Dedicated to Improving the Lives of Blind and Visually Impaired People

“Empowering Digital Inclusion:” Leadership Conference Highlights

by Daniel Parker, former RDPFS Intern

The American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) 2023 Leadership Conference, held from April 19 to 21, 2023, featured a wide range of speakers, plenary sessions, panel discussions, breakout rooms and an ideathon, all centered on the theme of empowering digital inclusion. Their Helen Keller Achievement Awards, covered separately in this Bulletin, kicked off the event on April 19th. On the 20th, the keynote was delivered by Sheri Wells-Jensen, Ph.D., who serves on the leadership committee of AstroAccess, “a nonprofit working with the space industry to set the standards for access to outer space for disabled flyers.” The main takeaway from her presentation was ‘“If we’re in coalition with people who aren’t like us, we can do unexpected things and go to unexpected places.’” A panel followed on policy issues surrounding digital inclusion. Moderated by Sarah Malaier, AFB’s senior advisor for Public Policy and Research, panelists were disability rights attorney John Wodatch, who participated in writing Section 504 and regulations for Titles II and III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA); Stephanie Enyart, Ph.D., Chief Public Policy and Research Officer for the AFB; and Day Al-Mohamed, former White House Director of Disability Policy. The day also included the Ideathon and breakout sessions concerning accessible navigation, inclusive education, mentorship and apprenticeship, audio description, and universal design in digital inclusion.

The second day’s panel discussed “Successful Talent Acquisition: Including People who are Blind in the Post-COVID Digital Age.” Panelists included Michelle Witman, Co-founder of Asset Based Consulting; Ross Barchacky, Director of Partnership at Inclusively; Megan Williams, senior vice president of Human Resources at , AAA – The Auto Club Group; Dani Landolt, chief marketing officer, at Leader Dogs for the Blind; and Tim Tegge, executive director, The Site Center of Northwest Ohio. Panelists suggested steps organizations can take to improve inclusion and accessibility, including asking what employees need, having honest conversations, reaching out to communities, and doing extensive research. Landolt summed up the message: “Be intentional, because being inclusive and accessible doesn’t happen by accident.” Breakout sessions delved into accessible healthcare products, technology in transportation, accessibility in education and employment, results from an AFB digital inclusion study, and racial equity policies and financial health tips from JP Morgan Chase.

Rounding out Day Two, the AFB Awards ceremony presented the Migel Medal, the Llura Gund Leadership Award, and the Corinne Kirchner Research Award. Migel Medal recipients were Nancy D. Miller, LMSW, Executive Director and CEO of VISIONS Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired, an RDPFS grantee organization; and the late Scott Labarr, National General Counsel for the National Federation of the Blind (NFB). The presentation honored Miller’s work leading VISIONS and contributing to the overall BVI (blind and visually impaired) community nationwide. Labarr worked for many years on pressing legal and legislative issues. Llura Gund Award recipient Ken Meaker, “established his own professional and life coaching consultancy practice and has made significant leaps toward raising public awareness of the potential that can be harnessed by people who are blind or have low vision.” Receiving the Corinne Kirchner Award for excellence in scholarly research was José-Alain Sahel, M.D., Chair of Ophthalmology at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

You can find more information about this event at the 2023 AFB Leadership Conference website.