Here to Help: Meet Steve Jordan, Director of Orientation and Mobility

Steve Jordan guiding an individualBy Brian Klotz

Steve Jordan has devoted his career to helping others achieve their goals. As the Director of Orientation and Mobility for the Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired (MABVI), Jordan helps to train individuals in how to navigate their environments safely and as independently as possible.

This desire to assist and motivate others can also be seen in Jordan’s other passion: coaching youth sports. A Massachusetts native currently living in Walpole, Jordan received his Bachelor’s from Framingham State University, and afterwards worked at Newton North High School as both a special education aide and a coach for football, baseball, and wrestling. Today, in addition to his duties at MABVI and as the proud father of five children (including a set of triplets born last February!), Jordan continues to coach all three sports at the Nobles and Greenough School in Dedham.

Jordan always knew he wanted to help people through teaching and coaching, but it wasn’t until he was working at Newton North that he discovered exactly how. As a special education aide, Jordan found that one of the students he was working with one-to-one would leave for 45 minutes twice a week, and Jordan never knew why until he asked if he could come along. Continue reading

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Giving Back

Cindy WentzBy Brian Klotz

Like many people, Cindy Wentz entered college unsure of what her career path would be. A New Jersey native, she moved to Massachusetts to attend Brandeis University, initially as a Psychology major before switching to Sociology. After graduation, Cindy worked at a bank, but was still unclear on her ultimate career goal until she decided to go back to school, obtaining a Master’s in Rehabilitation Counseling from Boston University.

“I remember in high school I always thought I wanted to work with people,” she says, at first thinking she would become a teacher like much of her family, before deciding it wasn’t for her.

Both Cindy’s desire to help people with disabilities and her tireless work ethic can perhaps be traced back to the discrimination she faced trying to gain employment in her younger years.

“In high school, when everyone else was getting their summer jobs, I had such a hard time,” she explains. Having been blind since birth, Cindy recalls how many employers rejected her because of her disability – and would say so outright. Continue reading

Guiding With Seoul: MABVI Travels to Korea

Kyle and Andrea running

Running in Seoul!

By Andrea Croak, Team Coordinator of MABVI’s Team With A Vision

Recently my coworker Kyle Robidoux invited me on a trip of a lifetime: to head to Seoul, Korea, for a few days and assist in presenting at the K-Sports Foundation’s inaugural 2016 International Guiderunner Conference. There, we would talk about how we at the Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired (MABVI) manage our robust volunteer guide services, including MABVI’s 1:1 Volunteer Program; United in Stride, our online guide matching resource; and Team With A Vision, our running team made up of athletes who are blind and visually impaired, their sighted guides, and supporters.

With an opportunity like this, of course I said YES! Continue reading

Here to Help: MABVI’s Adjustment to Vision Loss Counseling

Loriby Lori Berkey, MSW, LICSW, Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired (MABVI) Adjustment Counselor

As a social worker who has worked with people with a range of challenges, I was delighted to join the MABVI team as an adjustment counselor last fall in their new Adjustment to Vision Loss Counseling Program.

My interest in working with people with sight loss is something that has grown over the years. Twelve years ago, I happened upon an ad in the local newspaper that said the Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired was seeking volunteers to help people who are blind with clerical work, reading their mail and going grocery shopping.

I figured that was something I could do, so I contacted their Volunteer Coordinator, Mary Haroyan, and signed up for an orientation where I learned special tips on communicating and serving as a sighted guide. Continue reading

Poor Eyesight, Excellent Vision

Peter Alan Smith running the 1994 Boston Marathon for the Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired

Peter Alan Smith running the 1994 Boston Marathon for the Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired

Post by Peter Alan Smith

Peter Alan Smith holds an MBA from Harvard University and is a Trust Administrator for John Hancock, having worked there for almost 30 years. In addition, he currently teaches Risk Management at the College of Charleston’s School of Business and and serves as the Board Chairperson for the South Carolina Commission for the Blind.

Peter hasn’t let vision loss prevent him from pursuing the sports that he loves, including becoming a 1995 Paralympic silver medalist in tandem cycling. At the 1994 Boston Marathon, Peter competed on what would later become known as Team With A Vision with the Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired (MABVI).

Hey there, my name is Peter Alan Smith. I’m also known around Charleston, South Carolina as the Midnight Golfer. That’s the title of my forthcoming book! But the story isn’t just about golf. It’s about joyfully overcoming many diverse obstacles. There will be more to come on that later on.

I ran my first Boston Marathon back in 1993; 23 years ago! I was subsequently recruited by what was then known as the first Nike/MAB Team – what is now called Team With A Vision – to run the 1994 Boston Marathon. I guess that makes me one of MABVI’s grizzled old veterans! I’m 57 now and run 5K’s, toodle around on my tandem, and litter golf courses with stray balls.

