When Dana Barber took over as the new state coordinator for Blind Services following Debbie Culver’s retirement Oct. 30, she was the first to admit she has big shoes to fill.
“Everything Debbie has done — virtually everything she touched — has been a benefit,” said Barber. “And here I am continuing the very initiatives she started. It’s certainly a challenge, but it’s also an honor.”
Barber said that she is ready for the challenge of representing the agency and coordinating public awareness for Blind Services through various public events, including the annual Technology Symposium in Talladega. In addition to statewide coordination of consumer affairs and job placement activities, Barber also manages the accessibility needs of our own Blind Services staff.
“I get to wear many hats,” Barber said. “One of the great benefits of this job is I get to share my knowledge of blindness with consumers and staff alike. It’s surreal when I stop to think about how far I’ve come because there was a time not that long ago when I thought I wouldn’t be able to work.”
Barber was a teen-ager when her own vision problems first became a significant obstacle for her. She managed to battle her way through high school and graduate with little assistance and no accommodations. Following graduation, she met with a VR counselor and a rehabilitation teacher both of whom changed the trajectory in her life.
“After meeting with them, I felt inspired,” she said. “Living in a rural area, I thought my options were limited. ADRS showed me that wasn’t the case, and through their assistance, I started working at UAB.”
Though Barber had to leave that job because of her rapidly worsening eyesight, she decided she could no longer work, but remained in contact with Rehab Services.
“Technology would have kept me at work,” she said. “I lacked a lot of knowledge then about it, so I enrolled at Gentry, learned how to navigate a computer, learned Braille, and learned about mobility.”
Barber said her connection to ADRS has served her well over the years. In 2006, then-Assistant Commissioner Jim Carden of VRS-Blind and Deaf Services asked Dana Barber if she would consider joining the department to assist college-age consumers with developing realistic career goals.
“I was welcomed into the department as the professional placement services coordinator,” said Barber. “For four years, I worked in that position. It was a perfect fit for me because I already knew ways to help just from my personal experience.”
Though she briefly left ADRS to work as an instructor at Gentry, she re-joined the staff as a vision rehabilitation specialist in February of this year and hasn’t looked back.
One of Barber’s first priorities as Blind Services coordinator is to work closely with public schools throughout the state to enhance computer accessibility for students who are blind or have low vision. Barber said that knowledge of computer systems is a gateway for all high school students entering the workforce or planning to attend college. Proper computer accessibility significantly levels the playing field for students with vision impairments.
“My message for the blind community is clear,” said Barber. “Being blind can be an annoyance, but it definitely isn’t something to hold you back. Blind individuals have a high income average, and technology really allows them to do nearly anything but perhaps drive a car. And technology is really close to solving even that problem.”