New Partnership Between CFTB and World Services

Computers for the Blind and World Services for the Blind have partnered to bring free assistive technology training for clients who purchase a computer from CFTB. This partnership started over dinner and a simple conversation between Sharon Giovinazzo (CEO of WSB) and Christy Householter (ED of CFTB). By the end of dinner, Sharon and Christy realized they had a much deeper connection than just two agencies serving the blind and visually impaired. They both had been in the world of visual impairment for most of their adult lives, they both were Lions club members supporting the same causes, and they both worked for agencies that had a need in the area of assistive technology. WSB has a nationally recognized Assistive Technology Instructor (ATI) Certification program, where staff and students need practice hours teaching assistive technology skills to other people with visual impairments. CFTB provides accessible computers at an affordable price to people with visual impairments, but has limited resources for training.

Through this partnership, any person who purchases a computer from CFTB has an opportunity to receive up to 25 hours for free virtual assistive technology training through the Scholarship for Under-served Clients Creating Empowering Solutions Successfully (SUCCESS) Fund that was established at WSB in . Instruction can range from the basics of navigating a computer to more advanced features of software such as JAWS and Zoomtext.

This partnership was developed in because of a conversation and two individual organizations that realized they could help each other. What makes it even more special is that Sharon personally knows the power of access to technology. Read Sharon’s semi-biography to get the full story of how her partnership with Computers for the Blind actually started over 15 years ago!

All stories have at least one beginning, mine has many.

Forgive me for a moment as I present this as a flashback movie, but I want you to understand why this is important!

Let us travel back to the spring of . Up until that time, life was relatively uneventful.

I was 31 years old working as an LPN in a nursing home preparing to return to school to become an RN but the universe had different plans for me.

I began to have headaches that began to affect my vision. After about 15 doctors’ appointments I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, which is a central nervous system disease that often effects the optic nerves.

As the days went by, my vision and self-esteem diminished. Looking back, I realized that I had to adjust to a new normal, so I began to remove the things that were not going to fit into my new life. I remember vividly, crying as I disassembled my computer and carried it up the stairs to place it in the corner of the attic. I couldn’t see the screen, so I obviously couldn’t use it and I didn’t need a reminder of what I could no longer do.

During this time, I had someone visit me from the local agency who told me of training that was offered. The offerings included all the comprehensive blindness services, but what really caught my attention was my introduction to adaptive technology. I was fascinated, screens with magnification and computers that talked!

As I progressed through my training and established goals, I felt that I would benefit from having a computer at home that I could use to reinforce my training. After some research, I found an agency now known as Computers for the Blind (f.k.a. Texas Center for the Physically Impaired – TCPI) where they would provide you a computer with all the peripherals for a nominal fee. I thought to myself that it was too good to be true, but what I discovered was a heart and commitment to making people suffering from vision loss lives better!

At this point I was enrolled in my associates degree and began working on the manufacturing line packing gloves for TSA. I had no marketable skills as a person who blind even though I served as a combat medic in the Army and worked in the medical field for many years. I saw this as an opportunity to learn how to be blind and hone my skills.

It took several months after I started college to receive my computer purchased from the commission for the blind, so my CFTB computer played an instrumental role in my success. Once I received my state sponsored computer, I made my CFTB computer a loaner device. By this time, I was working in a different program, providing adaptive technology training and working as a public policy associate. The CFTB computer was used by many of my trainees during this time.

So now to flash forward a few years… I moved to Arkansas to become the CEO at World Services for the Blind, located in Little Rock. Fourteen years from the manufacturing line to the CEO‘s chair. I credit my success to all the resources that were made available during my training and to all the services that were available to me during this time. If not for that very first CFTB computer, I’m not sure all those pieces would have come together!

We all know that technology levels the playing field, especially for those of us who are blind, as it actually removes many of the disabling aspects of blindness. Often the people who have the most need of services do not qualify, so programs like CFTB are making a difference.

Today as the CEO at World Services for the Blind I have the honor of paying it forward. I can now give back what was given to me every day. Last year we served more than 1,000 people in our vocational programs, transitional age youth program and our older individuals who are blind program and often we refer our clients to CFTB. And, never forgetting where I received help when I needed it most, I now have the honor of calling CFTB a partner and friend in serving people nationwide!

Thank you CFTB for all you do!

Sharon Giovinazzo

We are proud to be a part of this partnership and to see the lives that we can change through it.