same opportunities that presented themselves to others. However, she believes that many hiring managers are still unaware of what individuals who are blind are capable of and may assume it will be costly to accommodate them. “I believe that many barriers exist today within the broader community and private enterprise due to century’s old stereotypes that, while lessened, is still held by many hiring leaders.” She strongly believes that the way to overcome that barrier is with trust.

“Empower and trust your employees who are blind and let them lead the way.”

Dr. Gidget Hopf

One of Hopf’s most notable successes in creating upward mobility for individuals who were blind or visually impaired was developing a call center. What began as a two-person operation grew into a state-of-the-art 24-7 crisis and information contact center that employs over 100 people and serves over 100,000 individuals annually.

In 2020, Dr. Hopf received the R.B. Irwin Award, the highest honor from the National Industries for the Blind, “for her innovative work creating employment opportunities for people who are blind.”

Transformative Learning

At the Executive Leadership Conference, Hopf will present “How Executive Coaching Fosters Transformative Learning: Begin a New Leadership Journey,” an exclusive for CEOs. Her session will help leaders identify issues that impede their success and encourage applying meaning to those issues to reveal a path forward. With this transformative process, leaders will obtain a new understanding that will lead to new perspectives and action.

Join us in person in beautiful Tampa this spring! VSA invites industry professionals and leaders to provide service to or with people who are blind or have low vision to reflect on our industry’s impact on society and share ideas for a transformative future. The 3-day event will offer opportunities to attend exceptional learning and networking sessions on topical issues, including specific learning tracks for CEOs, Programing, Fundraising/Administration, and Advocacy. Attend the #1 conference to advance your professional development, organizational effectiveness, and more.


Meet Justice Shorter: A VSA Executive Leadership Conference 2022 Keynote Speaker

Blue graphic with VSAELC 2022 logo. It reads "Speaker Highlight: Justice Shorter." Beside is a picture of Justice wearing sunglasses and smiling at the camera.

Click here to listen to Justice Shorter on the Voices of Vision Leaders Podcast

Disclaimer: Justice spoke to us independent of any specific organizational affiliation. As such, all opinions and comments are her own.

Meet Justice Shorter, one of our inspiring keynote speakers for our Executive Leadership Conference (VSAELC) 2022. Justice is the National Disaster Protection Advisor for America’s Protection & Advocacy System as well as a global facilitator/trainer on issues related to fires, disasters, humanitarian crises and other emergencies.  

She is also a Disability Justice advocate, Black Disabled Lives Matter amplifier, and a national expert on disability-inclusive disaster protections. VisionServe Alliance recently sat down with Justice on a new episode of our podcast, Voices of Vision Leaders, to discuss her career and what she plans to bring to this year’s Executive Leadership Conference.

No Time to Waste

Justice began as a youth journalist in 2005, where she wrote on topics such as community development, humanitarian affairs, and youth empowerment. She received a B.A. in Journalism with a minor in Justice & Peace Studies from Marquette University. After that, Justice earned her M.A. in Sustainable Development and authored three inclusion guides for the U.S. State Department. She has interned within the White House Office of Public Engagement & Intergovernmental Affairs and produced multiple people-centered projects with various organizations.

Access to equity and justice, she says, is at the core of what she does, whether that is in the workplace, classroom, hospital, or courtroom. “No longer are folks asking, or even accepting, the premise that we should sit back and wait until it is our time.”

The Intersection of Justice

Justice’s work sits at the intersection of disaster, race, disability, and gender justice.

“They are inextricably linked,” she said. “You cannot have a conversation about disaster justice without also being inclusive of a disability justice perspective. Those who are most impacted by disasters and crises, more often than not, tend to be individuals with disabilities.”

She further states that these disasters also disproportionally affect minority populations, “People tend to cherry-pick what they focus on and push everything out as if we live single-issue lives, which we do not.”

Power Moves

At the Executive Leadership Conference, Justice will present her keynote, “Power Moves: Transforming Leadership by Centering Marginalized Communities.” which will expand on many topics she introduces in her episode of Voices of Vision Leaders. This immersive session will equip executive leaders with equitable strategies for recruiting and retaining more Black, Indigenous & Other People Of Color with disabilities. It will focus on issues at the intersection of Racial Justice, disability Justice, and Gender Justice.

Join us in person in beautiful Tampa this spring! VSA invites industry professionals and leaders to provide service to or with people who are blind or have low vision to reflect on our industry’s impact on society and share ideas for a transformative future. The 3-day event will offer opportunities to attend exceptional learning and networking sessions on topical issues, including specific learning tracks for CEOs, Programing, Fundraising/Administration, and Advocacy.

