WASHINGTON, D.C. (April 20, 2021)—The American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) today announced the successful completion of the first ever cohort of the Blind Leaders Development Program. A graduation ceremony was held on April 20, 2021.

Launched in 2020, the Blind Leaders Development Program was created by AFB to increase upward mobility and create meaningful leadership experiences for individuals who are blind or low vision, who are already employed and in the beginning stages of their careers.

While in the program, the Blind Leaders Development Program fellows received extensive training in leadership, networking, communication, and other key skills for advancing in their careers and improving their effectiveness as they achieve higher levels of authority and influence. Other facets of the program included following the Leadership Challenge curriculum, attending a series of webinars, and being paired with a successful blind or low vision mentor who could provide honest advice and feedback about what it takes to succeed in the workforce. That this cohort successfully completed this rigorous program during the height of the coronavirus pandemic only makes their accomplishments all the more noteworthy.

“These fifteen professionals have honed their knowledge and skills so that as they advance in their careers and engage in their communities, they will be effective and influential leaders,” said Kirk Adams, Ph.D., AFB president and CEO. “Thanks to their hard work and the work of their mentors, for whom we are all grateful, these graduates now have the imperative to create and sustain a more inclusive workforce. Their accomplishments augur well for both their own careers and the world at large.”

The 2021 Blind Leaders Development Program fellows and mentors include:

Fellows
Alexandra Brown
Andrew Worley
Caitlin Mongillo
Francesco Magisano
Greg Young
Gregory Aikens
Henry Allen
Irwin Ramirez
Rachel Longan
Rebecca Arrowood
Serina Nicole Gilbert
Sherry Pablo
Stephanie L. Rood
Travis Smith
Vivian Fridas

Mentors
Brian Petraits
Daniel Frye, J.D.
Gena Harper
Jeff Wissel
Joseph Danowsky, J.D.
Lisa Johnson, Ph. D.
Matthew Janusauskas
Meagan McComic
Neva Fairchild
Owen McCaul, J.D.
Phillip Maso
Virginia (Gaye) Young
Rebecca Colagreco
Tanner Gers
Todd Falstrom

The Blind Leaders Development Program was made possible thanks to the generous contributions from the Jack K. Ayre and Agnes K. Ayre Foundation for Blind Children, American Express Foundation, William H. Ellsworth Foundation, Lee Hecht Harrison, and Mercer.

About the Blind Leaders Development Program
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 blind individuals. Learn more at: www.afb.org/BLDP.

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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