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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.

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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.

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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! 

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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.

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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!

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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

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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.”

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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

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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.”