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Topic: Board meeting 9/29/20
Time: Sep 29, 2020 11:30 AM Central Time (US and Canada)

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9.29.20 BOD Agenda

Committee Reports & Documents:


There is an urgent issue brought to our attention by the Blinded Veterans Association (BVA) for the American people to respond to BEFORE July 4th to help pass legislation that supports independence for our nation’s veterans.

Visit the BVA website and Click here to take action.

“Blinded Veterans Association requests that Congressional leadership place H.R. 3504, S. 3587, and H.R. 4920 on the calendar prior to July 4 to honor our nation’s blinded veterans in their pursuit to regain independence. These bipartisan bills will dramatically improve the lives of our visually impaired veterans and BVA urges Congress to act swiftly in pushing these bills on to the White House. This legislation will:

  1. Allow blinded veterans to regain their independence by granting access to VA’s Specially Adapted Housing (SAH) program. H.R. 3504 would ensure that service-connected blinded veterans are eligible to adapt their homes with the technology needed for independent living.
  2. Allow blinded veterans and blinded employees to access critical information within Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) systems. S. 3587 (which amended H.R. 1199) will compel VA’s compliance with the Rehabilitation Act, as well as require reporting on progress, ensuring that disabled veterans are able to utilize these websites independently.
  3. Allows blinded veterans the freedom to secure meaningful employment opportunities with H.R. 4920 and the AbilityOne contracting program. AbilityOne companies employ blinded and visually impaired veterans, a population with one of the highest unemployment rates in the country. Ensuring that VA continues to contract these companies will safeguard crucial employment opportunities for this vulnerable population.”

“Each one of these bipartisan measures has already cleared every hurdle in the House and Senate. The next step, and the final one, is to place it on the House calendar so that representatives can unanimously consent. We urge Congress to take the final step and add these vital pieces of legislation to the calendar today. Together, we can truly celebrate Independence Day!”

Time: Jun 30, 2020 11:30 AM Central Time (US and Canada)
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5 minute summary of data

This session is a panel discussion of the preliminary findings of the Flatten Inaccessibility study, which investigated the impact of COVID-19 on US adults who are blind or have low vision. The survey was completed by 1,921 individuals and covered technology, healthcare, transportation, employment, education, social experiences, voting, and access to meals, food and supplies.

The researchers highlight some of the study findings and discuss how we can use data from this study to chart a road map to ensure those with vision loss are fully included in the response to COVID-19 and future challenging situations.

To learn more about the study, visit FlattenInaccessibility.com.

ITEM logo

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. VSA recently joined the coalition to support its advocacy for Medicare coverage of low vision aids and devices. ITEM is developing strategies to convince the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to rescind its existing “low vision aid exclusion which is based on the exemption of coverage for eyeglasses.” Because of this restrictive interpretation of the “eyeglass exemption” in the Medicare statute, Medicare beneficiaries are often unable to access critical assistive technologies that have lenses such as high-power magnifiers and other visual aids. Yet, these tools are often essential for individuals with low vision to read prescriptions, financial documents, mail, recipes, and other important health-related materials. We’ll keep you posted on this important effort. Information about the ITEM Coalition.
VSA has also endorsed the Medicare Demonstration of Coverage for Low Vision Devices Act, H.R.4129. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Maloney (D-NY) and Bilirakis (R-FL), would evaluate the feasibility and cost of providing Medicare coverage for low vision technologies. The project would last for five years and a prescription from an ophthalmologist or optometrist would be required.

VisionServe Alliance LINKS Newsletter (Text Only) SPRING 2020 – Issue 1   Links – Learning, Innovation, Networking, Knowledge, Sharing