Attend the #1 conference to advance your professional development, organizational effectiveness, and more.


Meet Dana Draa: A VSA Executive Leadership Conference 2022 Speaker

Speaker Highlight for VSAELC 2022. Meet Dana Draa.

Meet Dana Draa, one of VSA’s inspiring speakers for our Executive Leadership Conference (VSAELC) 2022. Dana is the Chief Program Officer for Metrolina Association for the Blind, Inc. (MAB), which provides services for blind and visually impaired people in Charlotte, North Carolina. 

Her career in the blindness field has lasted almost two decades. It has included positions as a Visual Impairment Services Team Coordinator for the Department of Veteran Affairs, where she case managed for over 300 legally blind and visually impaired veterans. She was also an Assistive Technology Consultant for the NC Division of Services for the Blind. She had extensive experience using assistive technology to help individuals regain independence after losing vision. 

Expert in the Field 

Dana earned her Masters of Arts in Rehabilitation Counseling from the University of Arkansas and her Masters of Arts in Counseling with a focus on Orientation and Mobility for the Blind from Western Michigan University. She is also a Certified Rehabilitation Counselor, O&M Specialist, Certified Adaptive Sports Specialist, has a certificate in Applied Positive Psychology and is currently studying to be a Certified Meditation Instructor. She is a Veteran of Desert Storm/ Desert Shield, having served four years of active duty in the United States Navy and three years in the Alaska Army National Guard. 

After her service, Dana spent time helping her grandmother and step-grandfather, who lost his vision due to diabetes. She said, “I’d help him with his technology, and that was always fascinating for me.” 

She also volunteered as a reader for Services for the Blind in Florida while working towards her undergraduate degree in Criminal Justice at UCF.

Transcending Visual Art

Dana soon discovered how individuals with visual impairments wanted to participate in traditional activities, but due to accessibility limitations, that was not always a consideration. 

“I made it a mission to ensure that events I was planning be exclusively for individuals with vision loss or be as inclusive as possible,” she said. “Visual arts are just that. I started asking myself how we make them transcend vision alone and what can we learn from it?”

Dana learned and taught from these questions she asked herself. She taught how to describe ethnicity or color to someone who has never seen or “felt” visual art. 

“The more we understand each other’s perspectives, the more community building that is possible,” she said.

One piece of advice Dana offers to others is not to be afraid to express oneself in a way that feels natural. Additionally, she suggests reaching out to creatives and artists in your community to learn new ways to get innovative. Finally, she recommends reaching out to local vision loss rehabilitation organizations to find the right tools to make things happen. 

The Importance of Community 

At VSAELC, she will deliver “Art is for Everyone,” a how-to guide for partnering with local artists and community organizations to build relevant and innovative accessible art programming for your neighbors with vision loss. She will look at projects with the Bechtler Museum (No to Low Vision), Art Walks CLT, Van Gogh Immersive Experience, their impact, the nuts and bolts of how-to, and the importance of these opportunities for our communities in advancing equity. She will also emphasize the vital role AT plays in these ventures. 

Join us in person in beautiful Tampa this spring! VSA invites industry professionals and leaders to provide service to or with people who are blind or have low vision to reflect on our industry’s impact on society and share ideas for a transformative future. The 3-day event will offer opportunities to attend exceptional learning and networking sessions on topical issues, including specific learning tracks for CEOs, Programing, Fundraising/Administration, and Advocacy. 

Attend the #1 conference to advance your professional development, organizational effectiveness, and more. 


Meet John Samuel: A VSA Executive Leadership Conference 2022 Keynote Speaker

Blue graphic with VSAELC logo that reads "Speaker Highlight: John Samuel." Beside is a headshot photo of John smiling.

Click here to listen to John Samuel on the Voices of Vision Leaders Podcast

Meet John Samuel, one of our inspiring keynote speakers for our Executive Leadership Conference (VSAELC) 2022. John is the co-founder and CEO of Ablr 360, which assists companies in developing better inclusion strategies. Ablr focuses on removing barriers that have hindered people with disabilities from accessing education, retail, entertainment, and employment.  

VisionServe Alliance recently sat down with John on a new episode of our podcast, Voices of Vision Leaders, to discuss his plans to bring to this year’s Executive Leadership Conference.  

Early Struggles  

Much of what John Samuel and Ablr 360 work with is bringing assistive technology to employers and employees to reduce the effect that visual impairment can have in the workplace. John himself was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, a rare degenerative eye disease in college.  

