Announcing the Panel for Empowering and Employing the Visually Impaired at Boston Accessibility Conference.

Panel: Empowering and Employing the Visually Impaired

Moderator: Karen Young, Speakers: Cheryl Cumings, Nicole Ross, Dr. Sonal Patel

Panel Overview

This panel will examine how we can prepare the visually impaired to get relevant skills and good employment opportunities in today’s economy. The subject will be explored from 3 different perspectives: Educator, Employer and Clinician. Topics will include how to address challenges faced by the visually impaired in finding the right skills and jobs, experiences in teaching programming to the visually impaired, the use of MOOC’s to provide high quality, relevant skills and Vision Rehabilitation from a clinical perspective.

Panel Moderator

Karen Young

Karen Young serves as VP & Chief Inclusion Officer of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, a regional health services company serving members throughout Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine. In her current role she is responsible to catalyze and advance Harvard Pilgrim’s company-wide commitment to put inclusion in the forefront of everything we do. Reporting directly to Harvard Pilgrim’s President & CEO, she leads the Center for Inclusion Initiatives.

Ms. Young holds an MSW from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Education from Barrington College. Ms. Young is the recipient of the 2016 Carl Sciortino Ally award from the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition and has received the Compassion, Courage and Professionalism Award from the Northeast Human Resources Association for her practice of human resource management. Ms. Young currently serves on the Board of Directors of Boston Alliance of Gay Lesbian Bisexual Transgender Youth (BAGLY) and is a Member of the Perkins School for the Blind Corporation.
Her purpose is to contribute by helping individuals, groups and organizations see gateways to meaningful engagement in the world.

Panel Members

Cheryl Cumings
Cheryl Cumings is the founder and chief executive of Our Space Our Place, Inc., a 501C3 nonprofit based in Boston. Soon after entering high school, Cheryl contracted encephalitis and became blind. She completed her BA at Princeton University and a graduate degree at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. Cheryl worked at the Pentagon, Peace Corps, Massachusetts Commission for the blind and the University of Massachusetts medical school.

Even as Cheryl worked in the community, her concern for the success of blind children grew. Cheryl was concerned that without changes, the next generation of blind people would face the same obstacles she and others have encountered like unacceptably high unemployment rates.

In an endeavor to reduce the obstacles for the visually impaired community of Greater Boston area , in 2005 with the support of friends and family, Cheryl started Our Space Our Place, Inc., a 501C3 nonprofit. Our Space Our Place, Inc. provides an after school and career exploration program to middle and high school blind or low vision youth. The program is housed at the Tobin Community Center in Roxbury.Wanting to give blind youth an opportunity to participate in the field of technology, OSOP created a coding Camp. Students are taught, HTML, CSS and JavaScript. Students also meet and interact with technology professionals.


Nicole Ross
Nicole Ross, OD, MSc, FAAO serves as Assistant Professor of Optometry, New England College of Optometry. Dr. Ross’ clinical area of expertise in is in low vision rehabilitation. She is a clinical instructor for optometry interns in low vision at NECO Center for Eye Care Commonwealth, and Perkins School for the blind. At the college, Dr. Ross is an instructor for the following courses: Low Vision Rehabilitation throughout the Life Span and Principle and Practice of Optometry I and II.

Dr. Ross matriculated from the New England College of Optometry dual degree OD / MSc program achieving honors with distinction in both degrees. She conducted her dissertation work in low vision research at Schepens Eye Research Institute, an affiliate of Harvard Medical School. Dr. Ross was presented with the 2009 Atwell Award in low vision at the annual ARVO meeting for this work.

Dr. Ross then completed her residency in vision rehabilitation at Ohio State University where she also supervised and participated in the clinical teaching of student interns. Subsequently, she completed a two-year clinical fellowship at the Wilmer Eye Institute of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. Additionally, part of her time in the fellowship program was devoted to clinical research within the Departments of Ophthalmology and Neuroscience at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. Dr. Ross continues to have research interests in evaluating outcomes of low vision rehabilitation care and low vision aid device development.

Dr. Ross became a Fellow of the American Academy of Optometry in 2012 and has authored several research papers, abstracts, and recently co-authored a textbook chapter on stroke rehabilitation. Dr. Ross has been an invited speaker to the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology, the American Academy of Optometry at the Vision 2014 International Conference on Low Vision in Melbourne.


Sonal Patel

Dr. Sonal Patel has worked with web and accessibility since 1998, at the Harvard Extension School, teaching various topics related to web development for 15+ years. She also managed a consulting business on Web technologies, where her work involved developing accessible web sites that conforms to W3C standards.

Dr. Patel has a PhD in Experimental Atomic Physics and has taught Physics at University of Massachusetts in Amherst, where she was involved with research in education methods to teach Physics in High Schools.

Dr. Patel is a lifelong learner on MOOCs and is an active participant as a learner and a mentor on the major MOOC platforms like edX and Coursera. She advocates Social Learning on MOOCs. Sonal believes, “When we build MOOCs that are accessible to everyone, we are creating equal opportunity to learn for everyone, including those who are visually impaired.”

In the past year, Dr. Patel has worked with visually challenged students from Vision-Aid, a nonprofit based in Lexington, MA. She mentors students have varied degrees of visual impairment, as a mentor and as a learning facilitator, to guide and motivate them to take various courses on MOOCs like edX and Coursera. She believes that in the world of employment, continuous learning is the key to success for everyone and we should be mindful about providing accessible material on MOOCs.