Editor’s Note: We realize many changes have occurred in the last month in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Jane was originally scheduled to present one of our keynote sessions at the cancelled CEO Summit this April, so this cover article was to help us prepare for her session. But we felt there is still useful information here, so we decided to go ahead and share it with you. Watch for additional sharing of content from our featured CEO Summit presenters in the coming months.   Keynote Speaker Spotlight with Jane Wei-Skillern Q: Why is collaboration an important business strategy for nonprofits today? A: Collaboration has always been important for organizations of all types.  Virtually every significant advance that has ever been achieved by humankind has required trust-based collaboration among individuals and organizations. Today, collaborations have become even more important as the social and environmental challenges that humanity faces continue to increase in scale and complexity. No matter how well established or how well resourced, all organizations are dwarfed by the scale of the mission they seek to serve. At the same time, the proliferation of social impact organizations and shifts in traditional funding sources for nonprofits has dramatically increased competition in the nonprofit sector. Nonprofits need to do more with less and must more clearly demonstrate their ability to deliver on mission impact. From what I have learned in my research, collaborative approaches are the most effective way to build community, increase productivity/problem solving capacity, and develop leveraged and scalable programs and services to serve community needs. I have become so convinced of the power of collaborative networks that I have made it my own life’s work to focus on promoting and supporting this approach in the social sector. Q: In your opinion what are the biggest impediments for creating successful collaborations in the nonprofit sector? A: By far, the biggest challenges lie in the culture and the mindset of the philanthropic sector. While there are countless well intended, dedicated, and talented leaders working tirelessly to make a difference in the world, it is a fallacy to think that any single organization, institution, or even sector, can successfully go it alone. Yet, to collaborate effectively requires a different mindset and set of norms that in turn influence behavior. Currently, there is a tendency in the field to focus on organization success as the primary means for achieving mission impact above all else. Consequently, building collaborations and networks are not always integral to organizational strategy. Furthermore, top down controls and narrowly defined performance metrics are often linear, when the nature of the work and the mission is complex and requires flexible and collaborative solutions. There are countless passionate leaders who are not given the opportunity and support for learning and collaborating. This requires deep trust and investment in relationships not only among grantees, but also between funders and their grantees. Finally, the highly competitive environment that nonprofits operate in pushes leaders to focus more on self-promotion rather than the humility required to listen, learn, and build community with others. As long as the norms that dominate in the social sector continue to emphasize organization level success, top down controls, and competition and self-promotion above mission impact, trust, and humility, respectively, transformational collaborative approaches will likely still be the exception rather than the norm in the social sector.  My hope is that we can change the world by raising awareness of the tremendous opportunity for impact through networks and supporting all leaders, whether funders, board members, or nonprofit leaders directly in the field to work through networks. Q: How can our attendees best prepare to absorb your session on Network Leadership at the CEO Summit? A: I would say that attendees should come with an open mind and be ready to engage openly and authentically with colleagues. Consider not only what you might ask for help and collaboration on, but also what you might offer to support others to advance a shared mission. My session will introduce concrete tools for building networks successfully and include interactive exercises to practice applying these tools to current challenges.   Because collaborative approaches require a shift in culture and a different mindset, I would strongly recommend that attendees bring a colleague to join them. It is helpful to learn and practice this approach with a trusted colleague and then bring these ideas back to the organization as a team.

Chairman’s Message John Mitchell, President/CEO of Cincinnati Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired. john.mitchell@cincyblind.org Things are changing daily as we were going to press with this issue, so forgive me if this is out of date by the time you read it. I can only imagine the kinds of challenges you and your agency are currently facing. I know my own are quite daunting, but I want you to know we haven’t forgotten about you. Although our 5th Annual CEO Summit has been cancelled for this year, the themes that were on the agenda are more important than ever. Our Summit’s overall theme was to be Collaboration with our keynote speaker, Jane Wei-Skillern author and co-author of dozens of Harvard Business School and Haas UC Berkeley case studies and journal articles. She is the lead author of the casebook Entrepreneurship in the Social Sector. It’s still important for us to share examples of successful collaboration models that VSA members have put into place. As we all know, collaboration is a must in today’s world, and we will need each other’s support to get through these challenging times.  Diversity in the workplace was the other key issue that we were going to deal with at the Summit. It’s still important for the organizations that we lead to champion this with both our Boards and employees. At CABVI (the agency I lead), we have implemented several initiatives in this area in recent years to have an intentional on-going focus as we strive to increase our diversity. We’ve also implemented required Diversity Training for all our employees as we work to improve CABVI’s culture and strengthen our active inclusion of everyone. Stay safe everyone. Hope you enjoy this issue of LINKS and find the information that Lee and Wendy have put together for us helpful. Thank you for being a member of VisionServe Alliance .

