October was an amazing month to raise awareness about low vision and blindness, and to recognize the progress that has been made in access to equal opportunities and the reduction of discrimination against individuals with disabilities.
I had the opportunity to be a part of several activities this past month that recognized people with unique abilities. Some of these engagements included the Division’s White Cane Safety Day event at Florida State University, the Department’s Disability History and Awareness Weeks celebration and the Agency for People with Disabilities’ 11th annual Disability Employment Awareness Celebration.
Each event brought together a different message and audience, but resulted in a unified goal – increased awareness and recognition for persons with disabilities.
Disability History and Awareness Weeks is very important to me because the message of “treating others the same even though they may be seen as different” gets inside of the classroom and into the minds – and hearts – of our youth. I am thankful that our See Different team was able to visit so many classrooms to deliver that powerful message.
And, we are reminded that today’s young people are tomorrow’s entrepreneurs and hiring managers. Therefore, it is beneficial to plant that seed as early as possible.
APD’s event was a great opportunity to highlight employment successes of persons with disabilities, honor businesses who are committed to employing people with disabilities and recognize those employers who go above and beyond in hiring and retaining people with disabilities in their workforce.
As a division, I am proud of the work that we do to assist our clients in their quest for independence. Individuals with disabilities have great abilities to perform a job if just given the opportunity. Work is a fundamental part of life that provides purpose and economic self-sufficiency. We must remember to work across all spectrums to ensure that everyone is offered the opportunity to showcase his or her skillset in Florida’s homes, communities and workforce.
Robert L. Doyle III
The Division of Blind Services (DBS), in partnership with the Florida State University (FSU) College of Education, recognized the successes achieved by persons who are blind or visually impaired during the DBS 75th Anniversary and White Cane Safety Day Ceremony and Expo in Tallahassee.
Nearly 200 guests attended the ceremony and expo, which featured educational sessions, business networking opportunities and a community and technology showcase. Speakers included Rep. Alan Williams, D-Tallahassee, Education Commissioner Pam Stewart, Director Robert Doyle, Captain Jeffrey Bissainthe of the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, and current and past members of consumer organizations and direct service providers.
Talent Development Manager Angela Hendrieth of the City of Tallahassee presented a proclamation to the Division in honor of White Cane Safety Day.
White Cane Safety Day is a national observance to celebrate the abilities of persons who are blind or visually impaired. The day is also intended to educate the public of the White Cane Law, which requires motorists to stop when a pedestrian carrying a white cane or accompanied by a guide dog is crossing a street.
DBS client Kiersten McCans, a 10-year-old resident of Crawfordville, Fla., shared her story during the program. As a baby, her parents noticed she had problems with her vision and were fortunate enough to get a diagnosis. She began to crawl the very day she received her first pair of glasses and hasn’t looked back since. Since starting to advocate for other children, she has become more comfortable in sharing her experiences with her classmates and other members of the community.
Triathlete and military veteran David Bigoney also spoke. After receiving an honorable discharge from the U.S. Navy, Bigoney moved to Tallahassee to pursue college in the mid-1990s. In December 1996, Bigoney was a victim of violence, leaving him completely blind. However, he did not allow his disability to hinder his goals.
In March 2001, with the help of a sighted guide, he completed his first triathlon. Bigoney was immediately hooked, and thrilled that he had found a sport that challenged him physically and mentally. In 2004, Bigoney graduated from Florida State University with degrees in Information Technology and Nutrition and Fitness. In 2005, he made history by becoming the first totally blind individual to complete an Ironman Triathlon (2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, 26.2 mile run).
During the last three years, Bigoney has also become active in Goalball, a team sport designed for blind and visually impaired athletes.
“For me, life has always been an adventure worth pursuing and living to the fullest,” said Bigoney, the father of an 11-year old son. “I was determined in 1996 that losing my sight wouldn’t change that.”
To view coverage from the 75th Anniversary and White Cane Safety Day Ceremony and Expo, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xWmvgNZvQBg.
To view more photos, visit the Division of Blind Services Facebook Page here: http://bit.ly/2f8vPDt
The Florida Unique Abilities Partner Program recognizes businesses that are committed to providing career and financial opportunities to individuals with unique abilities and to assisting organizations that support them.
Participating businesses demonstrate their dedication to strengthening communities and the economy by helping these Floridians with untapped talents become more independent and by partnering with other businesses, organizations and state resources in this endeavor.
For more information on this program, visit http://floridajobs.org/unique-abilities-partner-program.
Business Enterprise Program Mourns the Loss of Long Time Vendor and Committee Chairman Tom Spiliotis
The Business Enterprise program experienced the unexpected loss of blind vendor and Chairman of the Committee of Vendors Tom Spiliotis On October 3, 2016. He was 65.
