Paying tribute to trailblazing advocates in the blindness field

WASHINGTON, D.C. (April 26, 2022)—At the 2022 AFB Leadership Conference, the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) will recognize individuals who have made superb contributions to improving the lives of people who are blind or visually impaired with the presentations of the Migel Medal, the Llura Gund Leadership Award, and the Corinne Kirchner Research Award.

The Migel Medal was established in 1937 by the late M.C. Migel, AFB's first chairman, to honor professionals and volunteers whose dedication and achievements improve the lives of people who are blind or visually impaired. Gale Watson and Judith Dixon are the 2022 recipients.

Gale Watson has worked in clinical care, education, and research at many levels in the blindness field and is rightfully recognized as a leader and an expert. She was most recently the Director of Blind Rehabilitation Service for the Department of Veterans Affairs, having retired in 2019. She has served as Vision Rehabilitation Program Manager and Research Health Scientist at the Ophthalmology Clinic at the Atlanta VA Medical Center; a professor at the Pennsylvania College of Optometry (now Salus University) and Special Educator at the Northeast Georgia Cooperative Educational Service Agency.

As a researcher, Ms. Watson published 18 times in peer-reviewed journals; contributed chapters to 12 published books; and served as a peer reviewer and editor for many professional journals, including the Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness, for which she co-guest edited the 2008 Special Issue on Age-Related Macular Degeneration. Many of her publications have focused on new and innovative practices and equipment to enhance the independence and safety of adults with low vision and blindness. Ms. Watson has received numerous honors and awards throughout her career, including Outstanding Contribution to Low Vision Division and Outstanding Contribution to Research and Literature in Low Vision, both presented by the Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired; as well as the Outstanding Public Awareness Award from the Foundation Fighting Blindness; and several service awards from the Department of Veterans Affairs, to name just a few.

Judith Dixon is a recognized trailblazer in the areas of braille reading, writing, and promotion, also including technology, and e-literacy. She has served as an advocate for access to printed information through the widest possible use of special formats—braille, the internet, ebooks, ebraille, and other emerging technologies. She is a longtime champion of all forms of access to information, consulting with organizations of all types to provide assistive technology and braille services, while fostering the inclusion of all people regardless of their tech abilities.

Dr. Dixon worked as the Consumer Relations Officer for the National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled (NLS) of the Library of Congress in Washington, DC from 1981 to 2021. Following her retirement, she was asked to return to work on special projects because of her vast knowledge and expertise. She served on several committees for various library organizations and associations, consulted with numerous states on access, made presentations at conferences and wrote extensively for the field. She has served as a member of the Braille Authority of North America. Since 2009, she has been a member of the WBU World Braille Council, was a member of the Transforming Braille Group, and has been active with the International Council on English Braille (ICEB) since 2008, when she was elected secretary. In 2020, she was elected president of ICEB, the code maintenance organization for the Unified English Braille code. She now writes regularly for AccessWorld®: Technology and People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired.

The Migel Medals will be presented to the recipients during the morning general session on Monday, May 2.

The newly established Llura Gund Leadership Award recognizes an outstanding leader who has benefitted from one of AFB’s employment initiatives. This individual is given $5,000 to support their leadership development beyond AFB’s training programs. Rachel Longan is the 2022 recipient.

Ms. Longan is a Licensed Marriage Family Therapist who owns a private psychotherapy practice in Berkeley, CA. Throughout her career, Ms. Longan has improved individuals’ lives by bringing people together. She founded the Mind’s Eye, a support group for individuals coping with blindness. She previously founded a support group for LGBTQ individuals coping with blindness, which she conducted at the Lighthouse for the Blind in San Francisco. Additionally, Ms. Longan directed a grant-funded program designed for families of children with special needs at the YMCA in Berkeley. She serves on the board of directors for the Alameda County Developmental Disabilities Council. Ms. Longan is a 2021 graduate of AFB’s Blind Leaders Development Program, and subsequently served as a mentor in the following cohort. She holds a bachelor’s degree in music from Mills College in Oakland and a master’s degree in counseling from San Francisco State University. She has presented numerous lectures on treatment approaches for children on the autism spectrum at the University of California, Berkeley.

The award is so named in honor of the late Llura “Lulie” Gund, a philanthropist who, along with her husband, Gordon, was dedicated to improving the lives of those with blindness by funding research treatments and cures for blinding retinal diseases. The couple received a Migel Medal in 2016 for their work in founding and running the Foundation Fighting Blindness.

The Gund Award will be presented during a special morning session on Tuesday, May 3.

The Corinne Kirchner Research Award honors those whose leadership and dedication illuminate the most pressing needs of people with vision loss through timely, innovative, and authoritative research. The 2022 recipients are the three members of the research team comprised of Rona Pogrund, Ph.D., TSVI, COMS; Shannon Darst, Ph.D., TSVI, COMS; and Michael Munro, Ph.D., TSVI; whose work culminated in the Visual Impairment Scale of Service Intensity of Texas (VISSIT). Dr. Pogrund is a Professor and Coordinator of the TSVI Program at Texas Tech University, Dr. Darst is the Program Facilitator for the Visual Impairment Program at Stephen F. Austin State University, and Dr. Munro is the Visual Impairment Consultant in Region 6 Educational Service Center of Texas. Their groundbreaking work is changing the way itinerant vision professionals determine the appropriate type and amount of service each student with a visual impairment should receive.

Once a student is identified as having a visual impairment, teachers of students with visual impairments (TSVIs) design an educational program. An Individualized Education Program (IEP) must propose recommendations for specially designed instruction and the type and amount of service (e.g., direct instruction and educational team support and collaboration) that will ensure students and teachers are meeting IEP goals. A new tool was needed to help IEP team members and administrators make decisions based on individualized student needs related to the expanded core curriculum (ECC). The VISSIT was developed by Drs. Pogrund, Darst, and Munro, along with the other members of the Service Intensity Subcommittee of the Texas Action Committee for the Education of Students with Visual Impairments, and met this need by basing service time recommendations on student evaluation data. The scale leads to a proposed range of service delivery times, and results of the validation studies on the VISSIT have demonstrated support for its validity and reliability as a tool that can recommend appropriate type and amount of itinerant service. The VISSIT has been validated nationally and is now being implemented across the United States. This kind of guidance allows for more confidence that TSVIs will have adequate amounts of time to provide quality services to students with visual impairments and that the service time recommendations are determined by a research-based tool.

By determining service delivery time based on student need rather than size of the TSVI’s caseload or previous patterns of service, the use of the research-based VISSIT significantly impacts student outcomes in ECC areas, which leads to a higher probability of success in school, career, and independent living.

The Kirchner Award will be presented during the closing ceremony on Tuesday, May 3.

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About the American Foundation for the Blind
The American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) mobilizes leaders, advances understanding, and champions impactful policies and practices using research and data. Publisher of the Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness for over a century and counting, AFB is also proud to steward the accessible Helen Keller Archive, honoring the legacy of our most famous ambassador. AFB’s mission is to expand pathways to leadership, education, inclusive technology, and career opportunities to create a world of no limits for people who are blind, deafblind, or have low vision. To learn more, visit