CEO Corner Lee Nasehi, President & CEO, VisionServe Alliance, St. Louis, MO. leen@visionservealliance.org Dear Friends, As of this writing, we are facing significant unknowns that could impact us all. Leadership demands that we remain calm, make the best plans possible under the circumstances and be prepared to pivot as we learn more. The theme of the conference we cancelled, Collaboration and Soar, remains relevant, in fact it is VSA’s primary strategy for the next few years. We believe everything we do throughout our field can be more successful, more impactful, more sustainable when we work together focused on the mission rather than individual goals and objectives and organizational roles. While every step towards real collaboration is valuable, it is more than combining events, sharing staff or occasional joint planning. It can take root among healthy teams described by VSA’s core value of exceptional leadership. It will be built upon a foundation of equity, diversity and inclusion. And it will thrive in cultures of trust, transparency and investment in a common mission. What can we accomplish together once we all embrace the principles and practices of “networking leadership”? I invite you to join your fellow leaders in VisionServe Alliance and find out . . .

2020 Board of Directors Chair: John Mitchell, Cincinnati Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired          Vice Chair: Bernadette Kappen, New York Institute for Special Education    Secretary: Mike McGowan, NOAH Treasurer: Lauren Branch, NewView Oklahoma         Immediate Past Chair: Miki Jordan, Wayfinder Family Services           Joe Bogart, Blinded Veterans Association Lee Nasehi, VisionServe Alliance David Morgan, Future In Sight Libby Murphy, Louisiana Association for the Blind Courtney Plotner, Association for the Blind & Visually Impaired, Charleston Erika Petach, Blind and Vision Rehab Services of Pittsburgh Shari Roeseler, Society for the Blind-Sacramento Dennis Steiner, VisionCorps Renee Vidrine, Lighthouse Louisiana Ken Warkentin, Valley Center for the Blind Welcome to new Board Member, Courtney Plotner, CEO, Assoc. f/t Blind and Visually Impaired, South Carolina.

What’s New at VSA Voices of Vision Leaders Podcast Launched! Tune in to Lee Nasehi as she speaks 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. She is joined by executives from around the country to hear what they are doing to improve the lives of people living with blindness and low vision. To Listen to the VVL Podcasts,Visit: https://bit.ly/VVLPodcast 
Or Search “Voices of Vision Leaders” available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, TuneIn, Anchor, and many more.   VSA 2020 Academic Scholarship Application Open VisionServe Alliance offers an Academic Scholarship each year to assist members and staff in the field to continue their education to better serve their local population. This scholarship is for members and staff seeking a degree or certification that serves people who are blind and visually impaired. Scholarships will be awarded to an applicant who meets all requirements and is deemed most deserving. Applications for the 2020 year are now begin accepted and will be reviewed month by month until all funds have been awarded so get your application in now. For details on how to apply, visit our website at https://bit.ly/VSAscholarships    Compensation & Benefits Survey Now Open  In partnership with NIB and NAEPB, the 2020 Compensation & Benefits Survey is ready for you to complete. By participating, you will contribute to the comprehensive survey results that will help you to make key hiring and employment decisions during these difficult economic times and have access to information that can be used to save money on salary and benefits costs. Also, by participating in this survey, you are helping to establish important trend data that over time will show changes in salaries, staffing levels, benefits costs, and more. Your online response will be submitted directly to our survey and all data is held in strictest confidence and is reviewed only by the survey consultant. Results will be reported in the aggregate so that no survey information can be traced to any specific organization. The deadline to submit your data has been extended to Friday, May 8th. Submit your data by the deadline and you will receive a copy of the final report FREE. If you choose not to answer the survey, but wish for an individualized report later, members of VisionServe Alliance, NIB and NAEPB can purchase a reduced rate copy for $275 as a member benefit. Since organizations from across the country will be participating in this survey, the data published in your copy of the final report will be customized to labor statistics for your geographic location. VSA suggests forwarding the survey link to an HR manager to fill out due to the length of the survey and details required. To learn more and get your copy of the survey, see your inbox for the latest Compensation Benefits Survey email (latest sent 3/7/20). Here is the link to the survey: https://bit.ly/VSAcompensationsurvey
  EOS Consulting Offered to Members VisionServe Alliance is embracing EOS (Entrepreneurial Operating System). Not only has VSA implemented EOS internally, Lee has continued to offer member organizations EOS implementation services. Lee offers these services exclusively to VSA members at a discounted rate.  Lee’s professional experience as the chief executive of a comprehensive Lighthouse for 20 years that implemented EOS distinguishes her expertise from other EOS Implementors and makes it incredibly valuable for VSA members. NewView Oklahoma recently completed the EOS implementation journey and continues to use this valuable operating system as its organizational backbone. ABVI South Carolina is nearing the end of their implementation journey and has made tremendous progress towards their organizational goals using the system. VIA, formerly Olmsted Center for Sight in Buffalo, is the newest member of the EOS family having begun implementation in February. ACB will begin its journey in April. And three additional members are considering implementation this year.  Get a grip on your business and gain real traction! As Lee can only work with a limited number of organizations each year, there are very spots left. If you are interested in learning more, reach out to Lee to schedule a no obligation 90-Minute Exploratory Meeting. We realize it may be even more challenging to consider taking on something like this in the midst of the COVID-19 Crisis. However, having an operating system can bring order in chaos and provide some stabilization to an ever-changing situation. If you are interested, VSA may be able to offer special pricing, payment plans or defer session invoices. PHOTO: Lee Nasehi implementing EOS with the executive team at VIA in Buffalo, NY

