Fredric Schroeder, First Vice President
Research Professor, Orientation and Mobility Pioneer
Dr. Fredric K. Schroeder was born in Lima, Peru, in 1957. He and his brother Steve were adopted and moved to the United States when he was nineteen months old. Born with normal vision, Dr. Schroeder became blind at the age of seven after suffering a severe allergic reaction known as Stephens-Johnson's Syndrome. As a result, his vision deteriorated over a nine-year period, leaving him totally blind at the age of sixteen.
He attended public school in Albuquerque, New Mexico, but received no special education instruction in Braille or any alternative techniques that would have allowed him to function competitively. Although raised in New Mexico, Dr. Schroeder spent much time in San Francisco receiving medical treatment in an effort to save his vision. As a result, he was living in California when he became totally blind. For this reason, following graduation from high school, Dr. Schroeder attended the Orientation Center for the Blind in Albany, California. There he found the Federation, and his involvement in the organization has been central to his life and work ever since.
Through the Federation he met blind people from all walks of life who encouraged him, eventually convincing him that he could live a normal, productive life. Dr. Schroeder attended San Francisco State University, earning a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology in 1977 and a master's degree in Special Education in 1978. After completing his university studies, he went to work teaching cane travel in the Nebraska Services for the Visually Impaired's orientation center in Lincoln. For the next two years he returned each summer to California to complete postgraduate studies in orientation and mobility to become eligible for national certification as a cane travel teacher. This was revolutionary at the time. He was the first blind person ever to be admitted to a university program in orientation and mobility. Although he graduated with distinction, he was denied certification solely on the basis of blindness. Nevertheless, that did not stop him from continuing with his career or education. He earned a PhD in Education Administration from the University of New Mexico in May 1994.
His professional achievements are impressive. In 1980 Dr. Schroeder returned to New Mexico to work as a teacher of blind children for the Albuquerque Public Schools. Knowing how important the Federation had been in his own life, he immediately began integrating Federation philosophy into his work. In a year he was running the program for blind children across the district. The results were dramatic and the program so effective that in the early 1980s the district's program for blind children was featured on the Today Show.
Although New Mexico programs for blind children were the finest in the nation, services for blind adults were among the poorest. As president of the New Mexico affiliate of the National Federation of the Blind, Dr. Schroeder was deeply troubled by the lack of employment opportunities for blind people in the state.
In 1986 after a long, bitter legislative fight, the Federation succeeded in establishing the New Mexico Commission for the Blind. Dr. Schroeder was appointed the commission's first executive director, giving him the opportunity to bring Federation philosophy into the work of the newly founded agency. In a short time the program was transformed, and soon the New Mexico Commission for the Blind stood out as the most progressive and successful rehabilitation agency in the country. Under Dr. Schroeder's leadership blind people in New Mexico were prepared to go to work in good jobs—in fact, jobs paying so well that they had higher average earnings than blind people anywhere else in the nation.
Dr. Schroeder's accomplishments did not go unnoticed. In 1994 President Bill Clinton appointed Schroeder to serve as the ninth commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) within the US Department of Education. As RSA commissioner he administered a $2.5 billion dollar program providing services to more than one million people with disabilities each year. He focused on high-quality employment—better jobs, jobs with a future, jobs enabling people to achieve a good and equitable standard of living. His crowning achievement as RSA commissioner was ending the shameful practice of having state vocational rehabilitation agencies place blind people in sheltered workshops, often at subminimum wages.
Following his service as RSA commissioner, he joined the faculty of the Interwork Institute at San Diego State University. He now works as a research professor specializing in leadership and public policy in vocational rehabilitation.
His involvement in the National Federation of the Blind continues. On July 5, 2006, Dr. Schroeder was unanimously elected first vice president of the National Federation of the Blind. In addition to his service on the Federation's board of directors, he serves as the president of the National Federation of the Blind of Virginia and often represents the Federation at national and international meetings and conferences.
Dr. Schroeder has held a number of leadership positions internationally. He was the founding president of the International Council on English Braille and presently serves as the first vice president of the World Blind Union. In his role with the World Blind Union, Dr. Schroeder participated in the drafting of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and on the development of an international treaty to allow books for the blind to be shared internationally. As World Blind Union first vice president he is the lead negotiator in developing a global technical regulation that will establish a minimum sound standard for electric and hybrid-electric cars.
Dr. Schroeder is married to Cathy Nusser Schroeder. They have two children, Carrie, born in 1981, and Matthew, born in 1983. Dr. Schroeder is the first to admit that it is the Federation that has made the difference in his life, enabling him to achieve professionally and to live a normal, productive life. In his own words, "We still have much work to do. Far too many blind people still face discrimination, still live in isolation and poverty, still lack access to the encouragement and training they need to live productive, integrated lives. In spite of all that remains to be done, because of the National Federation of the Blind, opportunities are better for blind people today than at any time in history. The change we have made cannot be turned back, cannot be taken away. We have changed forever what it means to be blind, and we and society are better off as a result."