May / June 2017

Director’s Message

DBS Remains Successful Through Continuous Communication With the People We Serve

Robert DoyleI always find it refreshing to connect and share with those individuals and organizations directly impacted by our services. Over the last few weeks, I have had the fortune to do just that, as I participated in a number of events such as the Family Café, the Florida Council of the Blind Convention, and the National Federation of the Blind of Florida State Convention.

Events, such as these, are some of my favorite activities as the director of DBS since they give me new opportunities step away from my desk and directly engage with our consumers. I relish these opportunities as I get to hear the successes and personal stories of our clients, as well as get feedback on services delivered. Very often, I hear compliments on the work being done by our team of staff and providers in the field. This direct interaction also enables me to receive input on new policies and learn what to prioritize as an organization. It is encouraging to be able to help resolve an outstanding problem and to share new information about resources that the community may not be aware of.

For me, I believe DBS has remained successful because we stay in touch with the people we serve. These individuals are the very reason we are here. It is important that we show our appreciation for their advocacy and hard work. Their support ensures that DBS has the resources that we need to remain successful at meeting our clients’ needs.

Based on our recent interactions, I want to extend a very special thank you to all our front line staff – for the difference that you make for our consumers. Additionally, I want to thank those who sacrifice their nights and weekends to staff exhibitor tables and booths in order to directly connect clients to our programs and services. You are our ambassadors. You are the face of our agency, and I appreciate all that you do.

There are some states where there may be a negative relationship with consumer groups and agencies. This is not the case in Florida. We really are all in this together. We have a great mindset and understand the importance of communicating, collaborating and cooperating towards getting the job done.


Florida Rehabilitation Council Quarterly Meeting

The Division of Blind Services Florida Rehabilitation Council Quarterly Meeting and Public Forum is scheduled for July 27-28 in Orlando.

Meeting Locations

Public Forum to which all interested individuals are invited

If you plan to attend the meeting, sign in cards will be available outside the entrance to the meeting room for anyone wishing to speak. To participate by telephone, dial 1-888-670-3525 (Passcode 1242528392#)

The Florida Division of Blind Services helps individuals with visual impairments achieve employment and independence under Title 1 of the Rehabilitation Act. 

For more information, contact

DBS Makes Final Stop on 75TH Anniversary Celebration Tour

DBS staff members Cynthia Lyons and Kesha Royster sitting at the DBS welcome table during the 75th anniversary ceremony and expo.

The Department of Education’s Division of Blind Services (DBS) commemorated its commitment to fostering independence for individuals who are blind and visually impaired during its sixth and final 75th Anniversary Regional Ceremony and Expo in Pensacola. 

DBS Director Robert Doyle is presented with a proclamation from the City of Pensacola by a male representative from the Mayor's Office.The 75th Anniversary Regional Ceremony and Expo featured informational sessions, networking opportunities, a community and technology showcase and inspirational testimonials from former DBS clients.

Vernon Stewart from the City of Pensacola spoke on behalf of Mayor Ashton Hayward. He also presented the Division with a proclamation in recognition of DBS’ 75 years of serving the blind and visually impaired community.

Other guest speakers included Paul Edwards, Florida Council for the Blind; Becky Kirsch, Independence for the Blind of West Florida; and Reps. Frank White and Clay Ingram.

Three staff members from the BBE program laugh as they perform a skit during the 75th anniversary ceremony and expo.Pamela Wirick, who was born with only 10 percent of her vision due to macular degeneration, shared her story with the audience during the ceremony. 

“I am very grateful for the Division of Blind Services and its resources that came to my rescue,” said Wirick, a child care resource and referral specialist for the Early Learning Coalition of Escambia. “I am meeting goals and completing tasks that I never thought I could do. Thank you to the DBS staff who go beyond their job expectations to assist, teach, support and listen.”

To view more photos from the 75th Anniversary celebration in Pensacola, please visit the DBS Facebook Page at

Please ‘DO’ Touch: Art for the Visually Impaired

“A Touch of Art” opened in the Peabody Auditorium in Daytona Beach March 7. Compiled over a two-year period by 15 local artists with the Experimental Mixed Media Artists (EMMA), the show is specifically intended for persons with visual impairments. The 69 pieces created include highly textured 3-D art that is meant to be explored by touch. EMMA, which is associated with the Daytona Beach Art League and the City of Daytona Beach, provided the gallery and the opening night refreshments.

Ricardo Bugaloo and Carlos Vasquez touch the tactile artwork hanging on the wall at the "A Touch of Art" exhibit.