CEO Summit Postponed until Spring 2021 Dear CEO Summit Attendees, Given the increasing concerns about COVID-19, along with the recent news from the World Health Organization declaring the outbreak officially a pandemic, to help protect the health and safety of our members, speakers, partners, VisionServe Alliance’s Board of Directors has agreed to cancel the 2020 CEO Summit. The good news is we were able to rebook the CEO Summit in Albuquerque, NM at Hotel Chaco in Spring 2021. We have tentatively booked April 27 – May 1, 2021 with Hotel Chaco, so please mark your calendar. This was a difficult decision for our organization, but ultimately the VSA Board of Directors is taking this extraordinary step to help protect the safety and well-being of our attendees, exhibitors and all participants from the coronavirus. We know many of you were looking forward to the great networking opportunities provided by our CEO Summit, so we are planning some online opportunities for you to connect and share information with our community of members in the coming weeks. We are currently discussing with our speakers and presenters whether they can share their presentations through a webinar in the coming weeks. We have also started a digital forum through Groups.io for you to share resources and questions with each other. The link was shared with you via email on 3/17. Thank you to all our members and partners for their support, open discussions and encouragement during this time. We know you are all busy dealing with this crisis at your own organizations too. Thomas Panek of Guiding Eyes has shared on important document detailing resources for guide dog users affected by COVID-19. If any of you are interested in crisis plans, let us know as several other member CEO’s have already shared theirs with us. As everyone has been reminding us, great things happen when the community comes together. We understand there will be a lot of questions and concerns following this announcement. We are taking the following immediate actions: • There are three choices as to how you can direct us to treat your registration fee: 1.) Donate your CEO Summit registration fees. If you like, we will gladly provide a letter stating the amount of your donation for IRS purposes. 2.) Let us transfer your registration towards our upcoming Executive Leadership Conference in Tampa, FL Nov. 1 – 4. When you do this, you save money for your organization too by avoiding paying the Eventbrite processing fees a second time or 3.) request a refund. Please email wendy@visionservealliance.org to let us know your preference by April 3rd • For Sponsors, we would like to transfer your sponsorship to our fall Executive Leadership Conference in Tampa. If you have any concerns with this, please contact Wendy Hymes at wendy@visionservealliance.org For questions and concerns, please contact info@visionservealliance.org and visit https://visionservealliance.org/conferences/  We are aiming to answer your queries within 48 hours but due to a high volume of emails, please expect a slight delay in reply. We thank you in advance for your patience.

Thank you for your continued support as we all navigate this unprecedented situation and we look forward to seeing you at a future conference. Best Regards, Lee Nasehi

Remote Learning Opportunities will continue – Watch for upcoming webinars to share some of our CEO Summit presenters in the coming month. Also details of our rescheduled CEO Summit will be posted on our conference page: www.visionservealliance.org/conferences/

