by Charlie Brown and Fred Schroeder
It is with deep sadness that we report that our longtime Federation friend and colleague Seville Allen died after a long illness on February 23, 2010, at the age of sixty-five. Totally blind since childhood, Seville had a long and distinguished career as a social worker, federal and state official, and community volunteer. Mostly she spent her life helping others.
With degrees from American and Michigan State Universities, Seville worked in the federal civil service for nearly thirty years. As computers became increasingly important in employment, including employment with the federal government, Seville became a recognized expert on access technology for the blind and others with disabilities. Eventually she assumed a high-profile position in the Defense Department’s Computer Accessibility Program. In this position Seville helped DOD employees and employees of dozens of other federal agencies gain access to computers and other high-tech devices. This allowed countless blind people and others with disabilities to obtain and maintain productive employment within the federal government. It also gave Seville the chance to spread Federation philosophy, the belief that, given proper training and opportunity, blind people can compete on terms of equality with their sighted peers.
For many years Seville worked closely with the Virginia Department for the Blind and Vision Impaired (DBVI) in both volunteer and professional roles. In the 1990s she served a six-year term on the DBVI’s advisory board, including a stint as its chairman. In 2002, shortly after her retirement from the federal government, Governor Warner appointed Seville chief deputy commissioner of the DBVI, where she brought a spirit of optimism to the agency. She recognized and praised the staff’s desire to offer effective programs but never hesitated to speak openly and forthrightly about the need to improve services for blind Virginians. Seville believed in blind people and wanted all of them to have access to the very best training possible. During this time she initiated many reforms grounded in high expectations, especially in the agency’s cane travel training program, changes that endure today.
Seville also gave generously of her time and talent to her community. As a thirty-five-year resident of Arlington, Seville was a respected civic leader. She served for nine years on the county’s Commission on Persons with Physical Disabilities, chairing that body in 1996. She volunteered with the voter registration office, helping the registrar deal with disability issues. She taught Braille classes and worked in various capacities at the Independence Center of Northern Virginia. In 2004 Arlington County’s Commission on the Status of Women honored Seville with its Vision Award for “inspiring hope and possibility.”
As a faithful and committed member of St. George’s Episcopal Church in Arlington, Virginia, Seville took on numerous responsibilities. She was a lector and worship leader. She helped with support group ministries and worked as a Stephen Minister. She also served two terms on the church vestry.
Federationists will remember Seville best for her tireless leadership at the local, state, and national levels. Those who have attended Washington Seminars through the years will remember her efficiency and cheerfulness in the Mercury Room, where she supervised literature distribution and took reports. She served as a local chapter president, participated on numerous national committees, held membership on the Virginia state board, and served as the first vice president of the Virginia affiliate for twenty years until her death. As first vice president she led the Federation’s highly successful state legislative efforts, including improved access to Braille instruction for blind students, pension rights for blind state sheltered workshop employees, and protection against insurance discrimination.
In 2008, in recognition of the Virginia affiliate’s fiftieth anniversary, Seville prepared a history of the Federation’s half century of growth and accomplishment. She was keenly aware of our collective past and how far blind people had come in a relatively short time. She wanted us to remember the days when the lives of blind people were entirely dominated by the agency, the days of forced sterilization, the days of little hope for employment beyond the sheltered workshops; and she wanted us to remember that we, the National Federation of the Blind, working together, had freed ourselves from the agency’s domination, its total control over our lives, and together had forged new opportunities for blind people everywhere. At the fiftieth anniversary convention we presented Seville with the affiliate’s President’s Award in recognition of her many contributions to the progress blind people had made in Virginia and the nation and for the hope and encouragement her work had inspired.
As all who knew her would attest, Seville lived a balanced life. She had a demanding career, gave tirelessly of her time and energy to the Federation, and still found time to enjoy life and to share that joy with others. Seville loved to cook, and the Braille Monitor has featured many of her favorite recipes. Those who had the pleasure of breaking bread at Seville’s table enjoyed a wonderful meal and the company of a gracious hostess.We will miss Seville--miss her for her leadership, miss her for her generosity of spirit, miss her for her kindness and quick smile. We will miss her wisdom, her love of people and her love of her cats, and her sense of humor; and we will miss the irrepressible and irreplaceable friend who showed us through her life’s example what it means to give all you have and then give some more, give without the need for recognition or acclaim, give because you believe in a cause greater than yourself.