“I was embarrassed and ashamed to tell people that I lost my sight,” he said. “I kept it a secret.”  

After college, John traveled the globe, not to seek thrill and adventure but to seek a sense of belonging. He said he went around the globe because he was running away from telling people and trying to find workarounds. 

While his early career in the US left him unable to build the team he was looking for, he found immediate success in his travels.  

“To me, it was a necessity. I went to India because I knew I could get a car and driver for pretty cheap. I moved to New York City because of the public transportation. I moved to Africa because it gave me the opportunity to build a team around me.”  

Through the years, John became aware of more assistive technology that could help him expand his personal and business ventures and wanted to take that technology and inclusion to new heights.  

The Future is Limitless  

For John, he says assistive technology is life-changing but still has a way to go. “I think about AI (artificial intelligence),” he said. “Those technologies can be beneficial for us, but we also have to be careful about the replacement with AI of digital accessibility on a website.”  

John said people with disabilities have unique problem-solving skills and that Ablr is in the business of using technology to augment that. “The future is limitless for us,” he said.  

Belonging in a Diverse World  

At the Executive Leadership Conference, John will present his keynote, “The Idea of Belonging in a Diverse World,” which will expand on many topics he introduces in his episode of Voices of Vision Leaders. He will speak on diversity, equity, and inclusion and tell why it is more than race and gender. The audience will leave with an understanding of digital accessibility, its importance, and why proximity builds empathy.  

Join us in person in beautiful Tampa this spring! VSA invites industry professionals and leaders to provide service to or with people who are blind or have low vision to reflect on our industry’s impact on society and share ideas for a transformative future. The 3-day event will offer opportunities to attend exceptional learning and networking sessions on topical issues, including specific learning tracks for CEOs, Programing, Fundraising/Administration, and Advocacy.  

Attend the #1 conference to advance your professional development, organizational effectiveness, and more.


Voice of Vision Leaders: Hall of Fame 2022

Listen to the Voice of Vision Leaders Hall of Fame Podcast

Voices of Vision Leaders is back with former and current board members of the Hall of Fame of Leaders and Legends in the Blindness Field. Bill Weiner, Jim Deremeik, and Mark Richert discuss the history and importance of the Hall of Fame, as well as how to nominate for this year’s inductees. Learn more about the Hall of Fame.

Thank you to Bill, Jim, and Mark for speaking on the history of this Hall of Fame and the legacy of the remarkable legends who have been inducted. If you would like to nominate an individual for the Hall of Fame, go to

About Voice of Vision Leaders Podcast

Please tune in to Lee Nasehi and the staff of VisionServe Alliance as they speak with leaders in the field of blindness and visual impairment on a range of topics affecting the field, such as networking and collaboration, public policy, accessibility technology, leadership development, and much more. Executives from around the country join us to hear what they are doing to improve the lives of people living with blindness and low vision.

Operated and supported by VisionServe Alliance


Meet Sherry Walker-Cowart: A VSA Executive Leadership Conference 2022 Keynote Speaker

Blue graphic with VSAELC's logo. It reads, "Speaker Highlight: Sherry Walker-Cowart" beside a picture of her smiling.

Meet Sherry Walker-Cowart, one of our inspiring keynote speakers for our Executive Leadership Conference (VSAELC) 2022. Sherry is the Senior Consultant for Ramerman Leadership Group, a team of certified professional consultants and coaches who provide leadership development and executive coaching for CEOs, executives, teams, and organizations.

Her career in leadership positions has lasted over 25 years. She has served as President and CEO of the Center for Dispute Settlement and the Community Place of Greater Rochester. She believes in the importance of continuous education and professional development and considers herself a servant/transformational leader.

Creating a Vision for Success

“Leadership is determined by insight and envisioning, not limited by eyesight.”

Sherry Walker-Cowart

Sherry’s relationship with the blind/visually impaired community started decades ago through a collaborative partnership. “As the CEO of a not-for-profit agency, we often hired individuals who were supported by our local Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired (ABVI),” she says. “Throughout the years, ABVI would become our go-to agency for ordering lunches for board meetings, staff retreats, and other small or large gatherings.”

She knew firsthand the capabilities of those with visual impairments as she watched her grandson grow up. “He was born blind in one eye,” she tells us. She admits that she unintentionally displayed ableism and often became overly protective but soon learned that his visual impairment was in no way limiting to the vision he had for his life. “He told me he discovered what he could do well and excelled in those areas. In his 20s, he is a successful engineer.”