New Collaborations Establishment of a New Public Policy Committee Attendees at the VisionServe Alliance 2019 Fall Executive Leadership Conference gave VSA a strong mandate for the organization to take a leadership role in public policy on the national level.  Thus, the creation of the VSA Public Policy Committee. This is an extraordinary opportunity to bring together the many organizations that serve people who are visually impaired to create a national public policy platform. VisionServe is uniquely positioned to help that platform coalesce, given the many different voices represented in our membership. Moving forward, YOUR help is essential as we establish a collective vision for public policies that will improve education, training, employment, and life opportunities for people of all ages who are visually impaired. Stay tuned for developments as they occur!   PHOTO: Pictured here are Libby Murphy, chair of the newly formed Public Policy Committee with Lee Nashi, President/CEO of VisionServe Alliance.   Future Conferences & Collaborations We are exploring the feasibility and benefits of combining future (2021 and beyond) fall Executive Leadership Conferences with the conferences of other national organization members. We are also collecting examples of successful collaboration from our members, so email us. Here’s a great example of the kind of model collaborations we’d love to hear about from our very own “Queen of Collaboration” Sharon Giovinazzo:   World Services for the Blind (WSB) and Computers for the Blind (CFTB) have joined forces to support each other’s missions. WSB is utilizing trainees from their Assistive Technology Instructor (ATI) program to deliver computer training to the clients of CFTB. This is truly a synergistic collaboration between two organizations. As a VisionServe Alliance member agency, WSB’s CEO Sharon Giovinazzo states: “Collaboration is in the very DNA of the VSA agencies and working together makes us all stronger”. The mission of Computers for the Blind is to open the world of information technology to persons who are blind or visually impaired by providing computer equipment, software and training; and they do this for a cost to the client of only $130 for a desktop, and $185 for a laptop, with all the adaptive technology software included. For more information, contact Christy Householter at chouseholter@computersfortheblind.org     PHOTO: Pictured here is a WSB computer technician.   MEMBER SPOTLIGHT Libby Murphy, LAB (Louisiana Association for the Blind)   www.lablind.com 1. What do you do in your down time? Read or spend time wandering through woods and pastures. 2. What are you reading, watching and/or listening to? I am fascinated by our planet as an ever-evolving geological entity, so currently I’m reading “Cascadia’s Fault”, by Jerry Thompson. 3. What is your best guilty pleasure? Piling up on the couch with my dogs on a Saturday or Sunday for hours to watch ridiculous “no brain cells required” shows while playing Words with Friends. 4. Tell us about one item on your bucket list. Ha. A bucket list is not for me … just live a no-regrets life. 5. The best advice I ever got… Anything my grandmother ever said.  Also, “If someone offers you an amazing opportunity and you’re not sure you can do it, say yes – then learn how to do it later” (Richard Branson). 6. My best childhood memory is… So many to choose from. But I think it is the hours of total freedom wandering through the woods and pastures of Bienville Parish. 7. What do you want to be when you grow up? Now and when I grow up, I want to be the person my dogs think I am.   FUTURE CONFERENCES – SAVE THE DATES!

Postponed ‘till 2021:
Tentative dates are April 27 – May 1, 2021. 5th Annual CEO Summit | Albuquerque, NM | April 26 – 29, 2020 Venue: Hotel Chaco
[photo of Albuquerque’s Sandia Mountains at sunset; photo credit: Kip Malone]   32nd Annual Executive Leadership Conference | Tampa, FL Nov. 1 – 4, 2020 | Venue: Westin Tampa Waterside Hotel [photo overlooking the bay; photo credit: Visit Tampa Bay] For conference details, visit our conference page online: www.visionservealliance.org/conferences/   Follow us online:  Facebook: www.facebook.com/visionservealliance/ Twitterhttps://twitter.com/VisionServeA Linkedln: www.linkedin.com/company/visionserve-alliance

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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.

Threats to Education

As many are now aware, the recently enacted CARES Act included language directing the U.S. Secretary of Education, Betsy Devos, to report to Congress within 30 days to recommend any proposed waivers of rights and requirements outlined in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. It is obvious that flexibility may be needed concerning direct services and even materials production and distribution during this period of closures. However, the strength of IDEA is its individualized planning and services which allows parents and schools TO WORK TOGETHER.

Congress would likely have to approve any requested waiver of requirements and rights under IDEA or 504, but Congress needs to hear from those of us who have the responsibility to defend opportunities and uphold the rights of individuals we serve and support. To follow this issue, we recommend that you check with the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA). In addition, VSA members ACB, AER, and AFB are also carefully monitoring this evolving situation and will doubtless have up-to-date information.

Protecting the Right to Vote

Likely many of you live in states that have delayed the political primary. As I write this, Wisconsin is going ahead with its primary election, despite serious concerns about the health of voters and staff at physical polling sites. Many states have increased mail-in or absentee voting for upcoming primaries (and other special elections). By next November, we may be again facing social distancing. Calls for increased mail-in voting will increase, and many in Congress have attempted to push legislation to provide support to states for this purpose. Without commenting on the politics of absentee voting, it is imperative that we make clear that individuals who are blind or low vision have the right to cast an independent and secure vote. ACB, and other advocacy organizations, are leading efforts to push Congress to ensure support for accessible absentee voting measures.