For 22 of the last 24 years, Tom has served on the State Committee, first for two years as vice chair and then as chairman for 20 years, having sat out just one two-year term. As vendor and chairman, Tom encouraged and assisted hundreds of blind and visually impaired individuals in the Randolph-Sheppard food and vending program.
Tom was completely blind by the age of 5. He grew up in the Bronx, N.Y., and naturally became an avid Boston Red Sox fan. In 1969, he graduated as the valedictorian from the New York Institute for the Education of the Blind.
The director of the Institute said of Tom, “As president of the student body and president of the senior class, Tom left a very favorable impression on all with whom he came in contact.”
Tom earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Dartmouth in 1973 and a law degree from the University of Colorado in 1978. After moving to Florida, Tom entered the Business Enterprise program and was licensed October 7, 1987. His first facility was a small food counter in a car dealership, Howard Chevrolet, in Orlando. While there, Tom practiced two traits that would bode well for him throughout his career in Business Enterprise. First, he loved and easily connected with people and, second, he worked harder than anyone else. Growing this small business paved the way for bigger and better opportunities, including the vending at the large Coleman Federal Correctional Camp, and later, a rest area on I-75. Success in these facilities eventually led him to the business he loved so much and for which he will be remembered, the vending stand at the eastbound rest area on I-4 in Polk County, west of Orlando. He faithfully serviced this facility up until a few days before his death.
To some, it may seem odd for someone with a law degree to get involved in snack bars and vending machines. Tom utilized his legal knowledge and expertise to be a strong leader of the Florida Business Enterprise. He guided the Committee of Vendors through some “turbulent times” to quote a fellow vendor.
Another vendor said of Tom, “His fingerprints are all over this program.” He helped shape policy and was intimately involved in rules development. He worked closely with the leadership of the Division of Blind Services’ Bureau of Business Enterprise to develop and implement strategies for furthering the program. His counsel in many areas has proven invaluable. He has been an effective spokesman for the program addressing groups such as the National Association of Blind Merchants and the Florida Rehabilitation Council for the Blind.
His leadership on the Committee and his willingness to mentor, guide and assist any blind vendor, strengthened the program and helped others achieve success and earn a good income. He did much to shape the program and make it into what it is today, one of the leading Business Enterprise programs in the nation.
On August 29, 2015, Tom was honored with a plaque during the Business Enterprise Biennial Seminar, where he was recognized for his many years of dedicated service to the Florida Business Enterprise. The plaque was so inscribed, “Presented to Tom Spiliotis, With Deep Appreciation for Exceptional Guidance and Outstanding Leadership.”
Tom Spiliotis was an extraordinary individual. He served with distinction as chairman of the Florida State Committee of Vendors for two decades. He made a lasting impression on many of the people currently in the program, as well as many who have moved on from it. He left a legacy of dedication and unselfish service for others to follow.
His wife, Nancy, and many family members, were with him when he passed.
Governor Rick Scott made a visit to Fort Myers recently to present an Employer Award to Division of Blind Services partner, All Access Multimedia. During his visit, he spoke with DBS client R. Delara who is employed by All Access Multimedia. DBS Employment Placement Specialist Albert Bsales helped Delara secure the position with the video production company.
The Florida Division of Blind Services (DBS) is seeking public input on the draft 2016-2020 DBS Strategic Plan. The DBS Strategic Plan aligns itself with the Florida Department of Education's Strategic Plan, new WIOA regulations and supports the Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) DBS State Unified Plan.
Your feedback will help us plan for the delivery of comprehensive services to blind and visually impaired Floridians over the next five years.
All feedback provided via this website is anonymous. You will be entering your comments into an ADA accessible online survey tool. The deadline for submitting comments is Tuesday, December 20, 2016.
The Florida Department of Education (FDOE) celebrated Disability History and Awareness Weeks with an opening ceremony at the Turlington Building, as well as several “See Different” presentations in various Leon and Gadsden county schools. This observance served as an opportunity to reflect on the valuable contributions individuals with disabilities make to our state. Speakers included Education Commissioner Pam Stewart, the Florida Youth Council and The Pyramid Players’ Electric People band.
The first two weeks of October are Disability History & Awareness Weeks. Section 1003.4205, Florida Statutes, entitled Disability History and Awareness Instruction, requires school districts to designate the first two weeks of October as Disability History and Awareness Weeks and also promotes providing instruction for students in all public schools to expand student knowledge, understanding, and awareness of individuals with disabilities, disability history and the disability rights movement.
