inform & connect logo. Image of Neva Fairchild.

This season of Inform & Connect continues with Neva Fairchild, AFB’s National Aging and Vision Loss Specialist.

Neva has over 20 years of professional experience in the field of vision loss and a lifetime of experience living with low vision. She was diagnosed at an early age with Cone Rod Degeneration, a rare genetic eye condition.

Neva is a vital part of AFB's Aging Initiative team, which involves the research and public policy needs of people experiencing vision loss later in life. She currently oversees the Blind Leaders Development Program.

Prior to joining AFB, Neva was a Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor and Employment Assistance Specialist with the Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services, and a Vocational Evaluator with the Dallas Lighthouse for the Blind. She serves in numerous leadership roles, ranging from international to local in scope, with organizations such as the Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired and the National Rehabilitation Association.

In this episode, Neva discusses employment, leadership, and favorite books, among other topics.

Melody Goodspeed: Hey, everybody. Welcome to the American Foundation for the Blind Inform and Connect podcast. We're so excited to have you here. And today we are going to be talking with our very own Neva Fairchild. Neva is our national aging and vision loss specialist here at AFB. But she does so much more. Neva, it's so good to have you.

Neva Fairchild: Thank you so much, Melody. I'm pleased to be here.

Melody Goodspeed: I am glad to have you too. I mean, we've done so much with our Centennial. You've been with our virtual conferences and especially with leading that panel of amazing blind women in our field, how was that?

Neva Fairchild: That was such a great opportunity to meet those women and to talk with them and share their viewpoints. There were so many aha moments and quotes that we carry forward from that that I just cannot believe I was privileged enough to be able to do that. It was a lot of fun and I think it's going to be a powerful tool for us in the future to go back and revisit and see where we are a year after that or two years after that.

Melody Goodspeed: No, I think it is two. And I'm so glad that you framed it up that way, because we are doing a lot in our work force development programs to get there, which we're going to get into. But I want to start with you first because you give a whole bunch of nuggets and wisdom to me in our work as a colleague and a friend. So I kind of want to start with your personal journey as far as moving in and how you got to where you are and all that fun stuff.

Neva Fairchild: Okay. I was raised in a military family. My dad was in the air force, so we moved around a lot. I was in 14 different schools in 12 years of education. There was no kindergarten when I started school and I always went to public schools. I did not find out until I was an adult that the reason I always went to public schools despite my visual impairment in the early '60s, was that my parents fought the school district to keep me in my homeschool. All the school districts wanted to send me to the school for the blind. And my parents said no, and they won.

Melody Goodspeed: Nice.

Neva Fairchild: Yeah. Nice in many ways. I really always have been grateful for their basic expectations that I would do everything that every other kid my age would do. Okay. No excuses that you can't see well, no breaks, no passes, just get it done. And I didn't learn till later that there were a whole lot of blindness skills that had I learned them as a child, some of my life would have been a little easier and a little bit better.

But it's like, how do you go back and redo? You don't. You go with what you've got. And when I graduated high school, I went right straight to college with about 2,800 vision. I could not read large print for very long and who could get large print textbooks anyway.

So I did all the recording for the blind, which is now learning ally, trying to listen to those reel-to-reel tapes to get my textbooks read, which the only college textbook I ever read from cover to cover was when I taught a college class in 2003. And I thought, I'm probably going to have some smart ALEC student that's going to read the whole book, I better read it myself.

Melody Goodspeed: So nothing could keep you accountable.

Neva Fairchild: Yeah, exactly. So that's when I read my first college textbook all the way through. Anyway, I started receiving rehab services when I was a college student and that kind of thing. And I went off to Texas A&M University to study to be a teacher because I wanted to help other kids who are blind or visually impaired to be successful in the mainstream schools. Now, I graduated high school in 1974. Yes, I am very old. I hit the 65 mark this year.

Melody Goodspeed: Congratulations. Happy birthday.