A Career of Service

Sherry has master’s degrees from both SUNY Brockport and Keuka College and has spent much of her time since graduation dedicated to addressing social justice issues. She combines that knowledge with her experience in diversity, equity, and inclusion to discuss the link between them.

“Ableism and prejudice are two sides of the same coin. The focus of social justice is wealth, health, opportunity, and privilege. The link is access. Equitable access from every angle must be considered and addressed at first thought, inclusive of members from the focus communities.”

For employers with a workforce of visually impaired individuals, Sherry says to think success. “Ensure workers have all the tools they need to be successful in the position. Model the way and demonstrate the belief you have in the workforce. Institute accessible ways of giving and receiving feedback from the workforce. Based on the feedback, pivot if necessary. Know their name and work with everyone to support their vision for growth in the organization and personally.”

During her keynote, “The Importance of Envisioning a Clear Mission,” Sherry will expand further on these topics, which she breaks down into Noticing, Struggling, and Envisioning. 

Join us in person in beautiful Tampa this spring! VSA invites industry professionals and leaders involved in providing service to or with people who are blind or have low vision to reflect on our industry’s impact on society and share ideas for a transformative future. The 3-day event will offer opportunities to attend exceptional learning and networking sessions on topical issues, including specific learning tracks for CEOs, Programing, Fundraising/Administration, and Advocacy.

Attend the #1 conference to advance your professional development, organizational effectiveness, and more.


5 Reasons to Attend the VisionServe Alliance Executive Leadership Conference

Teal graphic that reads "5 Reasons to Attend the VisionServe Alliance Executive Leadership Conference"

The 2022 VisionServe Alliance Executive Leadership Conference is just a few months away! To prepare those registered and encourage those who have yet to sign up, here are 5 reasons this conference is not one to be missed!

In-Person Networking Opportunities

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Photo credit to Unsplash

It’s been almost three years since our last in-person conference. We know everyone is tired of virtual meetings, so it is time to un-mute and get back to reality. Our Executive Leadership Conference provides attendees with opportunities to network face-to-face and make new connections with leaders and professionals active in our field! If you’ve been wanting to travel again, this is the perfect moment!

Exciting Events

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Our agenda is packed with timely topics for all. Among them are 21 presentations by 30 speakers spanning from leadership and program development, public policy, employment, as well as CEO exclusives! Our speakers will include:

  • Sherry Walker-Cowart:  Senior Consultant, Ramerman Leadership Group
  • A. Gidget Hopf, Ed.D:  Retired President and CEO Goodwill of the Finger Lakes
  • Mary Pat Knight:  CEO & Founder Leaders Inspired
  • Justice Shorter: Disability Justice Advocate and Black Disabled Lives Matter Amplifier
  • And many more!

Come for the Conference, Stay for the Weather

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Tampa is the perfect getaway! While learning and networking, you can experience and explore all that Tampa has to offer. With bright, sunny weather year-round, add an extra day to enjoy the many relaxing options for some much-needed R&R.

CEU Credits

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Our conference offers the opportunity to achieve Continued Education Unit credits for those who are seeking them! If you need to earn CEUs to maintain a license or certification, what better occasion than the VSAELC?

Replay and Review

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After participating in our event, every attendee will gain access to recordings of key sessions, on-demand content, exhibitor booths, and more!

So, what are you waiting for? Come join us April 3 through April 6 for VSAELC 2022!


Cleanlogic’s Inspiration Foundation Supports 4 VSA Members Through Assistive Technology Grants

Inspiration Foundation and Cleanlogic logo

The Inspiration Foundation awarded 4 VisionServe Alliance members Assistive Technology Grants of up to $1,500 to help them keep their technology classrooms and remote training sessions up to date. The recipients used this funding to purchase various equipment, including braille displays, braille printers, a new laptop, phones for training, air pods, ear pods, headsets, Fusion software, tablets, handheld electronic magnifiers more.

The Inspiration Foundation (a philanthropic division of Cleanlogic, a company offering quality bath and body accessories) created these grants to help nonprofit organizations purchase assistive technology equipment. The founder of Cleanlogic was inspired by his mom, who lost her sight when she was 7, but never let it stop her. She became a passionate advocate through her hard work, helping other blind and visually impaired individuals gain employment. The Inspiration Foundation’s Board believes that successful job placement and retention depend on strong technical skills and technology augmentation of independent living skills.

VisionServe Alliance heartily thanks the Inspiration Foundation and Cleanlogic for their support!