Accessibility on MOOCs will open up possibility for everyone to learn and improve their job skills. Dr. Patel wants to help empower the visually impaired to get the full benefit of learning on MOOCs. Which will prepare them to contribute towards developing innovative solutions, which will lead to the creation of a more inclusive society.

Vision-Aid India Relaunches its Website

The launch of this new website gives us renewed hope that India will see more lives of the visually impaired being transformed.

Vision-Aid Newsletter

Vision-Aid Course Catalog

Vision-Aid Model

A Digital Accessibility Testing Testimonial | Nibin Mathews

Nibin Mathews’ journey is a testament to resilience and determination. Despite facing

significant visual impairment challenges since birth, Nibin pursued education with unwavering determination. Losing sight in one eye due to a cricket ball stroke in 6th grade and later losing vision in the other eye to glaucoma didn’t deter him. He completed his Bachelor’s in English and even secured a job with Indian Railways. Yet, his thirst for knowledge led him to pursue computer programming, which he found through Vision-Aid. With their specialized training, he mastered coding and digital accessibility testing. With their financial support, he pursued a Master’s degree. Now, as the Accessibility Lead at Bosch Global Software Technologies, he’s excelling professionally. But Nibin’s achievements don’t stop there; he’s also an international tennis champion and a skilled violinist. He attributes much of his success to Vision-Aid, acknowledging their pivotal role in his journey. His story is not just one of personal triumph but also a testament to the impact of support systems in overcoming challenges and inspiring others.

A Job Coaching for Banking and other exams Testimonial | Gautam Gulati

Meet Gautam, a remarkable individual based in Bareilly, Uttar Pradesh, whose life story is a testament to resilience, determination, and the transformative power of organizations like Vision-Aid India.

Gautam’s life commenced with the diagnosis of Retinist Pigmentosa. Despite experiencing a 40% loss of sight, he persevered through attending a regular school, successfully completing his education and earning a B Com degree. His world took an unexpected turn after graduation, when, he had the major sight loss. Faced with the challenges of navigating everyday activities like driving, reading, writing print, and mobility etc. Yet, rather than allowing these obstacles to define him, he chose a path of resilience and determination. Undeterred by his circumstances, Gautam turned to technology, becoming dependent on tools designed for visually impaired individuals, including screen readers. His quest for independence led him to explore new technologies with the support of various NGOs. Through his social networks, Gautam discovered Vision-Aid India, an organization dedicated to empowering the visually impaired. Recognizing the potential for growth, he enrolled in Vision-Aid’s IBPS banking crash course, specifically tailored for visually impaired individuals, in April 2022.

Determined to enhance his skills further, Gautam pursued an additional course in mobile technology. This commitment to personal and professional growth showcased his unwavering spirit and determination.

Armed with newfound knowledge, Gautam faced the Bank of India Credit Officer exam after completing the IBPS crash course. His hard work, coupled with the right guidance from Vision-Aid, resulted in success. In 2023, Gautam proudly joined Bank of India as a Credit Officer, marking a significant milestone in his journey.

Gautam attributes his success and newfound independence to Vision-Aid India. With deep gratitude, he acknowledges the organization’s role in providing IBPS coaching and shaping his path towards independence.

A Python Testimonial

Tejas

Tejas, born with visual impairment in Mumbai, pursued his education at a Blind School. After school, he graduated from St. Xavier’s College in 2007. His quest for technology education led him to NIIT Bangalore, but job challenges followed. He worked as an HR Recruiter at Thomson Reuters but continued his search for software engineering opportunities. Tejas found his path at Vision-Aid India, where he gained certifications in JavaScript, CSS, HTML, Python, and Digital Accessibility Testing. Vision-Aid then helped him secure a role as an Associate Software Engineer at Pristine InfoTech Inc. He’s deeply grateful to Vision-Aid for enabling visually impaired individuals to learn software languages and work independently as software engineers.

Bindhu Sri

Meet Bindu, from Hyderabad. Who began her life with the gift of perfect vision? She embarked on her educational journey in a conventional school, but at the tender age of 9, her world dimmed as Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP) impacted her sight. Loosing major of her vision with lot of challenges she still could complete her graduate degree in 2020 and her post-graduate degree in 2022. Being interested to pursue her career in computer programming she discovered Vision-Aid India, a beacon of hope and opportunity. Enrolling in their online certification programs, Bindu successfully completed both Python and SQL languages. Armed with these newfound skills, she opened doors to her career, securing a position as a Data Engineer at RX Data Science, a renowned company.

“All of this was made possible through the invaluable support and guidance provided by Vision-Aid India” She Says.

A HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and ARIA Fundamentals for Accessible Web Development Testimonial

Tejas

Tejas, born with visual impairment in Mumbai, pursued his education at a Blind School. After school, he graduated from St. Xavier’s College in 2007. His quest for technology education led him to NIIT Bangalore, but job challenges followed. He worked as an HR Recruiter at Thomson Reuters but continued his search for software engineering opportunities. Tejas found his path at Vision-Aid India, where he gained certifications in JavaScript, CSS, HTML, Python, and Digital Accessibility Testing. Vision-Aid then helped him secure a role as an Associate Software Engineer at Pristine InfoTech Inc. He’s deeply grateful to Vision-Aid for enabling visually impaired individuals to learn software languages and work independently as software engineers.