Neva Fairchild: Thank you. Those 10,000 other baby boomers and I turned 65. And which I'm really kind of proud of achieving, honestly. But the thing is that I didn't know that there were specialty teachers for kids with visual impairments. I thought I just had to be a regular classroom teacher and then maybe get a master's in special education and then maybe get to teach kids who are blind or visually impaired.

Yeah, that isn't real, that doesn't happen. It didn't happen then, it doesn't happen now. And I guess I'm lucky in a way that partway through my college education, I met my husband in college, we got married, he finished his master's degree, we had our first child.

It was time to go to work. And so I left school as a senior and after nine years at home and another baby and volunteering in my son's classroom, I realized, oh my, I do not have what it takes to be a classroom teacher. I would never have the patience to go through a whole day with somebody else's 30 children and then go home and give my children anything. Okay. There would have been nothing left over of Neva at the end of the day.

And so when I went back to college, when my daughter started kindergarten, I took a couple of courses at the local community college designed for women returning to school. And in the meantime, before that, in those nine years, I tried a couple of little part-time jobs and I found a low vision specialist that fit me with a pair of reading glasses that I was able to read regular print lists for the first time in my life.

Melody Goodspeed: Wow.

Neva Fairchild: I was 21 years old, I could read regular print. I could read the phone book, I could read magazines, I could read mail order catalogs. It was-

Melody Goodspeed: Wow, your world just opened up.

Neva Fairchild: It was delightful. It was a lot of eyestrain. My left eye wanted to jump out of my head and run away sometimes, but I didn't care because I wanted to read. So when I went back to school at age 30, I thought, hey, I got this whipped, I can read regular sized textbooks. This is marvelous.

Well at that community college, the student supports for people with disabilities had gone to UT Southwestern Medical Center and gotten her bachelor's degree in rehabilitation science. And I told her, I said, I don't know what I want to do, but I know I don't want to be a classroom teacher. And I also don't want to waste all that education, and I didn't because I used what I learned on my own kids.

I don't ever think any education is wasted. You're growing when you're learning. But she suggested I check out this rehabilitation science program. And I read the little tri-fold brochure and I'm like, oh, I want to do that. I'd like to do that. Gee, I want to do that too.

And so boom, I had a goal. So I got my bachelor's in '88, in rehabilitation science and my last practicum, the summer before I was going to graduate in August, my professor and I were sitting in the vocational evaluation lab and we were scoring tests. And he said, "Neva, why don't you think about going for your master's degree?" And I said, oh, I don't have what it takes to get a master's degree.

And he's like, ah, yeah you do. I'm like, no, no, no, no, no, no, not me. And then he proceeded to explain why I would want to go ahead and get a master's degree so that I didn't go to work and then have to give up an income to go back to school, that kind of thing. And so I went. I graduated on a Sunday with my bachelor's and I started class on Monday for my masters.

Melody Goodspeed: Nice. I love the break you took there Neva.

Neva Fairchild: Yeah. It's very relaxing.

Melody Goodspeed: Less than 24 hours.

Neva Fairchild: Yeah. It was amazing. It was a great experience. And it prepared me to do a lot of things that I've actually never done, but the foundational knowledge, I could have been a psych associate, giving psychological tests to people. That's not what I wanted to do. I wanted to help people who are blind or visually impaired to achieve more in their lives, to do what they want to do, to be what they want to be. And so that's why I went into rehabilitation.

Melody Goodspeed: Neva, can I ask one question on this? You talk about you wanted to be, and your passion is in your voice [inaudible], because I know you and moving through, especially with what we'll get into, what we're doing now. Well, what was it? Can you kind of talk us through why that was such a passion for you, for blind people to do what it is they want to do? Because I think that this is something we really at AFB with our life being in our mission statement, life with no limits. Can we kind of go into your own personal why as to why this was so important to you?

