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

Nominated by Sue Daniels, Leader Dogs for the Blind

“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

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

Presented by Lauren Branch, NewView Oklahoma

“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

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.”

“There is lots of work to be done, and together we can do it.”

181 leaders in the blindness and low vision field attended VisionServe’s Executive Leadership Conference in Atlanta, Georgia this past November. This figure sets a record high attendance for any of our conferences and included representatives from 75 VisionServe member organizations (61% of VisionServe’s total membership).

Attendees came to hear about the latest developments, participate in discussions, and network with other leaders in the field. Admittedly, some were initially both skeptical and curious about the new format for this year’s event which was held as an Open Space Technology meeting. But judging from attendees’ feedback, the unanimous response was that people felt tremendously engaged by the opportunity for their voice to be heard as opposed to being “talked to.”

a man and a woman having fun at the welcome reception“There needs to be greater focus on coming together with a unified message,” said one post-conference survey respondent. “This will help us with soliciting support from donors and legislators. We need to standardize services in the collection of information to show outcomes. We need more opportunities like this for the entire alphabet soup to come to the same table and discuss issues so we can move forward as one united front.”

Having a diverse blend of representatives (the ”alphabet soup”) from the multitude of organizations serving the blind and visually impaired brought a lot of excitement to the conference’s break-out discussions. Attendees included representatives from agencies providing direct services, dog guide schools, state agencies, schools for the Blind (including higher ed institutions that train future personnel), foundations funding initiatives in the field, and vendors specializing in technologies to improve everyday life for people living with blindness and low vision.

1 man talks into a microphone at a discussion groupFunding from The Gibney Family Foundation allowed leaders from an additional 15 non-member organizations to attend the conference. This was all part of VisionServe’s plan to ensure that all voices in our field would be represented.

Discussion topics were wide-ranging from public policy, distance learning, braille literacy, AT equipment, accreditation and certification, early intervention, employment opportunities and challenges, outcome measurement and service data collection, blinded veterans, nonprofit sustainability and transportation issues.

Magnifier display
A magnifier displayed in the exhibit hall at the ELC (photo credit: Candace Wheeler)

VisionServe Alliance was also featured in “A Closer Look with Rose Scott” on WABE, the local NPR affiliate, who interviewed several attendees about the using technology to improve their lives living with blindness and low vision. Sharon Giovinazzo, President of World Services for the Blind in Arkansas, modeled several pieces of technology to the radio show host, including: her OrCam MyEye device recognizing faces; an app on her phone audibly reading the text on a business card; and her digital braille reader.

Another session called “Tech Tools” featured hands-on demonstrations of the latest technology for people who are blind or visually impaired from Aira, OrCam and Vispero.

a woman trying a braille variable display
Neva Fairchild tries a braille variable display tool during Sunday’s Tech Tools session

Some attendees noted that they were surprised to connect with leaders from other states dealing with similar problems. And they took things a step further, coming up with key action items and contacts at other agencies willing to work with them on these issues. “The key is solidarity on all issues. Nationally we are all dealing with the same problems,” remarked one participant.

two dog guides sniffing noses
Everyone (Dog Guides too) enjoyed making new friends!

Thank you to everyone who came to this “tremendous opportunity to network and learn on a professional and personal level.”