Let us know the policy issues on which you would like VSA or your colleagues to take action. And, we’ll be on the lookout for new legislative or regulatory efforts related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

How to contact your elected members of Congress:

Contact Info for Your Senators is here: https://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm

Contact Info for Your House Member is here: https://www.house.gov/representatives/find-your-representative

And, contact Info for Your Governor is here: https://www.usa.gov/state-governor

David Ekin

David Ekin shaking hands with John Mitchell as he receives the 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 NCPAB

David Ekin delivering a speech after receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award
David Ekin delivering a speech after receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award

VI 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.  

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!

Present by Sassy Outwater-Wright, MAB Community Services

(Left) Lee Nasehi, Bryan Bashin, Sassy Outwater-Wright, and John Mitchell (right) posing with Bryans award at the Atlanta conference
(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.”

Early referral to vision rehabilitation for low vision patients is now the American Academy of Ophthalmology standard of care. This short video, introduced by David W. Parke II, M.D., AAO CEO, features prominent academia ophthalmologists and experts on vision rehabilitation. The video helps ophthalmologists to better understand the impact of vision loss and refer patients to trained professionals who can help maximize their quality of life and make the most of their residual vision.

Copyright Community Services for Vision Rehabilitation. All Rights Reserved

Gateway to Community”

Join the community of VRTs, Orientation and Mobility Specialists, TVIs, LVTs, advocates, scholars, policymakers, and other  professionals for the AER International Conference 2020. The conference will feature dynamic keynote speakers, global leaders and world class presenters covering a range of topics of critical importance to the field. Earn CE hours and make career changing connections! It is continuing education at its best. Whether you need CE hours for ACVREP, CEUs for CRC, professional development hours for other certifications or simply want to expand your contacts and knowledge base, this is a great conference for you. 

July 22-26

St. Louis, MO

Documents for Board Retreat:

2019 Membership Survey Responses:

Formats available for download:


MS Excel


Dear Friends,
In honor of Roxann’s retirement at the end of this year, we are offering members and friends of VisionServe Alliance the opportunity to place an ad in this fall’s 30th Executive Leadership Conference program booklet as a tribute to Roxann’s 13 years of leading VisionServe Alliance.

We know you will think of your favorite “Roxann” moment to remember and share. We look forward to celebrating these moments with Roxann and you in Portland this October.

Options are:
Full Page 7 ¾ x 9 ¾”- $500
Half page ad horizontal 7 ¾ x 4 ¾” – $250
Quarter page ad 3 ¾ x 4 ¾” – $100
1 or 2 Sentence message – $50

Ad Specifications:
Full, half and quarter-page ads may be color, two-color, or black and white. Please submit ads in electronic format (preferably Hi-res PDF files) to Wendy Hymes at wendy@visionservealliance.org. 1 or 2 sentence messages may be emailed directly to Wendy. Please also send a text version of the ad for our readers who are blind and visually impaired.

Ad Deadline:
We must receive your tribute ad order form and payment by:
5:00 pm Friday September 28

Click HERE to download the tribute ad ORDER FORM
Click HERE to view sizes of full, half and quarter-page ads

Diane Nelson headshot





Diane Nelson
Power of R Campaign Chair


Best Practices: Sexual Abuse Prevention

Unemployment Insurance: Claims 101 (First Nonprofit Webinar 9/13/17 PowerPoint)

Lindsay LutzWith a varied background in visual arts, performance, and technology, Lindsay joined the VisionServe team as Administrative Assistant in April 2018. She appreciates efficiency, values open communication, and loves her two dogs. A transplant from Michigan, she treasures Saint Louis as her home and wouldn’t trade the life she has here. In her free time, she’s trail running, cooking Chinese food, or performing in local theater.