Neva Fairchild: I think it was the disparity between the expectations my parents had of me, which were very high, do everything, do it well, ride a bike, roller skate, sing in the choir, play in the band. All of these things and the rest of the world was kind of like, I don't know if you can do that or not.

And in my experience, I ran into people that gave me chances. A band director that let the blind girl on the marching field, let me memorize my music. To see the music, I had to hold it right up against my nose where you can't cite while you're doing that. So I never had a cite reading part. But I learned to play the instruments and he gave me a chance to march, which I don't think I would have had at most schools for the blind.

I know there are a couple of schools for the blind that have marching bands now. But bear in mind this was the '60s and '70s. And the rest of the world just didn't have those expectations of me. And I didn't like it. I didn't like the fact that people said, no, you can't do that because of your vision. And my attitude was, well, yeah, I can, watch. [Crosstalk.]

Hide and watch because I'm going to prove you wrong. And I guess that's kind of the attitude I try to impart to the people that I've worked with over my career is that, you have to find what makes you light up inside, what gives you joy. And you have to go for it. And you have to work really hard to get there. And you may have to do things differently than the rest of the world expects you to do them, but you can do them.

Melody Goodspeed: Yeah. Thank you for that. Yes, I am so happy to have such a spunky and go get him colleague.

Neva Fairchild: Well, and probably... I didn't know that as a kid in high school. I learned that over the years of being turned away and being told no, and that kind of thing. And finally, I just got to a point where I was just doggone sick of it. I wanted to take typing as a sophomore. All the girls took typing. And I go to the class and the teacher tells you, sit up straight, put your poems flat so they're pointing parallel with the floor and back of your hands parallel with the ceiling. Now look over there at that book to your left and type what you see. And I'm like, oh, well, I don't see nothing. I got to stick my face on that book in order to see it.

And she's like, you can't do that, you have to sit up straight. And I'm like, I can't sit up straight and see the book. And then she's like, well, then you can't take this class, you will fail. And I didn't know to say at 15, figure out a different way to teach me then because I want to learn to type. I just said, oh, okay, goodbye. And went and found another class to take.

And sadly, no counselor or other teacher in the school at that time said, "Yeah, Neva, you need to learn to type, are you kidding? That'll help you so much. Let's go back and talk to her and find a new way." Nobody suggested that. And I didn't think of it. Now when those kinds of things are presented to me, I either don't take no for an answer, figure it out on my own or find somebody else who's doing it to work with them, to learn from them and their experience how I can do it.

I joined a women's group at church and we had a spaghetti fundraiser. All right. All the women are working at the spaghetti fundraiser. I get there early to work. No, no, no Neva, just have a seat, we're doing all right, we're fine, have a seat. So my family's there and we eat. And I just got up and went and found the kitchen and found the sink and started washing dishes.

Everybody else was still eating. And I thought, they're not going to not let me help. This is my women's group too, I want to contribute. And they come into the kitchen. Oh, Neva, what are you doing? No, no, no, you don't need to wash dishes. The heck I don't, they're dirty. Somebody has got to wash them.

Melody Goodspeed: Yeah. No. And I love this point you bring up because one of the things that I really adore about you is you're always looking at the whole person and you bring up such a valid points. As you know, people that are blind and vision impaired are resourceful because, you just named it. If you can't figure it out, you're going to find another way. If you can't, you're going to find somebody doing it and figure it out. And you're not going to let anybody tell you no. Okay. And I get that. You are a part of that group, we are a part of our communities. We are a part of our families, we are a part of our... We all carry many titles.

Neva Fairchild: Absolutely. We have things to do in this world. And we're the ones who are in charge of that, nobody else. There's certainly people that can help us, but we have to take charge of that and move the direction we want to move with our lives. And I think that's what has helped me over the years. And I also have had people who've believed in me when I didn't believe in myself, and that has helped a lot.

My first boss, when I went to work as a vocational rehabilitation counselor for the state of Texas, he saw something in me that I wasn't too sure I had at the time. But I did have it. And I advanced in that job and gave back more than I received in the long run. It's finding those opportunities and pushing for them that I think makes us stronger and teaches us so much.

