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