INSIGHT - The Iris Network's Newsletter for All - Fall 2019

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Iris Network
Vision with no limits
Insight Newsletter
Fall 2019

Thanks to you, my vision loss doesn’t limit me!

Sara Nichols proudly holding a certificate for completing rehabilitation!
Sara Nichols proudly
holding a certificate for
completing rehabilitation!

I am a mother, a wife, and a student at UMASS Boston. I also lost most of my vision 5 years ago to a hereditary disease.

Thanks to you and my time at The Iris Network’s Rehabilitation Center, I am now a professional on the career path of my dreams—I’m studying to be a Certified Vision Rehabilitation Therapist (CVRT) while working right here at The Iris Network.

I used to believe that my vision loss limited my potential. I felt like I was living in a bubble. There was so much I wasn’t sure I could do and I didn’t know where to begin.

But I was ready to go back to work, and was introduced to the Rehabilitation Center. I started with the two-week assessment program and soon realized there were so many tips and tricks to learn that would make life easier for me. Why did I shy away from using a drill or a screwdriver?! I can absolutely do that!

I also learned that I needed more time becoming familiar with access technology in order to return to work. So I continued on at the Rehab Center—it’s immeasurable how much the three-month program has helped me progress.

Today I’m using what I learned at The Iris Network (access technology like a JAWS Speech Reader and Zoom Text) to complete my online degree at UMASS Boston. In the meantime, I’m working part-time at The Iris Network.

I’m so inspired by and appreciative of how my life has changed that I decided I had to spread the word and work here! I feel uniquely qualified to help other people with visual impairment.

I know there are more people who aren’t aware of the education they can receive at The Iris Network and how it can impact their whole life. I used to feel limited but now I know my vision loss doesn’t define me.

Because of you, The Iris Network exists to offer people with vision loss—just like me—the opportunity to remain active, work, and contribute positively to our communities. Thank you!

-- Sara Nichols 


Message from the Executive Director

“Opportunity to work is what we ask for the blind. In work lies the highest dignity and one’s happiness.”

More than 100 years have passed since Helen Keller penned this statement to the Maine legislature, however the unemployment rate for those with visual impairment hovers exponentially above the national average.

As a generous donor, you’re like me. We both believe that we simply can’t allow a population of willing and able workers to be a part of this statistic.

We must continue to be inspired by Maine’s historical advocates for those with blindness.

Bessie M. Cummings wrote in the Biddeford Maine Journal in 1908 that “equality of opportunity is an ideal condition and…is only possible through education and work. Training should be practical and of a kind to fit the citizen not only to enjoy the pleasures of existence, but to become a useful member of society.”

With support from generous people like you, the Rehabilitation Center stays true to Ms. Cummings’ goals. Today we continue to provide training for the work place with modern day technology, educate through the use of new senses (including Braille), inspire independent living with learned adaptive skills, and overcome prejudice against those with blindness.

Our mission is unique—and so is your participation. With your donations to The Iris Network, you are giving people with vision loss—willing and able to work—the opportunity to participate in a customized 2-22 week Rehabilitation Center program.

Thank you, as Ms. Cummings said years ago, for “opening up new possibilities and increasing the capabilities of the blind…in a sense, making the blind see.”

Warm regards,

Dr. David Barnwell, DBA

President/Executive Director



After input from leadership, staff, our board of directors, and donors like you, we wanted to share our aspirational vision for 2020:

Get to Work

  • Employment building opportunities for people who are visually impaired
  • Training and access to technology and/or job coaching for people who are blind or visually impaired


  • Offer supportive housing services at Iris Park Apartments—a warm, caring, and safe community residing in an assisted living facility
  • Grow our endowment and increase planned giving opportunities


  • Maine’s 200th anniversary as a state
  • The Iris Network’s 115th anniversary of serving Mainers with visual impairment

Partner Up

  • Work with Vocational Rehabilitation Counselors across the nation to recruit more working-age people for our residential & employment skills training programs
  • Continue alongside Maine’s Division for the Blind and Visually Impaired (DBVI) to provide high quality vision rehab & independent living services in home, work and community settings across the state

Spread the Vision

  • On our campus, offer AIRA, a service that provides access to visual information through smart phones, so that a person with a visual impairment can call in to a live guide (24/7) for descriptions of what they are seeing
  • Host hands-on demonstrations of low vision tools (magnifiers, glare shields, etc.) and offer opportunities to purchase adaptive devices at the Low Vision Center in Portland

Test your giving

Take this quiz and see how your gift aligns with our mission: 

1: By supporting The Iris Network, I am helping to:

  1. Provide tools, training, and technology
  2. Ease feelings of confusion, isolation, and depression
  3. Improve someone’s independence and quality of life

2: Where does my gift to The Iris Network go?

  1. The Low Vision Center, where people can pick up assistive devices
  2. The Rehabilitation Center, helping people learn employment skills
  3. Access technology and job specific coaching

3: Who am I helping?

  1. Ron H., maintaining a working farm after vision loss
  2. Pamela M., who can read her beloved poetry again
  3. Dan C., hired at a warehouse and using employment skills from the Rehab Center

A+ If you gave a gift of time, talent, treasure, work, wisdom, or wealth, you helped us serve someone who has been challenged by vision loss! You give them hope. And we thank you from the bottom of our hearts! 


Keeping the vision alive…

Your neighbors with vision loss are beyond grateful that you care so deeply about their well-being and independence. Now you can ensure that your steadfast support continues to benefit future generations. Through planned giving to The Iris Network, your legacy will live on! There are several simple ways to make a planned gift, and your attorney, estate planner, or financial advisor can help you decide which option is right for you.

Any planned gift will show people with visual impairment your commitment to providing the education and tools they need to overcome the challenges of living with blindness. For more information, please call or email Regal Naseef, Director of Development at (207) 518-5016 or RNaseef@theiris.org.


Let’s make it easy for you!

Did you know that monthly giving benefits both you and those with visual impairment? A monthly gift means you’re consistently contributing to the independence of people with vision loss—without needing to be reminded or write a check! Your monthly gift also provides The Iris Network with steady funds so that we will be better prepared for urgent needs as well as supporting our every-day services. To make the switch, please visit https://www.theiris.org/donate!

What your gift can do:

$25 can buy 10 signature guides

$50 will cover a lighted hand-held magnifier

$100-$500 can help sponsor our outreach programs and general operating costs

$1,000 can provide a portable video magnifier

$3,000 will cover a fully functional video magnifier for demonstration and training

$4,000 can provide bioptic telescope lenses for vision enhancement


Amazon Smile

Do you shop at Amazon.com? If you visit smile.amazon.com, you can designate The Iris Network to receive a contribution every time you make an eligible purchase, at no additional cost to you!

Stay Connected

Stay updated on our calendar of events at theiris.org/news-events

Follow and like us on Facebook at facebook.com/TheIrisNetwork

The Iris Network


189 Park Avenue, Portland ME 04102


We acknowledge with gratitude the sponsorship of a portion of the cost of production and distribution of this newsletter by Maine’s Division for the Blind and Visually Impaired.

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