Melody Goodspeed: No, I agree completely because we as people, disability aside, we all need that. You see those victory stories all the time of, people believed in me when I didn't believe in myself because people see things in us that we don't see in ourselves. And it's really those types of you have to sort of lean into, you have to lean into that because if you are pushing, that's where we all kind of need to go. So I'm really glad you brought that up to us. And I kind of want to shift us into all this pretty clear story that we've told so far and kind of what it is you're doing now to keep that moving forward.

Neva Fairchild: Well, it's kind of interesting because I've held leadership roles within our professional association for people who are blind or visually impaired really since early in my career. And I never thought of it as, oh, I want to be a leader. I thought of it as, I want to help, I want to advance what this organization is doing. And then all of a sudden I find myself in a leadership role.

And I think so many times people who are blind or visually impaired do not necessarily take those opportunities to step into leadership because they're not confident. They don't know that they can do it. And so the Blind Leaders Development Program at AFB is striving to counteract that by helping people who are blind or visually impaired, who are in their early or even mid career and have not really stepped into leadership, they haven't moved up within their company, they haven't stepped out into the community to take on leadership roles. They're just rocking along at good old entry level or barely above entry level. And they're not seeing the opportunities or they're not taking advantage of the opportunities, and they're certainly not being offered the opportunities to move up.

So the Blind Leaders Development Program is to pair those people with a mentor who's blind or visually impaired, who has leadership experience to talk through the, how did you do it? Who did you talk to? What did you say? How do you deal with technology? How do you deal with travel and how do you deal with networking events, where you got to go work a room and find all these great contacts you want to make and all those types of things, because there's ways to do that. And there's no right way, and there's no wrong way, there's lots of ways.

A lot of people believe that leaders are born. Okay. You just naturally have leadership skills and abilities and you're seen as a natural leader or you're not. And that's just not true. Leadership skills and leadership, being perceived as a leader can be learned because leaders have certain behaviors that they use in their everyday work and their everyday life that others perceive as leadership qualities.

And they look to you as a leader, whether you are or not officially. And that's what the leadership challenge, which is the curriculum we use teaches and helps point out what you're already doing that are leader-like qualities and what you can do to increase those behaviors in your work. And then the leadership qualities that you, and you actually take an inventory, you get scored by yourself and by others.

So it's not just what you think about yourself, but it's how others perceive you. And sometimes that's interesting to see how different that is. And sometimes people, just like I was saying earlier, people saw more in me than I saw in myself. That was very true for a lot of our fellows in the first cohort, was they scored themselves much, much lower than their peers or their supervisors or anybody that they asked to give them feedback scored them. And they're like, huh, maybe I do this more than I thought I did. Maybe I need to take a more honest and less self-deprecating look at myself.

Melody Goodspeed: Right. And I think when they were talking, when you first started this, talking about staying in an entry level job or mid-level, or not even it. And especially when you said, not even being sought out by a manager or supervisor to go into a leadership role, it just took me right back to the typewriter experience of you can't do that. And I think one thing we as people that are blind or vision impaired really have to understand the power that we have in educating others about our abilities.

Neva Fairchild: Yes. Absolutely.

Melody Goodspeed: Yes. And I love how you're highlighting that because every single example of what we've talked about here is exactly centered around that. That's something interesting.

Neva Fairchild: One of my roles at the state was to teach new rehabilitation staff about doing awareness presentations in the community about blindness and low vision. And my supervisor or the consultant, she wasn't actually my supervisor, but she was over the group I worked in, and then my regional director was my supervisor. But nevertheless, she asked me to do that training and I thought, oh, okay. I guess, okay.