2021 Assistive Technology Grant Recipients: 

Florida Center for the Blind: Ocala, Florida

Valley Center for the Blind: Fresno, California

In-Sight: Warwick, Rhode Island

Wisconsin Council of the BVI: Madison, Wisconsin

A women in black clothing with blonde hair helping another woman in pink utilize ZOOM Tech.
A volunteer with ABVI receiving training on Fusion JAWS and ZOOM Tech software
Image Description 1: A woman smiling with headphones in her ears. She is working in PowerPoint. Image Description: A women smiling while on Zoom call. She is using assistive technology.
“Receiving this grant and purchasing this equipment has greatly improved the quality of our virtual programs. Prior to COVID all of our training was done in-person and so we had very little equipment for use when we had to transition to virtual programming. This equipment has enhanced the comfort of our staff, improved audio quality, and demonstrates to the training participants how their investment in similar equipment can also improve their experience.” – Chris Butler, Executive Director, In-Sight.

Meet Mary Pat Knight: A VSA Executive Leadership Conference 2022 Keynote Speaker

Meet Mary Pat Knight, one of our inspiring keynote speakers for our Executive Leadership Conference (VSAELC) 2022. Mary Pat is the CEO and Founder of Leaders Inspired, a global training and development firm dedicated to personal and leadership transformation. 

Her career in leadership positions has lasted over 30 years in many fields, including marketing planning, executive coaching, and much more. She believes in the importance of showing one’s true self to build strong relationships between leaders and those they lead.

A Leadership Book Worth Reading

During her keynote, Mary Pat will discuss her book, “The Humanized Leader.” She details her method of training and mentoring corporate leaders on improving their emotional intelligence to become more effective leaders. With this program, she has helped transform teams and improve the performance of corporate executives for organizations such as BP, the US Marines, MasterCard, and many more. 

“Mary Pat Knight is a leader who cares deeply, not only about the success of the organization, but also about the individual people who drive the organization.” Testimonial from Kate Leth, PHR President, Inspired Consulting

Other Leadership Tools

Later in the conference, she will speak as an exclusive to CEOs and address Phase IV of her operating system, Genius Leadership, to upgrade leadership skills and perspectives. If practiced correctly, it will teach how to recognize the genius in yourself and cultivate it in others. Learn more about Mary Pat Knight.

Likewise, Mary Pat looks forward to being able to form a deeper understanding and relationship with the visually impaired community. She encourages individuals with visual impairments to channel their mindset to motivate, inspire, direct, and remain people-focused, which she believes is the key to leadership. While she cannot yet speak to the technical aspects that relate directly to visual impairment, she promises the practices and leadership skill sets in her book transcend any form of community alignment. Additionally, an accessible form of the book is set to be released before the conference.

Join us in person in beautiful Tampa this spring! VSA invites industry professionals and leaders involved in providing service to or with people who are blind or have low vision to reflect on the impact our industry has on society and share ideas for a transformative future. The 4-day event will offer opportunities to attend exceptional learning and networking sessions on topical issues, including specific learning sessions for CEOs, Program, and Administrative staff.

Attend the #1 conference to advance your professional development, organizational effectiveness, and more. Learn more about the VSAELC 2022.

Blog News

VSA Collects Membership Data For Better Insight

VSA Collects Membership Data For Better Insight

VisionServe Alliance is helping to bridge the gap in data available in our field. Starting in 2022, VSA will ask members to submit an annual report on the services they provide and other data points to help clarify the services and makeup of our field. The data will focus on vision rehab services, the demographics being served, how these services are funded, and more.

The purpose of this annual report is to gather information from all VisionServe Alliance member organizations so that we have information each organization can use to their benefit. For example, our member organizations may wish to know:

  • How many people are served each year by VSA members, and in what way
  • How the number and types of programs offered by your organization compare to other organizations with similar sized staff and budgets.
  • What revenue sources or funding is obtained from by organizations in your geographic area.

Completion of this form is voluntary but highly encouraged. 

VSA has contracted with Dr. L. Penny Rosenblum to assist with this project. Dr. Rosenblum has more than 35 years of experience in the field of visual impairment as a teacher of students with visual impairments, university faculty member, and researcher. Recently she made the decision to focus full-time on her consulting business, Vision for Independence, LLC.

Penny brings a lot to this project with both her personal experience as an individual with low vision and her wealth of professional knowledge. She is a creative thinker who has a keen eye for designing research tools that we believe will help VSA collect data and, more importantly, present the aggregated data in a report that our member organizations will find valuable. The VSA team appreciates her efficiency, candor, and robust skillset. We look forward to continued work with her as this project moves forward.

Penny Rosenblum
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.

Public policy banner

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.