The idea is “to communicate what we see to those that can’t, and have a shared experience that can’t be put into words,” said Gail Bokor, instructor with the Daytona Beach Art League. “This exhibition will also give us a chance to share the visual experience and educate a part of the community about the many kinds of art there are.”

Scott Larson touches the tactile artwork hanging on the wall at the "A Touch of Art" exhibitThe DBS Braille and Talking Books Library became involved through one of its volunteers who has been working with the group. At their request, the Library produced the programs in braille and helped circulate the show’s flyers to contacts in the local community. 

The response from the public surpassed the wildest expectations of the artists, who were present at the opening to discuss their work with attendees. More than 300 people attended, including groups of students and families from the Rehabilitation Center, the Center for the Visually Impaired clients, and the Conklin Center for the Blind.

The reaction from attendees with visual impairments was enthusiastic and positive, and sighted people also enjoyed the chance to experience tactile art.  A number of people suggested that the exhibition should be shown in other cities, and the organizers are now exploring the idea of taking it on the road.

'Successful 75' Award Winners

The Florida Division of Blind Services is pleased to announce the recipients of the "Successful 75" Awards. The program recognizes individuals, organizations and businesses that have remained steadfast in the advancement of independence for persons who are blind and visually impaired. Throughout the year-long anniversary celebration, 75 honorees were bestowed with this honor. 

Fifteen Successful 75 medallions lying on a table.

"We are pleased to recognize these dedicated individuals and organizations as members of the Division of Blind Services' Successful 75," said DBS Director Robert L. Doyle. "The recipients have worked tirelessly to make a difference in their communities through outreach, advocacy, hiring practices and via their individual commitments to achieve self-sufficiency. Through these efforts, Florida continues to strive to become a barrier-free environment for residents with visual disabilities."

To view the winners in each category, please visit:

DBS/CVI STEPS Children Program Hosts Inaugural Beeping Easter ‘Eggs’travaganza

In April, the Lions Club of Ormond by the Sea sponsored the inaugural Beeping Easter Egg Hunt for the Supplemental Technology and Experiential Program for Success (STEPS) Children’s program group. The Lions Club volunteers, a furry Lion mascot and other volunteers from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University cheered on the kids as most of them were encountering a beeping egg hunt for the very first time.

Eight kids under the age of ten  smiling with someone in a lion costume

Siblings who participated in the hunt, wore blindfolds so that they could also experience finding the eggs by sound. At the conclusion of the hunt, the Lions Club presented each child with handmade Easter baskets full of candy and toys. 

To wrap up the day, the children decorated two bunny cakes with various edible decorations.

Gov. Scott Appoints Two to Rehabilitation Council for the Blind

Blue image of the state of Florida with the words: Rehabilitation Council for the Blind above it.Governor Rick Scott announced two appointments to the Rehabilitation Council for the Blind.

Nicole Attong, 50, of Miami, is the director for Florida International University, Embrace and currently serves on the Florida Independent Living Council. Her appointment is for a term that May 17, 2017, and ending August 31, 2019. She succeeded Patricia Lipovsky.

Patricia A. Lipovsky, 67, of Daytona Beach, is a self-employed property manager. She was appointed for a term beginning May 17, 2017, and ending August 31, 2019. She succeeds Donte Mickens.


DBS Welcomes New Contracts Supervisor

Monica Moye has been named the new contracts and compliance manager for DBS. Moye holds a bachelor’s degree in economics and sociology from Florida State University, and has been with state government for more than 10 years. 

Contracts Supervisor Monica Moye sitting at her desk and writing something in her notebook.

She has nine years of compliance audit experience, with the last three years performing audits of contracts and grants, as well as ensuring best practices in accountability and management of agreements. 

Moye has a 19-year-old daughter and two four legged kids — Toto and Tootsie — both Pomeranians.

Welcome to the team!

Success Stories

DBS Inducts Seven into the Successful 75 in Pensacola

DBS inducted seven new members into the “Successful 75,” during the 75th anniversary ceremony in Pensacola. This award program recognizes individuals, organizations and businesses who have remained steadfast in the advancement of independence for persons who are blind and visually impaired.

The recipients are:

Innisfree CEO Julian MacQueen standing with DBS staff members Allison Flannigan and Cynthia Lyons during the Successful 75 Award presentation. Business Award: Innisfree Hotels

Innisfree Hotels has hired and accommodated many of our clients by encouraging them to utilize assistive technology, orientation and mobility and special skills training needed to accomplish their work. The reservation specialist uses JAWS in the workplace. The Founder/CEO of Innisfree Hotels, Julian MacQueen, is a founding member of Independence for the Blind’s Board of Directors.