That's kind of always my attitude. You bet, I'll try, no problem. And I got up there and I said, well, I'll be honest with you all, my whole life has been an awareness presentation because I'm constantly telling people what it's about to have low and now no vision and how that applies to whatever I'm trying to do in their circumstance. Whether it's I'm trying to find a bottle of salad dressing at the grocery store because my mom dropped me off at the front to get it while she went to the post office and I'm supposed to meet her back out front. And I got no idea where salad dressing is and, oh, by the way, please get the cheapest one because we're just putting this in macaroni salad. And I'm like, oh great, how am I going to know that?

And there was a time in my life where I faked it. I'd stick my glasses in my pocket, they never did anything to help me anyway. But when you don't have your glasses on, people understand when you say, I can't see these prices, do help me find the least expensive ones. So I faked it. And then that doesn't work after a while, you realize that you just have to be honest and admit, I can't see this, I don't recognize you when you just walk up and say, hi.

Melody Goodspeed: Right. I was not glad you brought that up too. Because I know for myself, I lost my eyesight very suddenly. And when I was calling faking it till I make it too, obviously I didn't use a cane for a year. I just want it to look like my boyfriend and I were just totally in love, holding hands [inaudible].

And finally one day, it's just like, I think we'll understand that there is a hidden disability with blindness that we don't talk about, but you and I have experienced it, especially with people that are losing their eyesight in an older age and they're nearing retirement. So can we talk a little bit about why and even help blind [inaudible] because I know we were both in first cohort together, which was incredible. But even talking about that shift and I know it's silly, people are like, wait, what? Hidden disability for blindness, you can totally see it, but it's such a hidden thing.

Neva Fairchild: Well sure. If you have no vision and you're already trained to use a long white cane or you have a dog guide, then it's not a hidden disability. But if those two pieces of hints are missing, then it is. I can't tell you how many people have said to me, well, you don't look blind.

Melody Goodspeed: Oh yeah, I get that too.

Neva Fairchild: You have beautiful eyes.

Melody Goodspeed: Are you sure you can't see?

Neva Fairchild: Yeah. How many fingers?

Melody Goodspeed: Yeah, I'm faking this. Yes.

Neva Fairchild: And I'm like, yeah, I wish, you thought they may be pretty eyes, but they don't work so good. The reality is that people don't understand vision loss. And if you don't act a certain way, they don't think you're visually impaired. And they also don't know that much about blindness and visual impairment. So it is up to us to educate them as much as we can and/or need to.

There are times where I just blow it off. Back in the day when we used to write a check at the grocery store, I would bend down, stick my nose on that checkbook, fill out that checkbook and tear it off and hand it to the clerk. And she'd say, did you forget your glasses today? She's looking at you wonky. And I would say, yeah, and go on about my business. There was just days where I didn't have it in me to explain.

Melody Goodspeed: Yeah, it's exhausting.

Neva Fairchild: And then other days where I would say, no glasses don't help me, I can't see well, I have to get that close in order to see it to write you a check and give you money. Do you want my money?

Melody Goodspeed: Yes.

Neva Fairchild: I never had anybody turn it down. They always receive my check.

Melody Goodspeed: Start doing that.

Neva Fairchild: Even though it was really poorly filled out, they always took it. Amazing.

Melody Goodspeed: I know. Well, this is interesting, we're getting ready to go to our question and answer, but I have one last thing before we transition over. I've really enjoyed this conversation because really what I've gotten out of it is, everything in your life is going to center around yourself, advocacy and how you're believing yourself, which to me translates to confidence as well.

And if you could give one piece of advice to someone who is really struggling in any aspect of their life, because they all feed together or we are one person with many titles. What would that one piece of help me of light be that would really help?

Neva Fairchild: Well, I think it really kind of goes along with our Centennial theme, which is inclusion knows no limits. And that is, don't accept limits in your life. If there's something you want, something you need, there's no limits. Do it, find a way to do it, find somebody who will walk you through it if you don't know how. Keep pushing until you bust through that invisible limitation that others have placed in front of you.