The “See Different” initiative is intended to showcase how individuals with visual disabilities, like everyone else, possess qualities and capabilities to contribute to and succeed in the classroom and in their communities. The interactive presentations included personal testimonials, assistive technology demonstrations and simulated experiences (i.e., activities with blindfolds or vision simulators).
To watch clips from the See Different presentation at Greensboro Elementary, visit
Governor Rick Scott recently announced three reappointments to the Florida Rehabilitation Council for the Blind.
Howard Bell, 62, of St. Petersburg, is a senior advocate investigator with Disability Rights Florida. He was reappointed for a term beginning September 21 and ending August 31, 2019.
Jesus Garcia, 53, of Hialeah, is a manager at Logisticare, LLC. He was reappointed for a term beginning September 21 and ending August 31, 2019.
Robert Kelly, 63, of Daytona Beach, is the executive director for the Florida Lions Conklin Centers for the Blind. He was reappointed for a term beginning September 21 and ending August 31, 2019.
DBS staff wore pink on October 5 for Breast Cancer Awareness Month, a time to highlight the importance of breast cancer education and research. From shirts and ties to dresses and skirts, staff wore their favorite version of pink – rose, fuchsia, blush, salmon, magenta, Pantone 707c – for the occasion.
According to breastcancer.org, nearly one in eight U.S. women will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime. The American Cancer Society estimates nearly 2,600 new cases of invasive breast cancer in men will be diagnosed in the United States for 2016.
October is Bullying Prevention Month, a time for communities around the world to educate and raise awareness of bullying prevention. According to PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center, one in four school-aged children will be bullied sometime this year. Staff from the Braille and Talking Book Library in Daytona wore orange in support of the initiative.
In the News
DBS employee Ricardo Aponte was recently featured on Acción Hispana. He discussed DBS' programs and services in Southwest Florida. For more information, you may click this link: http://www.accionhispana.tv/ahtv/playepisode.asp?EpisodeID=7607.
El empleado de DBS, Ricardo Aponte, fue recientemente destacado en el programa de televisión Acción Hispana. Habló sobre los programas y servicios que ofrece DBS en el Suroeste de la Florida. Para más información, haga clic en este enlace:
Miami Lighthouse for the Blind is celebrating a huge milestone. After 85 years of helping the blind community, they’re expanding in a big way to help young kids. Miami Lighthouse for the Blind was founded 85 years ago in 1931 by Dolly Gamble and she had some help from one of the most famous blind people in history.
October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, a time to celebrate the contributions of workers with disabilities and educate about the value of a diverse workforce inclusive of their skills and talents. Leah Katz-Hernandez is usually the first person to greet guests as they enter the White House’s West Wing. The Connecticut native is also the first deaf person to be known as ROTUS, or receptionist of the United States.
Read more at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/leah-katz-hernandez-rotus_us_579fa0cce4b0693164c21f5f.
Kiersten McCans of Crawfordville says she may have a visual impairment, but she doesn't let it slow her down. She likes cheerleading and horseback riding. She spoke in front of crowd at Florida State University. The 10-year-old advocate said in her speech her life and the lives of others can be on equal ground.
Did You Know?
Braille Tales is a free print-braille early reading book program from APH (American Printing House for the Blind) for young children who are blind or visually impaired and/or for parents who are blind or visually impaired. APH believes that early exposure to reading develops crucial braille awareness skills and promotes enthusiasm for literacy.
By enrolling in Braille Tales, participating families receive a free print-braille book every other month until the child reaches their 6th birthday.
To be eligible for the program:
- Child or parent must meet the legal definition of blindness
- Child must be age 5 or under
- Family must reside in the U.S. or its outlying areas
- Mary Vavala, Palmetto
- Darlene Coleman, Orlando
- Sally Neiger, Braille and Talking Book Library
- Ayla Oliver, Braille and Talking Book Library
- Alexxis Cook-Graham, Orlando
- Adam Long, Fort Myers
- Ashley Herman, Fort Myers
- Paula Frenette, Braille and Talking Book Library
- Rasheen Perry, Miami
- Kelvin Hall, Braille and Talking Book Library
- Tamara Oates, State Office
- Henry Moore, Braille and Talking Book Library
- Terri Titus, Daytona
- Cynthia Lyons, Pensacola
- Cheryl Davis, Braille and Talking Book Library
- Kenneth Baldwin, Jacksonville
- Albert Bsales
- William Findley
- Keith Flowers
- Stephanie Lambert
325 West Gaines Street
Tallahassee, Florida 32399
To request a Braille version of this edition of The Visionary, contact the Braille and Talking Book Library: Maureen.Dorosinski@dbs.fldoe.org or call 800-226-6075