Community Partner Award: Emerald Coast Vision AidsCommunity Partner Award: Emerald Coast Vision Aids

Emerald Coast Vision Aids, Inc. is an independent distributor for the leading world-wide developers, manufacturers and marketers of innovative products designed to assist people with low vision and blindness needs. They have been providing DBS clients with state-of-the-art low vision and blindness products since 1998. 

Pensacola City Council member Sheri Myers stands with a 75th anniversary medallion around her neck. Community Advocate Award: Sherri Myers

Sherri Myers serves on the Pensacola City Council, representing District 2. She is passionate about working throughout the Pensacola community to improve compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Myers worked with the Center for Independent Living to establish and enhance public transportation for persons with disabilities in Pensacola. She also serves on the local Disabilities Summit Council, a local council that advocates for better relations between employers and persons with disabilities.

Bruce Watson of Early Learning Coalition of Escambia standing with DBS staff members Allison Flannigan and Cynthia Lyons during the Successful 75 Award presentation. Community Advocate Award: Walter “Bruce” Watson

Captain, United States Navy (Ret.) Walter “Bruce” Watson currently serves as the executive director of the Early Learning Coalition of Escambia County. There, he ensures work spaces are accessible and adaptable for staff members who are visually impaired. He often goes above and beyond to advocate for those in the community through various service organizations. He formerly served as a board member and the executive director of Independence for the Blind of West Florida, Inc.

DBS Employee standing with DBS staff members Allison Flannigan and Cynthia Lyons during the Successful 75 Award presentation.Employee Award: Gail Christian

Gail Christian has been with the DBS for more than 23 years. She and her guide dog, “Halo,” bring positive attitudes to the office environment. Christian, a former DBS client, has worked in the Fort Myers and Pensacola offices as a word processor and now as a rehabilitation technician. Always the team player, she remains committed to moving the agency forward. 

DBS client Kacie Hurlston standing with DBS staff members Allison Flannigan and Cynthia Lyons during the Successful 75 Award presentation. Client Award: Kacie Hurlston

Kacie Hurlston’s willingness to help others and put their needs ahead of her own is a characteristic that is most admired by her classmates. The high school student is a motivational speaker and provides testimonials about overcoming personal stereotypes and disability challenges. She always has a positive outlook and motivates her peers to do their best no matter how difficult the task. She is on a standard diploma track and maintains a B average in school.

A representative from the Pensacola Lions Club standing with DBS staff members Allison Flannigan and Cynthia Lyons during the Successful 75 Award presentation. Community Partner Award: Pensacola Lions Club

For more than 90 years, the Pensacola Lions Club has continued to be “Knights for the Blind” by sharing their time and talents in pursuit of bettering the lives of the visually impaired in Northwest Florida. Through selfless advocacy, the organization brings awareness to the needs of the blind through fundraising activities and community outreach.

Welcome Center Operator Takes on the Challenge of Being a Success in the BBE Program

BBE vendor Debby Malmberg standing in the lobby of a hotelDebby Malmberg didn’t intend to go into food service or vending. She received her bachelor’s degree in psychology with a minor in sociology before taking a job in St. Petersburg as a social worker.  Social work involved a lot of paperwork and Malmberg’s access to technology in the 1970s was limited to typewritten and handwritten documents.  

During a routine eye exam, Malmberg’s doctor advised her that she needed to look for another job if she wanted to keep her remaining sight. Russell Brooks, a vendor in the DBS Bureau of Business Enterprise program (BBE), was operating a facility in her building at the time. After talking to Brooks and considering her options, she entered training at Daytona Beach Rehabilitation Center. Malmberg was licensed as a BBE vendor in October 1980.

After only four weeks of training, Malmberg was awarded a small snack bar in the sub-basement of the Leon County Courthouse.  She ran the facility by herself and had a few vending machines. Subsequently, she has run a number of locations throughout the years, including a vending route at the Kennedy Space Center. After a short time in training, she took on vending at a rest area on I-95.  On April 10, 1999, she was awarded the Welcome Center in Pensacola that she still manages today.

Willing to take on any challenge from food service to vending, Malmberg has made the most of this opportunity.  She has been active in the program and has served as a representative on the Committee of Vendors. Currently she is a veteran member of the selection panel that helps to choose licensed vendors for available facilities.  Whether filling vending machines, mentoring new vendors or working with fellow panel members to select the right operator for a new opportunity, Malmberg welcomes the challenge of being a successful and active member of the BBE program.