And part of it is when you don't know what you don't know, it's hard to know that you can do things. And I think that's what happens to me in that typing class. I didn't know, I could say, but there's got to be a way you can teach me. Totally blind people type, why can't a low vision kid type?

And I think that for a lot of people who have lost vision, especially those losing vision later in life, there's that stigma that, I don't want to admit to myself that I can't see well, I don't want to admit to others because they will think less of me. Blindness is not less, it's different. You're not less of a person, you have different abilities, you have to do things differently. But you're still the same wonderful person that if you could pop 2020 eyeballs in your head, you would be that same wonderful person. You just don't have the luxury of 2020 vision. I think that's what I would want people to take away and think about in their lives.

Melody Goodspeed: I couldn't agree with you more. And thank you so much for being here today. I know we've got some fun questions for you Neva. John, so happy. We have our John Mackin with us today, who is our public relations manager and my sidekick here on Inform and Connects. Hey, John.

John Mackin: Hey there, how are you doing?

Melody Goodspeed: Good. Isn't it fun hanging out with Neva?

John Mackin: It is. Neva, how long have you been at the American Foundation for the Blind?

Neva Fairchild: I've been there a little bit over here, a little bit over 13 years. I started in February of 2008.

John Mackin: Got it. Okay. I knew it was something like that. So I have known Neva for 10 years because I joined in 2011 and left in 2014, came back in 2017, but there was many familiar faces there when I returned. Thankfully Neva was one of them. And with that, let's jump right in. We got some Q&A's here.

Neva Fairchild: Super.

John Mackin: Neva, what do people misunderstand about you most? This does not have to be blindness related.

Neva Fairchild: Yeah. No, it's not actually blindness related, it's people sometimes are put off by how intense I can be. You might have picked up on the fact that I get passionate about stuff. And I have been told by supervisors and others that I intimidate people. I ask the tough questions. I get excited and I don't know how to curb that, honestly.

I wish I could say to those people, "Hey, don't be scared. I don't bite." And I'm not disappointed in what you're doing or anything, I am just excited about achieving a goal and getting something going. And so I just don't always come across the way I wish I did.

Melody Goodspeed: I actually really liked the way you come across when you're bashing names.

John Mackin: And here.

Melody Goodspeed: I know it helps me kind of think, well, I need to dig deeper into this. I find it as a benefit to be quite honest.

Neva Fairchild: Well, thank you. But not everybody does.

John Mackin: Well. It just makes me happy we're on the same team.

Melody Goodspeed: Yes.

Neva Fairchild: Me too.

Melody Goodspeed: Me too. [inaudible].

John Mackin: Okay. So if you could go back and give your 18 year old self one piece of advice, what would that be?

Neva Fairchild: If I could tell my 18 year old self something really brilliant, it would be, don't be afraid. Don't be afraid to do what you want to do, to go where you want to go. Don't be afraid that that boy you thought you would die if you didn't marry while you were in high school goes off and does something else. Don't be afraid if you don't make it in your first classes, you don't make the A's you thought you'd make.

Figure out new systems, work harder, do things differently. And don't be afraid because it's going to work out and you'll be stronger because of it, you'll learn things that you wouldn't have ever learned. If everything was easy... If it was easy, everybody would do it. Working hard is something that I was never afraid of, but failure is something I have been afraid of. And now I see failure as a stepping stone. We can't learn without failing and everybody is going to fail. So don't be afraid of it.

John Mackin: Fantastic. Well, a large part of this conversation, I don't know if this word actually came up, but I feel like it was hovering over the conversation the entire time, especially when we were talking about the Blind Leaders Development Program. That word is mentor. And the question is, it's not really question, but tell me about some people, say two or three that were the most influential in your life and how they impacted you.

Neva Fairchild: Well, I'd have to say that other people who are blind or visually impaired that I worked with when I first started at the Lighthouse for the Blind of Dallas as a vocational evaluator. And then when I went onto the state and here at AFB, all of those people lump into one group called my mentors. Okay. And I've had some fantastic ones and they have challenged me and made me grow and made me think really hard about... I didn't use a cane for the first 30 years of my life, mostly because I didn't know they existed. And second of all, because I didn't know that never going any place for the first time by myself was living a life of limitation.