After completing the 1993 Boston Marathon, the L Street Running Club asked me to write an article for their newsletter about my experience at the event as a blind runner. So I am sharing it here following some further observations. Continue reading

Meet Megan Briggs, MABVI Director of Vision Rehabilitation

Megan BriggsWhen Megan Briggs came to the Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired (MABVI) in the summer of 2015 as Director of Vision Rehabilitation, she brought with her a wealth of experience in the field. Briggs earned a B.S. in Occupational Therapy from the University of New Hampshire and a Master’s in Healthcare Administration from Worcester State University. Her work has specialized on individuals with disabilities, including vision loss and/or brain injury.

Briggs has experience working in acute inpatient rehabilitation hospitals, acute care hospitals, outpatient facilities, and nursing homes. Prior to coming to MABVI, she worked for the University of Massachusetts providing services for MassHealth contracts, including Prior Authorization, Community Case Management, and ABI/MFP waivers. Her experience in both direct service and administration made her an ideal fit for MABVI’s Director of Vision Rehabilitation role, which allows her to do both. Briggs oversees MABVI’s Occupational Therapists (OTs) in addition to providing OT services herself.

“As the Director of the program,” she says, “I enjoy ensuring compliance and quality, and this job allows me to have the freedom to make change and improve systems. As a treating OT, I like to see people increase or maintain their independence. Continue reading

Ready to Launch: Assistive Technology Helps People with Visual Impairment Enjoy Public Places in a New Way

A photo of a smartphone in the LaunchGuide location, with a sign reading "BRAILLE TRAIL START" pointing to the phone in the wire guides and a caption on the photo that reads "[smartphone:] Welcome to the Dennis Braille Trail"

LaunchGuide in action at the Dennis Braille Trail

Post by Brian Klotz

If you’ve been to a number of locations in Massachusetts, including the Dennis Braille Trail in Dennis, MA, you may have noticed something new: a device with a QR code that can be read by your smartphone. Called LaunchGuide, this new device was created to help people with visual impairment enjoy public places with content that not only helps them navigate, but adds to the experience, and it is yet another example of the creative ways assistive technology is becoming more prevalent.

Designed by an assistive technology company called COMMplements (the brand name of products of Peacock Communications), LaunchGuide can be used by anyone with an Internet-connected device capable of reading a QR code. Each LaunchGuide location is equipped with a wire guide that helps the user position their smartphone so it can read the code. This takes them to a webpage with content unique to that location – for example, information about the exhibits in a museum or the stops along a trail, which the user can have read to them using text-to-speech as they explore.

An example of a QR code

An example of a QR code

By housing content on a webpage, users can select how and in what order they experience it, as opposed to a linear audio tour. Continue reading

I Won’t Know Unless I Try

Post by Brian Klotz

Ellie Leach at MABVI's Senior Connection 2014

Ellie Leach at MABVI’s Senior Connection 2014

Ellie Leach had never used a computer. No email, no games, no web browsing – as she puts it, “I had never even used a typewriter!” Over twenty years ago Ellie, now 78, was diagnosed with macular degeneration, a medical condition that causes vision loss, putting yet another obstacle between herself and tech-savviness.

Today, however, Ellie is the proud owner of an iPad, which she uses to email friends and family, play games, and listen to her favorite music.

“It’s like I’m alive again,” she says. “I feel like I’m a part of everything again.” Continue reading

Serving with Liberty: A Day at the MFA

Liberty Mutual volunteers pose with MABVI staffers Kyle Robidoux and Jen Buchanan outside the MFA

Liberty Mutual volunteers pose with MABVI staffers Kyle Robidoux and Jen Buchanan outside the Museum of Fine Arts

Post by Grant Johnson, Senior Financial Analyst for Liberty Mutual in Boston

Being new to Liberty Mutual, this year was my inaugural experience with the “Serve with Liberty” employee community service program. When I took a look at the available options, I knew I didn’t want to cop out and simply pick an event that was as close to where I lived as possible. Sure, the convenience of picking such a place sounded appealing, but volunteering at its core shouldn’t be about what’s convenient to you; the reason you’re contributing your time is to benefit and convenience the lives of those who actually need it. Because of that mindset, I wanted to select something that I felt would have both an immediate and lasting impact on those I, along with the other volunteers, would be dedicating the day to. That’s when I came across an event called “Feeling for Form.” Continue reading

Listening & Responding: Creating an Effective Volunteer Program

Jen Buchanan, Kyle Robidoux, and Jen's Guiding Eyes dog Keating

Jen Buchanan, Kyle Robidoux, and Jen’s Guiding Eyes dog Keating

Post by Kyle Robidoux, MABVI Director of Volunteer and Support Group Services, and Jen Buchanan, MABVI Eastern Massachusetts Volunteer Coordinator

Like most things, social service programs and their consumers’ needs change and evolve over time. As such, organizations and programs must be nimble and open-minded to ensure that they are meeting the needs of consumers.

Since 1959, the Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired (MABVI) has been running a One-to-One Volunteer Program that matches sighted volunteers with individuals who are blind or visually impaired (B/VI). The program currently works with over 180 volunteers and 115 consumers.

Historically, MABVI volunteers have helped with daily activities and tasks such as reading (mail or for pleasure), grocery shopping, and other clerical and administrative-type tasks. There continues to be a strong need for help with these types of tasks, but over the past few years our office has begun to field requests for more varied activities. Continue reading