In Memoriam: Honoring the Life and Legacy of Susan Jay Spungin

WASHINGTON, D.C. (February 19, 2019)—The American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) is saddened to learn of the passing of Susan Jay Spungin, who spent over three-and-a-half decades working at AFB.

“Susan Spungin was a legend in our field, and she achieved so much on behalf of people who are blind or visually impaired,” said Kirk Adams, AFB president and CEO. “Our thoughts and deepest sympathies are with her family.”

Dr. Spungin joined AFB in 1972, as a national specialist in education. In this role, she identified issues affecting blind, deaf-blind, and severely visually impaired children and youths, and she worked in partnership with schools, agencies, state departments of education, universities, the federal government, and other organizations to resolve those issues. In addition to her work in education, she was instrumental in shaping AFB's research and policy goals, as well as its national programs in the areas of early childhood development, aging, employment, rehabilitation teaching, low vision, orientation and mobility, and career education. By the time she retired in 2008, Dr. Spungin was AFB's vice president for International Programs and Special Projects. A year later, she received the Migel Medal, the highest honor bestowed in the blindness field.

“Susan Spungin was a pre-eminent leader in our field, nationally and globally, for nearly five decades,” said Carl Augusto, AFB President Emeritus, whose tenure at AFB largely overlapped with Dr. Spungin’s. “She led AFB’s program departments for more than 30 years and oversaw AFB’s expansion into new areas. Her work resulted in significant improvements in, for example, the education of children with vision loss. Susan played a pivotal role in my orientation to AFB when I became President in 1991, and she taught me so much about the educational system for children. Susan will be missed, but her legacy will be long-lasting.”

Shortly after joining AFB, Dr. Spungin was selected to run in-service teacher training workshops in Argentina. Her teacher training, literacy (including braille), and education work in the United States has frequently served as models for the international blindness community, and her presentations, expertise, and consultative services have been sought out from every corner of the globe.

Dr. Spungin's international work was bolstered by her affiliation with several blindness organizations. In addition to AFB, she was actively involved with the World Blind Union; the International Council for Education of People with Visual Impairment; the National Association for Parents of Children with Visual Impairments (NAPVI), which she helped found; the Braille Authority of North America; and the Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired (AER).

Dr. Spungin edited and authored numerous books, book chapters, and she also wrote articles for national and international journals. A significant professional contribution of Dr. Spungin's is the development of standards that have brought the blindness field together in the areas of the creation of a competency-based curriculum for universities in the United States; training teachers to work with children who are visually impaired; educational guidelines for public schools after the passage of mainstreaming legislation, in 1975; and the formalization of national organizations in education that include state vision consultants, instructional material centers for blind people, preschool programs for early childhood education for blind children, and guidelines for public school psychologists who work with students with visual impairments.

In addition to the 2009 Migel Medal, Dr. Spungin has rightfully been honored with numerous awards, including the 2013 Distinguished Alumni Award from Teachers College, Columbia University; the 2007 NAPVI Founders Award; the 2003 Wings of Freedom Award from the American Printing House for the Blind; the 2002 Mary K. Bauman Award from AER; the Mary E. Switzer Scholars Award; the 2001 Council for Exceptional Children Distinguished Service Award; the AFB 1993 Equality of Access and Opportunity Award, for her work in braille literacy; and the Josephine L. Taylor Award from the University Division of AER, to name just a few. In addition, in 1991, Dr. Spungin became the first sighted woman to receive the Russian Medal from the Byelorussian Association of the Blind.

Dr. Spungin earned a doctorate in education at Teachers College, Columbia University. She also completed the Human Service Executive Management Program at Harvard Graduate School of Business.