I just always thought that's how it had to be done. And those people that struck out with their canes and their dog guides and went anywhere they wanted to go, as fast as they wanted to go, anytime they wanted to go, were definitely my mentors.

And then I'd say I've had to work mentors. And that's my first boss at the state, David Jepson, who by the way, is an AFB Access Award winner from years ago for computers for the blind that he led after he retired. And then Judy Scott, a former colleague here at AFB. Taught me so much about the world of work in the state arena and the nonprofit arena and how we have such an opportunity and an obligation to find the ways to make things different for people who are blind or visually impaired. That we need to make a difference this world. And you do that one person at a time, one program at a time, one policy at a time, one research project at a time. It's hard to stay focused on the smaller pieces when there are so many pieces to focus on. But if you don't stay focused on those smaller pieces, the big pieces will never fall into place.

And then last is my colleague, who's my administrative assistant, who I've known for 25 years, long before he worked for AFB. And that's Kevin Doherty. And he taught me about servant leadership. And being a leader is not about being the big boss and being in charge and everybody kowtows to you and does what you say. It's serving those people you work with to help them do more and do better and to achieve the goals of the organization, whatever organization that is. And being a servant leader is something I learned from Kevin and something that I believe in very strongly that we have to work alongside each other to achieve our goals. And as a leader, I have to be able to empower and inspire people to work hard, to get where we're going.

John Mackin: Melody, we definitely have to get Kevin to listen to this once [crosstalk].

Melody Goodspeed: Yes. And I agree that Kevin's attitude is so like that. It's such a huge leadership. Just a huge leadership, A plus for me. Yes.

John Mackin: Great [inaudible]. For Judy, I did have the pleasure of working with Judy in my first AFB stint. And yeah, she was also a leader. Those are terrific answers. Neva, if you could have coffee with any historical figure, who would you choose?

Neva Fairchild: Well, at the risk of being thought a name dropper, I would want to have coffee with Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan. I remember as an elementary school child being so inspired by the biography I read and the movie I saw back in the '60s. And I really do think that that's where the seed of helping others like me, who didn't see so well, was planted, was learning about Annie Sullivan and Helen Keller. And I would love to have coffee with those ladies and just talk about the world and talk about life and learn from them and their attitudes and their dreams and their aspirations.

Melody Goodspeed: I love that. And you're keeping in tune with our celebration on September 23rd, 2021. I often have been catching myself thinking, goodness gracious, I wonder when these ladies are, and everyone's putting that capsule together, a time capsule, were they thinking this, they're timeless.

Neva Fairchild: Yeah. They are. And I'll be honest with you, I would be interested to know, did Helen and Annie even have an inkling of how great they were as an example to the world? I don't know.

Melody Goodspeed: That's a really good question. And-

Neva Fairchild: I don't know.

Melody Goodspeed: I would think just... You just made me think just how another thing often, I find something new and discover, but that thought of just thinking that, just how they worked together, man, if you can't come up with a better example of teamwork right there than that, and figuring out problems and how to overcome them and then elevating it. Wasn't just a one and done with them. You know what I mean?

Neva Fairchild: No.

Melody Goodspeed: They were able to accomplish. Well, that would be a great coffee chat for sure.

Neva Fairchild: I'll invite you too Melody.

Melody Goodspeed: Thank you. [inaudible].

John Mackin: Well, it was supposed to be one historical figure. We're going to allow two and it's going to be Helen and Annie. So that's it.

Neva Fairchild: Thank you for breaking the rules for me.

John Mackin: We're going to break the rules for Neva this time. What do you think Melody? Do we have time for one more or...

Melody Goodspeed: We have time for one more. Yes.

