Panel: Empowering and Employing the Visually Impaired
Moderator: Karen Young, Speakers: Cheryl Cumings, Nicole Ross, Dr. Sonal Patel
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.