Capitol building in Washington DC

Roxann Mayros headshotBy Roxann Mayros, President & CEO, VisionServe Alliance

Did you know that vision rehabilitation therapists are the only medical/rehabilitative professionals NOT reimbursed by Medicare or insurance companies (third-party payers)?  Here is why this is important.  Think about the person who has a stroke.  They lose their ability to use their right arm to brush their teeth. An occupational therapist is paid by Medicare or insurance to provide needed therapies.  That stroke also caused the person to lose the ability to speak clearly.  Medicare or an insurance company pays for speech therapy.  That stroke also caused a severe balance issue.  You guessed it, Medicare or insurance pays for a physical therapist.  BUT, if that same stroke victim, also loses some or all of their eyesight, no insurance company or Medicare will pay for important therapies provided by a specialized and nationally certified vision rehabilitation therapist, low vision therapist, or orientation and mobility specialist.

There are many reasons for this disparity and no easy solutions.  Due to my long-time tenure in the blindness and low vision field, being involved in and leading previous attempts to seek third-party payment, and my quickly approaching retirement, I have been asked to document why vision rehabilitation professionals are not currently reimbursed by Medicare or medical insurance.


From 1990 through 2012, nonprofit organizations providing vision rehabilitation therapies and services to people with vision loss underwrote the expensive cost of, and spent untold hours leading, a national effort to secure third-party reimbursement for vision rehabilitation therapists to teach independent living skills, low vision therapists to teach the use of remaining vision as aided by magnification devices and techniques, and orientation and mobility specialists who teach safe movement and travel skills using a white cane or guide dog.

Why did it take so long?  Because it literally took an Act of Congress!    Medicare law must be amended by Congress to add a new category of services for which Medicare will provide reimbursement, i.e., establish coverage.  Congress must authorize the Secretary of Health and Human Services to establish rules, assign codes, and provide reimbursement.  Once these rules and codes are established and Medicare begins to reimburse for vision rehabilitation therapies, then other third-party payers (medical insurance companies) will begin to reimburse.  Congress doesn’t normally do this out of the goodness of their hearts, but only after intense and protracted advocacy from their constituents.

This decades-long and very expensive process produced four separate bills (none were ever brought to the floor for vote) and the only study at the time about the rate and cost of vision loss (The Lewin Report).  Our biggest champions were Congressman Michael Capuano of Massachusetts (his mother had lost her vision due to macular degeneration and was not referred for vision rehabilitation therapies by her medical doctor) and Senator John E. Sununu of New Hampshire.

Congressman Michael Capuano of Massachusetts
Congressman Michael Capuano of Massachusetts

Senator John E. Sununu of New Hampshire
Senator John E. Sununu of New Hampshire

Senator Sununu was most especially important because his vote was needed to pass legislation that created Part D (prescription drug coverage) under the Medicare Modernization Act of 2003. When asked by President George W. Bush to enter his deciding vote in favor of establishing prescription drug coverage, Senator Sununu boldly asked the President to support Medicare reimbursement for vision rehabilitation professionals.  Negotiations resulted in a Congressional order to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to create and oversee a Five-Year Demonstration Project in the states of North Carolina, Kansas, New Hampshire, and Washington; and in the five boroughs of New York City and specific zip codes in the city of Atlanta.

US Department of Health & Human Services building
Washington, UNITED STATES: The US Department of Health and Human Services building is shown in Washington, DC, 21 July 2007. The department, which began operations in 1980, has more than 67,000 employees. SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

It was in 2005, as the new Executive Director of VisionServe Alliance (a consortium of nonprofits providing vision rehabilitation services) that I was assigned the task of working with CMS to implement and oversee the “Demonstration Project.”  CMS had experience in developing demonstration projects for established and traditional medical providers (Diabetic Educators, for example), but they were inexperienced in establishing a demonstration project for non-medical providers like vision rehabilitation therapists who earn their Master’s degrees through University Departments of Education and not Departments of Allied Health as physical or speech therapists do, and are traditionally employed by nonprofit agencies, the Veterans Administration, or State Agencies for the Blind.

The Demonstration Project was not successful for several reasons, including 1) how CMS designed the project – patients were required to live in the same New York borough or Atlanta zip code as the doctor’s office; 2) CMS assumed that vision rehabilitation professionals worked in physicians’ offices (which they didn’t); 3) that referrals for services came solely from physicians; and 4) by placing demonstration sites in low population or rural states like New Hampshire. The Project was also negatively impacted by the lack of standardized reporting, outcome measurements, and physician referrals within the field of vision rehabilitation.  These issues resulted in only one participant in each Demonstration State – nonprofit agencies already performing vision rehabilitation therapies.  Neither Optometrists nor Ophthalmologists participated because they did not (and would not) employ vision rehabilitation professionals. The lack of participation resulted in very low patient numbers, thereby not creating enough data to determine if the Demonstration Project proved the need for this professional category (vision rehabilitation) to be reimbursed by Medicare.