John Mackin: Okay. Neva, what are three books you recommend to the Inform & Connect audience and why?

Melody Goodspeed: And then we're going to start a book club.

Neva Fairchild: Well, I can't help but include the Leadership Challenge, which we're using in our Blind Leaders Development Program, because it is so powerful in the behaviors that they have researched, and it's all researched based. So it's not just, hey, this is what we think will work, this is what we know works. And how much you can learn about yourself and what's missing in your behaviors if you are trying to influence and lead others.

I'm reading it for my third time right now because it's kind of one of those books that you go back to you and you get something out of it different the second time around than you did the first time around. And I guess the other books would be books that basically take me away, Calgon take me away. So there's a whole series of books called the Elm Creek Quilt series. And there's 20 something books in it. I've read them all at least twice, some of them three times.

And it's all about a historical home that is turned into a quilting retreat and quilting is taught. But the women who go there and the men, because there are actually men who quilt, the men and women who go there think they're going to learn about quilting and really they learn so much more. And it's a fictional story, but I love it. And I love the idea of my crafting being a part of what makes me who I am and how it keeps me grounded and sane and centered. The whole time we've been talking, I'm sitting here knitting and it's my fidget spinner. And so books about crafting and those kinds of things. And then I love historical books too. And it goes back in time into the settling of America and that kind of thing.

And then, gosh, this is really tough. I guess this is probably kind of trite, but not really because really it is the basics for how I want to live my life. And that's the Bible. And again, when I attend church, our church reads the same readings every three years, it's on that three year cycles. So three years ago on this Sunday, in time, you heard this same reading, but I swear I don't hear them or I hear them differently because when I hear certain readings, I get something different out of it every time.

And although I'm not a Bible scholar, cannot quote chapter and verse, and I've never read the Bible from cover to cover, I think it's still one of my favorite books because it has so much guidance for how to love people. And by loving them, we're caring for them and we're helping them. And then in turn, they're caring for and helping us. And I think that's what being a human is all about. Being on this planet comes with responsibilities, whether you are blind or have low vision or use a wheelchair for mobility or cannot hear well, cannot hear at all. Doesn't matter. As a human on this earth we have responsibilities to one another as other humans. So the Bible helps to guide me in those areas.

Melody Goodspeed: I whole heartedly I'm with you on that Neva. Thank you so much. This is just been a true pleasure. And normally I, this is where I say hey, if you want to know more about our program, AFB, visit But Neva, can you, if people want to learn more about Blind Leaders Development Program, where can they go?

Neva Fairchild: Absolutely. It's, all one word, B-L-I-N-D-L-E-A-D-E-R-S. And right now we're not taking applications for mentors or fellows but in the spring of 2022, we will be opening those applications up again for our third cohort, which will start in July of 2022. So please bookmark that site and come back and visit us in March or April and see if the applications have reopened.

Melody Goodspeed: And you know Neva, I have to put on my development hat here. If people were interested and go in there and they're going to fall in love with the program, what is it we do, how could they help with a financial gift?

Neva Fairchild: Well, it's a great question because it is something we have to find the funding to continue to support. Fellows and mentors do not pay anything for leadership training that lasts from nine months to 12 months, depending on the cohort. And so they can get in touch with our resource development department at AFB, or they can simply email, and we'll reach back out and set up a conversation because the cohort is... We are constantly preparing for the next cohort.

Melody Goodspeed: Yes.

Neva Fairchild: In the next couple of months, I haven't even got this cohort chosen and off the ground and kicked off. And we'll start planning for the next one.

Melody Goodspeed: Yes. And Neva, they get to talk to you and I. [inaudible].

Neva Fairchild: Yeah. How fun is that?

Melody Goodspeed: I mean, we're super fun. Well, I just thank you all so much. Neva, thank you for being here. Joy as always. Again, thank you guys for listening to Inform and Connect. We can't have the support without you and thank you so much for everything. I hope everyone has a blessed and wonderful day. Take care. Bye.