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Baruch College Hosts Employment and Visual Impairment Conference
By Jasmine Bager


Deborah Dagit with Karen Gourgey
(L-R) Deborah Dagit with Karen Gourgey

The blind and visual impairment community recently joined together at Baruch College, for the Seventh Annual Employment and Visual Impairment Conference on Policy and Practice: Your Future is Now. Workshops, awards, inspirational speeches and networking opportunities were aplenty.

The all-day event took place on the 14th floor at the William and Anita Newman Vertical Campus Building. Deborah Dagit, retired chief diversity officer and vice president, global diversity and inclusion at Merck, and president of Deb Dagit Diversity, LLC gave the inspirational morning keynote address. Karen Gourgey, director of Computer Center for Visually Impaired People (CCVIP) at Baruch College gave the opening remarks.

Rolling onto the stage with her wheelchair, Dagit told the audience what they already knew—that not much has changed over the decades in the area of corporate diversity. She credits her mother for insisting that she be placed at a regular school as a child in California, as it allowed her to have a competitive education. She spoke of her struggles to earn the respect and attention of those in leadership roles when she earned her degrees and wanted to perform higher in jobs. “About 71 percent of disabilities are not apparent,” she said. But when she started maneuvering using a wheelchair when her brittle bones were unable to lead her with just a cane, she said that people treated her as a “Make a Wish Person,” (the organization dedicated to granting the last wish of a dying patient). She managed to defeat those naysayers and lead—while also helping to place 400 people with disabilities into fulltime, competitive employment, per year. She encouraged the audience to strive to go beyond even what they had imagined for themselves.

The CCVIP Distinguished Service Awards were then given out to the Dean of School of Public Affairs at Baruch College, David Birdsell, whose wife accepted it on his behalf; Julie Jansen, freelance corporate consultant and career coach, and Iris Rosen, LCSW, director, social work at SUNY College of Optometry, University Eye Center both accepted their awards in person. All winners in that category are members of the CCVIP board of advisors.

The crowd then broke away into five different morning workshops, which occurred simultaneously on the same floor, in intimate classroom settings. Conference volunteers, wearing light blue t-shirts, helped those participants who were blind or with low vision—and their guide dogs—find their way to the workshop that they had signed up for in advance. The workshops included: “ObamaCare for New Yorkers: Understanding the Affordable Act,” presented by the Honorable Richard Gottfried, chair, committee on health, NY State Assembly; “Employers Perspectives on Hiring People with Vision Loss,” presented by Kyle Goodridge, senior vice president, global workforce diversity at Citigroup, Inc., “Arts, Leisure and Travel—Accessible Art in NYC,” moderated by Sandy Kupprat, project director at NYU center for health, identity, behavior and prevention studies, as well as representatives from several art museums in the city, “JAWS 15 and Windows 8 Tablet,” which explained the capabilities of the device, and “Low Vision Evaluations at SUNY Eye Center,” presented by Rebecca Marinoff, OD, FAAO, assistant clinical professor, low vision residency supervisor at SUNY University Eye Center.

The Breaking Barriers Awards took place after a brief lunch intermission. Moderated by Craig Wolfson, Rosicki, Rosicki & Associates, P.C., employer recipients, Association for the Visually Impaired (AVI), Vis-Ability Inc., Michael Parker, Helen Keller National Center, Kris Agency, Mahadai Deoki and Judith Lauterstein, Lighthouse Guild, CUNY, Patricia Bianchi, VISIONS, Healing Arts Initiative, The Catholic Guild for the Blind, The Jericho Project and the Helen Keller Services for the Blind, Executive Cleaning Services, all were honored. In addition, the Louise Tropp Volunteer Service Award was presented to Brenda Farley individually, and the Matthew P. Sapolin Visionary Award was presented individually to Arnie Kramer, recently retired district manager at the NY State Commission for the Blind.

For several hours, vendors displayed their products at the exhibit area. Those representatives included: Baruch’s CCVIP, Andrew Heiskell Braille and Talking Book Library, CTECH, promoting their new products, Low Vision International and their MagniLink Student text-to-speech device, the Flick robotic near/far camera with speech from Sight Enhancement Systems, HIMS Inc, and their product E-bot and Candy HD. Vis-Ability promoted their products for low vision and blindness, including video magnifiers, reading machines, screen reading software, refreshable Braille and literacy software, and BraillerDepot showed their handheld devices for those with trouble reading small print.

Boaz Zilberman, founder and CEO of Project-Ray flew in from Israel, to present the world’s first Smartphone with advanced mobile technology for initiative eye-free operation, in the afternoon workshop session. “There is a void in eye-free interfaces, that don’t require any visual. How inefficient is the technology now—very few people use them,” he said. Project Ray is an app that allows users to swipe to activate the use of a menu, contact list and voice command, which controls all aspects. It is better suited for someone with visual impairment, he said.

Other afternoon workshops included: “Accessible New York: Lessons Learned, PASS Coalition Update,” moderated by Vincent Cuccia, Planet Pepper, board of advisors, CCVIP, “Employment Success Stories,” moderated by Debbie Fiderer, coordinator, community services program, Helen Keller National Center for Deaf-Blind Youths and Adults and CCVIP conference committee member, “Trains, Planes, Boats and More: The Low Vision Traveler,” presented by Cheryl Echevarria, owner of Echevarria Travel and “Meet the Commission,” presented by Ana Duraes, district manager, White Plains, NYSCB.

Conference planning organizers Nancy O’Connell and Shawn Zahn have been planning this event all year. “We have a wonderful mix of people here; professionals in the field and from different organizations. We will have a recap and discuss what didn’t work and what worked later on, and we take the evaluations (collected from the participants) seriously,” they said.

The event was sponsored by Baruch College Continuing and Professional Studies and School of Public Affairs, Computer Center for Visually Impaired People, The New York State Commission for the Blind, Rosicki, Rosicki & Associates P.C., Interpublic Group, The Hidden City Café, Helen Keller National Center for Deaf-Blind Youth & Adults and Joseph A. LaRosa.  The Metropolitan Placement Consortium organized the Breaking Barriers Awards, and VISIONS Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired’s Blindline.

The next event will be held at Baruch College on March 27, 2015.

For more information, and for the complete list of speakers, moderators and presenters, visit www.Baruch.Cuny.edu/ccvip #



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