WASHINGTON, D.C. (October 18, 2021)—The American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) today announced the Centennial Cohort of the Blind Leaders Development Program, named as such as AFB celebrates 100 years advocating on behalf of those who are blind or visually impaired throughout 2021. Launched in 2019, the program is designed to increase upward mobility and create meaningful leadership experiences for individuals who are blind or have low vision, and in the early or middle stages of their careers.

Through 2021 and 2022, 23 fellows who are blind or have low vision will receive extensive training in leadership, networking, communication, and other key skills to advance in their careers and to improve their effectiveness as leaders while they achieve higher levels of authority and influence. They will follow the Leadership Challenge curriculum, attend a leadership seminar at the 2022 AFB Leadership Conference, attend webinars twice per month, and be paired with a successful blind or visually impaired mentor, who will provide them with honest advice and feedback about what it takes to succeed in the workforce.

The Blind Leaders Development Program Centennial Cohort includes 11 male and 12 female fellows, in employment areas that span corporate, education, government, and non-profit sectors. The ages of the fellows range from 24 to 57 years old, with an overall median age of 39. Among these 23, ten hold master’s degrees, eight hold bachelor’s degrees, four hold either associate’s or a vocational degree, and there is one doctorate. States represented by the fellows include Kentucky, Ohio, California, Maryland, Washington, Colorado, Alabama, Arizona, New Jersey, Minnesota, New York, Michigan, and Missouri.

Studies suggest that the benefits of hiring people with disabilities include improvements in profitability (profits and cost-effectiveness, turnover and retention, reliability and punctuality, employee loyalty, company image), competitive advantage (diverse customers, customer loyalty and satisfaction, innovation, productivity, work ethic, safety), and inclusive work culture, to name just a few. Yet, few blind and visually impaired Americans are in top levels of leadership in the workforce. The Blind Leaders Development Program is designed to increase upward mobility and create meaningful leadership experiences for talented individuals who are blind or have low vision.

“The changing landscape of employment today is uniquely positioned to offer blind and visually impaired leaders more opportunities to become influencers in the workforce,” said AFB’s Neva Fairchild, who oversees the program. “The timing of our kickoff – during National Disability Employment Awareness Month – should bring attention to what employers have to gain by promoting people with vision loss into leadership roles, thereby helping to make the workplace more inclusive.”

The Blind Leaders Development Program is made possible thanks to the Llura Gund Workforce Inclusion Fund, through a generous challenge grant from philanthropist Gordon Gund in honor of his beloved wife, the late Llura “Lulie” Gund. AFB supporters can contribute by visiting AFB.org/InclusionFund.

The Centennial Cohort fellows and mentors include:

Aaron Linson
Angela Nicole Kimball
Benjamin Francis Wright
Caitlin Rose Snyder
Cheryl Rosemary Rayburn
Christopher William Fendrick
Corietta L. Thompson
Danette Dixon
Emily Zimmermann
Jason Matthew Martin
Jennifer Lynn Wenzel
Jessica Lorenz
Jessica Minneci
Jorge Fernando Tarazon
Kenneth Meeker
Krystle Allen
Leah Spivey
Marc Reuben Safman
Paul Ferrara
Ryan John Machtmes
Sarah Gentle
Skylar Joseph Covich
William Howard Adams

Alia M. Abbas
Amir Rahimi
Angela Mills
Anisio Correia
Brian Celusnak
Courtney Mazzola
Jason Mandarino
Jeffrey S. Blair
Jesus Garza
Lauren Oplinger
Laurie Alice Eakes
Matthew Jerry Philipenko
Maxwell Ivey
Megan Smith
Melanie Peskoe
Michael L. O'Day, Jr.
Nasreen F. Bhutta
Orly Shamir
Pamela McGonigle
Rachel Longan
Raymond Hepper
Robert Gallo
Sheila Koenig

To learn more about the Blind Leaders Development Program, visit AFB.org/BlindLeaders.

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About the American Foundation for the Blind
Founded in 1921, the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) is a national nonprofit that creates a world of no limits for people who are blind or visually impaired. AFB mobilizes leaders, advances understanding, and champions impactful policies and practices using research and data. AFB is proud to steward the Helen Keller Archive, maintain and expand the digital collection, and honor the more than 40 years that Helen Keller worked tirelessly with AFB. Visit: www.afb.org