Lighthouse of SWFL Receives Accreditation

 A picture of a lighthouse The Lighthouse of Southwest Florida (SWFL) celebrated its recent award of five-year accreditation from the National Accreditation Council (NAC) for Blind and Low Vision Services. The NAC Accreditation program recognizes vision rehabilitation agencies which meet national standards for blind and low vision services and who support best practices and service standards that ensure consumers receive consistent quality of services and programs. The Lighthouse of SWFL began working on its accreditation in March 2016.

Located in North Fort Myers, the Lighthouse of SWFL serves more than 400 individuals living with blindness and vision impairment in Lee, Hendry and Glades Counties.  Instructing life and career skills to teens, providing vocational rehabilitation to adults and teaching babies and children to reach important milestones such as mobility and social skills are just a few of the ways the Lighthouse of SWFL’s strives to fulfill its mission of enabling people of all ages living with a visual impairment or blindness to remain independent, active and productive in society. 

The Lighthouse of SWFL is a 501(c)3  United Way Partner that is also partially funded by the Division of Blind Services, Lee County Government and other private donors.

For more information on Lighthouse of SWFL, visit

Lighthouse of Collier to Host 8th Annual Youth Summer Camp

Campers from the 2016 summer program wearing neon green shirts sitting and standing on a bench outdoors.

Lighthouse of Collier is now enrolling children in its 8th annual summer camp, scheduled for July 5-August 8. At camp, children will have the opportunity to interact with other children who are blind and visually impaired, enjoy community activities and field trips, learn about public safety, visit local attractions and participate in sports specifically designed for the visually impaired. 

A young male camper in glasses smiling with his counselor. Campers will also learn about accessible equipment that assists the visually impaired community, including magnifiers, CCTVs, talking pedometers and talking watches.  The camp is being held at The Girl Scout House in Naples.

For more information, contact Nicole Shannahan at 239-430-3934 for details.

The mission of the Lighthouse of Collier is to foster independence and enhance the quality of life for the blind, visually impaired and their caregivers. To learn more about Lighthouse of Collier, please visit  or call 239-430-EYE4 (3934).

In The News

DBS Client Featured in Pensacola’s ‘Angels In Our Midst’ 

DBS client Pam Wirick standing and smiling into the camera."Mr. Bill and I are a team." Pamela Wirick's assessment is spot on. She and Bill Busch are indeed a team. They collaborate to help parents find safe, convenient, affordable childcare and Pre-K that best fits their needs. Each brings their own strengths to the partnership as resource and referral specialists at the Escambia Early Learning Coalition.

Bill and Pamela go about their duties with no indication of their own challenges. Bill's words come slowly with a kind and understanding tone. Pamela is legally blind. Bruce Watson, executive director of the Early Learning Coalition of Escambia County, explained you'd never know it. "But, her heart sees everything that's in front of her. Her heart sees the person that she's serving."

Pamela doesn't see a challenge. "I'm blessed,” she said. “I'm blessed. I mean, I have a keyboard that actually is adapted for the blind."

When parents have to bring their children with them to the office, count on Pamela to make her way to the lobby. She'll rock the babies while Mom does paperwork. Bruce has watched her entertain the older children too. "Even with her limited vision, she'll read to the children. Sometimes I think she's making the stories up, but that's what makes stories good."

We're Giving Visually Impaired Students Lessons to Succeed

Miami Herald editorial by Virginia A. Jacko, president and CEO of Miami Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired, and Alberto Carvalho, superintendent of Miami-Dade County Public Schools.

Three years ago, Miami-Dade County Public Schools (M-DPS) launched a Million-Dollar Community Literacy Challenge for adults in our community who had not finished high school.

Headshot of Alberto Carvalho, superintendent of Miami-Dade County Public Schools The Miami Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired received a grant from M-DCPS for adult education teachers to teach at Miami Lighthouse. Their mission: Help blind adults study for their GED. We were astonished to learn that 44 percent of the more than 2,000 Miami Lighthouse clients in the adult vision rehabilitation program did not have a high school diploma regardless of where they attended school. This led us to focus on the other end of the spectrum - the very youngest of visually impaired learners who may be at risk of not finishing high school.

Building upon the success of the Adult Education collaboration, Miami Lighthouse, the school system and the Early Learning Coalition launched a pilot pre-kindergarten. It is the first of its kind in the United States, with half of the 3- and 4-year-olds being sighted – typically early learners – and half visually impaired.

