Vision Loss Community Professionals and Private Service Provider Groups Forge Historic Public Policy Alliance to Lead the Field in National Systems Change

Aging and Vision Loss to Take Center Stage; Services to Students and Working-Age Adults to Have Starring Roles


WASHINGTON, DC (January 5, 2021) – The two leading U.S.-based associations representing professionals and nonprofit groups serving people who are blind or visually impaired announced today the inauguration of a landmark public policy partnership that promises to affect tectonic shifts in the way in which America’s service delivery systems will meet the unique needs of children, working-age adults and older people who are blind or visually impaired. This historic alliance is aimed at systems change benefitting all individuals living with vision loss but especially older people who comprise the largest demographic of Americans experiencing loss of vision and for whom, for far too long, our national response to their needs and capabilities has been an unconscionable disgrace.

The two partner groups, VisionServe Alliance (VSA) and the Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired (AER), have agreed to amplify their reach and resources by capitalizing on their respective strengths. The AER/VSA partnership embodies the principles of Networking Leadership, a collaborative model articulated by Jane Wei-Skillern which VSA has formally embraced in recent years. Collaboration and partnership leading to landmark blindness field systems change has always characterized AER and its parent organizations since the late nineteenth century.

“We wanted to stop talking about the things we all know need to change and to get going on making those changes,” said Lauren Branch, President of New View Oklahoma and Chair of the VSA Board of Directors. “By linking arms with AER, we’re tapping resources we haven’t had before, making better use of those we currently have, and deploying all of them in a collaborative and targeted way to get things done. Truly, this partnership is greater than the sum of its parts, and it’s about time we get moving.”

VSA is a leadership collective whose member organizations provide direct educational, rehabilitative, employment and independent living services to individuals across all age groups who may be just beginning to experience loss of vision, to people with little or no functional vision, and to people who are blind or who have low vision who may also have potentially significant additional disabilities. VSA member groups also include major regional and national organizations conducting research, pursuing product development, providing information and referral, offering technical assistance, representing consumers with vision loss, and engaging in public education; AER is a member organization of VSA.

VSA promotes the mantra, “collaboration rather than competition” and dubbed 2020 as “the Year of Collaboration.” In doing so, VSA intentionally embarked upon a multi-faceted approach, being realized now in 2021 through initiatives such as the AER/VSA partnership, to model how national organizations can truly join forces to yield greater systems change.

“With the exciting new course that we on the AER Board are charting now for our Association as we transition and achieve primary strategic objectives during turbulent times, it’s so affirming to enjoy the confidence of our private agency partners who have invited our chief staff officer to take the policy and advocacy reins to confront and conquer the issues we all care about so much,” said Neva Fairchild, current AER President and Chair of the AER Board of Directors during the 2020-2022 biennium. “This is the ultimate win-win: our partnership is an investment in AER’s long-term vibrancy; we can better build upon our unwavering commitment to advocacy for quality services; and standing shoulder to shoulder with VSA, AER and VSA can light a fire under all of us in this field to accomplish great things for everyone and anyone who is blind or visually impaired, particularly older people who have been so negligently left behind.”

AER is the leading national and international voice of practitioners and leadership representing each of the highly specialized professional disciplines offering consumers with vision loss direct access to education, training, counseling, rehabilitation, independent living and all other credentialed and supportive services. AER’s individual members collectively constitute the unrivaled expertise and experience of the entire professional vision loss community which continues to secure and enrich the capacity of public and private agencies alike.

Through a diverse and ever-expanding portfolio of continuing education offerings, a revitalized and growing agency accreditation and university program approval initiative, commitment to professional networking and development, and track record of inter-organizational cooperation both within and outside the traditional blindness system, AER is well-positioned more than ever to effectively need the needs of its members and to thrive in an unprecedented era of change.

“I am so excited to be working with my friend and colleague, Mark Richert, to help us develop and deploy the strategies and tactics necessary to more rapidly turn the massive aircraft carriers of federal and state systems in a significantly better direction,” said Lee Nasehi, President and CEO of VSA. “This field of ours urgently needs proven public policy leadership and field-wide coordination, especially where issues like aging and vision loss are concerned. The partnership we’re announcing today means that our field doesn’t have to wait for this leadership anymore, and AER and VSA members, along with all individuals and groups with whom we look forward to making common cause, will be engaged and empowered to lead right alongside us.”

Under the AER/VSA partnership, AER’s chief staff officer, in addition to being AER’s principal representative with policymakers and coalitions on AER’s behalf, assumes primary responsibility for policy counsel, coordination and external representation for VSA’s Public Policy Committee, the VSA National Policy Collaborative (an inter-organizational forum to foster greater cooperation across all blindness field national groups), and the Aging and Vision Loss National Coalition (AVLNC), the VSA-convened consortium of prominent groups and nationally recognized experts tackling the myriad and persistent obstacles blocking the pathway of older people with vision loss toward independence, safety, productivity and quality of life. AER will also be offering VSA marketing and communications assistance, allowing VSA to redirect its staff resources to ensure that all policy-related activities are provided with sufficient administrative support.

“I’m so blessed to be part of this amazing opportunity,” said Mark Richert, an attorney with more than a quarter-century of disability-related public policy and leadership experience, First Vice President of the American Council of the Blind, and current Interim Executive Director of AER. “Thanks to this dynamic organizational duo, I can now more effectively serve AER members, positively impact AER’s budgetary bottom line, and devote a truly meaningful portion of my day job working with the best in our business to once again get a chance to change the world. Let’s go get‘em!”

For further information, contact:
Mark Richert, Esq., Interim Executive Director, AER
Tel: 703-671-4500

Lee Nasehi, President and CEO, VSA
Tel: 314-961-8235