Those of us who had our “boots on the ground” advocating for reimbursement and the nonprofit agencies who participated in the Demonstration Project learned many lessons that should impact future endeavors seeking third-party reimbursements.  Watch for our next installment of Lessons Learned from the Vision Rehabilitation Demonstration Project 2006-2011. 

Purpose:  The purpose of the Membership Committee is to review annually membership levels and corresponding dues and benefits and make recommendations to the board.  Create programs and services that provide value to membership, develop and implement a new member recruitment program, collect member data and implement the bi-annual Compensation and Benefits Survey, advise CEO on matters relating to members and potential members.  Also determine awardees for Academic Scholarships each year.

Term: Two Years and Renewable

Membership: BOD and general members, between 6 and 8 Total

Annual Calendar/Schedule of Specific Tasks to be Addressed:

  • Quarterly Committee and Staff Rocks established in January, April, July and October
  • Review content of biennial Compensation Survey in Mid Feb – April
  • Review Applications for Academic Scholarships April 1 – May 1; announce awardees by May 15
  • Review Member Benefits Annually
  • Review Member Data Annually
  • Committee Chair Confirmed in November; member confirmed in December

Current Membership:

  • Bernadette Kappen, Chair  New York Institute for Special Education
  • Thomas Panek, Guiding Eyes
  • David Morgan, Future In Sight
  • Joe Bogart, BVA
  • Lee Nasehi, VisionServe Alliance
  • Wendy Hymes, VisionServe Alliance

Date of Update: June 18, 2019

Purpose:  The purpose of the Board Governance Committee is: 1) to identify and recommend qualified applicants for election to the Board of Directors and Officer positions, 2) to recommend or review proposed changes to these Bylaws, and 3) to make recommendations to enhance organizational and Board effectiveness.

Current Members:

Miki Jordan, Chair – Wayfinder Family Foundation
Mike McGowan – NOAH
Renee Vidrine – Lighthouse Louisiana
Dennis Steiner – VisionCorps
Lee Nasehi – VisionServe Alliance

Purpose: The Fund Development Committee will work with staff and other committees as appropriate to provide:

  • guidance concerning all revenue generating initiatives as necessary and appropriate;
  • input into and approval of plans for new revenue-generating business initiatives;
  • development and implementation of annual fundraising plans

Term: Two Years and Renewable

Membership: BOD and general members; between 8 and 12 total

Annual Calendar/Schedule of Specific Tasks to be Addressed:

  • Revenue Goals for Annual Budget/1 Year Plan, asap and then in November/Annual Planning meeting each year
  • Quarterly Committee and Staff Rocks established in January, April, July and October
  • Committee Chair Confirmed in November; member confirmed in December

Current Membership:

  • Erika Petach, Chair  Blind and Vision Rehab Services – Pittsburgh
  • Thomas Panek, Guiding Eyes
  • Lauren Branch, NewView Oklahoma
  • Mike Gilliam, San Antonio Lighthouse
  • Denise Jess, Wisconsin Council of the Blind and Visually Impaired
  • Lee Nasehi, VisionServe Alliance

Date of Update: June 21, 2019

Current Purpose Statement: The Audit Committee selects the outside auditor, meets with the auditor to receive the audit report and management letter, and discusses the management letter with the full board and the senior staff.  While there may be some overlap in membership with the Finance Committee, the chair of the Finance Committee and the treasurer should not be on the Audit Committee. Likewise, the chair of the board and the CEO should not be on the Audit Committee.

Term: Two Years; preferably with staggered terms 

Membership: BOD and General VSA Members are eligible to serve on this committee. 

Annual Calendar/Schedule of Specific Tasks to be Addressed:

  • Committee Chair Confirmed in November; members confirmed in December
  • Committee meets with Auditor w/o CEO in November to prepare for upcoming Audit
  • Review annual audit and 990 with auditor prior to presentation to full BOD.
  • Oversees the selection of Auditor every 5 – 7 years

Current Membership:

  • Renee Vidrine, Chair  Lighthouse Louisiana
  • Ken Warkentin, Valley Center for the Blind
  • Steve Pouliot, Vermont Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired

Date of Update: June 2019