In a few school districts, a pre-kindergarten for visually impaired 3- and 4-year-olds adds a small percentage of sighted siblings and peers; however, a full inclusion pre-kindergarten is unique in that it includes an equal number of visually impaired and sighted students. As stated at the recent Topping Off ceremony for the new Lighthouse Learning Center building, slated for completion in August, "Inclusion means no barriers and no isolation."

Headshot of Virginia A. Jacko, president and CEO of Miami Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired.Demonstrating the importance of inclusion, a mother of one of the sighted 4-year-olds in the pilot pre-kindergarten said "When our family watched the Helen Keller movie, our son asked 'What is blind?' " She told him, "You know, you go to school with blind children." Her son replied "No, I don't. We are all the same."

In collaboration with the University of Miami Department of Psychology, 1- and 2-year-old preschoolers and pre-kindergarten students in the Miami Lighthouse early learning inclusion program will be followed until they enter first grade as part of a four-year longitudinal study funded by The Children's Trust. The primary goal is to examine effects of implementing the Lighthouse Learning Center for Children™ inclusion model on participating children, parents, and teachers. University of Miami researchers will evaluate best practices within the inclusive early childhood setting to:

Miami Lighthouse and Miami-Dade County Public Schools are confident that students in this program will become CEOs, social workers, attorneys, teachers and computer scientists. By increasing visually impaired early learners' probability of success, these students will have a sound footing to achieve along with their sighted peers, complete high school and post-secondary training, including college, and ultimately pursue competitive integrated employment.

Seeing AI App Describes the World to Users with Vision Disabilities

Many Millennials spent their afternoons watching the educational science program Bill Nye The Science Guy. In light of policy changes in scientific research, Netflix released an exclusive series called Bill Nye Saves the World, bringing a science-based program targeting the same Millennials that grew up watching the scientist.

A male skateboarder does a trick in the air with his skateboard.

This program explores topics from modern medicine, climate change, artificial intelligence and other controversial topics related to science. In the third episode, “Machines Take Over the World,” Nye explores how technology improves the lives of people, bringing in Saqib Shaikh, a software engineer for Microsoft, who has been blind since he was seven. In hopes of improving the lives of people with vision disabilities, Shaikh developed SeeingAI, an app that describes scenes or imagery to the user in real time using talking computer technology.

At this time, the app can only describe or make educated guesses based on what it has already “seen” through visual algorithms. However, the basis for its visuals is already quite extensive, able to tell the user someone’s age, gender or even describe emotional cues. It is also able to memorize a person’s face as was seen when identifying Bill Nye on the episode the app was featured.

To read the full story, visit

Blind baseball announcer aspires to bring sports to fans with disabilities

Blind since birth, Bryce Weiler hears more at a ballpark than most people see. The sound of the bat tells him whether a ball is headed into the outfield or swerving out of play. The pop of a catcher's mitt signals whether a pitcher is still going strong or running out of steam.

Bryce Weiler, a blind sports analyst, brings his phone closer to his ear while announcing a few innings for a game in Chicago. Picking up on such audio cues has helped Weiler, a 26-year-old Chicago resident, broadcast more than 100 baseball, basketball and soccer games over the last six years. He serves as an analyst, dishing out statistics and stories during the pauses left by the play-by-play commentator, trying to give the audience a sense of what it feels like to be in the crowd.

To read the full story, visit

Mom Who Went to Classes with Quadriplegic Son Gets MBA

A Southern California university has awarded an honorary degree to the mother of a quadriplegic student after she attended every class with him and took his notes while he pursued his Master of Business Administration.

Judy O’Connor, a retired elementary-school teacher, pushed her son Marty in his wheelchair for him to receive his degree during commencement Saturday at Chapman University in the Los Angeles suburb of Orange.

Judy O'Connor, center, sits with her son, MBA graduate Marty O'Connor, during commencement at Chapman University in Orange, Calif.

Then, a choked-up graduation announcer said the school’s faculty, administrators and board of trustees had decided to give her an MBA. The idea for the surprise honorary degree came from her son.

A stunned but composed Judy O’Connor blew a kiss to the crowd giving her a standing ovation.

“I’m a geek. I love being in school,” she said before the ceremony. “I’m not going to lie. I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.”

To read the full article, visit:



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Phone: 850-245-7858

To request a Braille version of this edition of The Visionary, contact the Braille and Talking Book Library: or call 800-226-6075