Braille Monitor                                                           May 2007

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Meet the New President of the WBU's
North America/Caribbean Region

Jim Gibbonsby Jim Gibbons

From the Editor: Jim Gibbons is a forty-three-year-old blind executive living in Fairfax Station, Virginia. He is married and has three young children. He has served as president and CEO of National Industries for the Blind (NIB) since 1998.

At its December 2006 meeting, the North America/Caribbean region of the World Blind Union elected Gibbons as regional president for the next four years. Federationists who have direct dealings with NIB have known and worked cooperatively with Jim for some time now, but since he may not be as well known throughout the blindness community in general, we asked him to give us a personal profile so that others can get to know him better.

Jim Gibbons was born and raised in Beach Grove, Indiana. He is the youngest of nine children and has one older sister who is also blind. He was born with ordinary vision but began to experience significant vision loss from macular degeneration when he was about nine. He says that, as his vision deteriorated, his ability to participate in certain sports activities also deteriorated. He dropped baseball in the seventh grade, then basketball, then football, and finished high school doing the discus, shot put, and wrestling.

Gibbons received instruction in Braille and orientation and mobility from the Indiana state agency for the blind during the last two years of high school. Following graduation, he attended Purdue University, where he received an undergraduate degree in industrial engineering. He became totally blind during his junior year at Purdue.

Gibbons then entered Harvard Business School and was the first blind student ever to complete this rigorous program. Upon graduation he was hired by AT&T. During these years he became interested in and mastered speech-access equipment for the blind and advanced from an entry-level job to a chief executive career�developing business acumen and leadership training in a number of areas, including business operations, merger and acquisition, and market analysis. Before leaving AT&T to join NIB, Jim was president of a wholly owned AT&T subsidiary, Campus Wide Access Solutions.

In 1998 NIB assembled a search committee to recruit and hire a new president and CEO. Surprisingly NIB had never had a blind CEO in its nearly sixty years of existence, so some leaders of the search committee thought that it was time to break new ground by hiring a qualified blind person for the position. Jim Gibbons was ultimately recruited and hired.

Since 1998 Gibbons has been president and CEO of National Industries for the Blind, a national nonprofit organization whose official mission is �enhancing the opportunities for economic and personal independence of people who are blind primarily through creating, sustaining, and improving employment.� Today NIB and its eighty-eight associated nonprofit agencies employ more than 5,600 blind people to produce and deliver products and services to federal, military, and commercial customers.

Along with his executive responsibilities at NIB, Jim is also a leader in the World Blind Union (WBU), an international nonprofit organization representing 162 million blind people from 158 countries. In December 2006 he was elected president of WBU�s North America/Caribbean region, where he serves with President Maurer and other blindness leaders as a U.S. delegate for the North American continent and Caribbean region. He chairs the WBU Employment Committee and, as president of this region, is a member of the WBU officers board.

On March 30 Jim Gibbons was honored by Purdue University with the presentation of its 2007 Outstanding Industrial Engineer of the Year Award. This is what he says:

Let me begin by thanking the Braille Monitor for inviting me to contribute an article for this issue. I�m thrilled to have the opportunity to introduce myself to NFB members by way of the Monitor.

Under the Javits-Wagner-O'Day (JWOD) Act, a federal procurement program which allows for the provision of products and services to the federal government, NIB agencies employ more than 4,000 people who are blind, and through contracts with commercial partners, NIB and our agencies employ an additional 1,600 blind people.

Since joining NIB as president and CEO in 1998, I have had the privilege of speaking at two NFB annual conventions. The first was soon after I joined NIB and was a great opportunity to learn more about NFB and its members. The second was in 2003, when I had the chance to share NIB�s board-adopted policy of supporting at least the minimum wage for employees who are blind and working at NIB-associated agencies. At that convention I also shared the concept for NIB�s business leaders development program, which promotes professional upward mobility in NIB�s network of associated agencies and in the greater employment community by leveraging the NIB infrastructure to provide business training and leadership skills-development to team members who are blind.

In 2001 I became involved with the WBU on behalf of NIB. The WBU is dedicated to pursuing actions and opportunities that remove barriers for blind people around the world and is represented by six international regions, the North America/Caribbean region being one of the six. In 2002 I became a delegate of the North America/Caribbean region and joined Dr. Maurer and other blindness leaders in efforts to promote greater opportunities for people who are blind in North America and in the Caribbean islands, where the barriers to opportunity for people who are blind are far greater than in Canada and the United States.

This past December I was elected to follow Dr. Maurer as this region�s president. Through the efforts of the delegates and over the next few years, the North America/Caribbean region will work to determine how it can affect policies and opportunities for people who are blind in the United States, Canada, and especially in the Caribbean, where current socioeconomic conditions create a critical need for greater advocacy.

In conjunction with WBU regional efforts, I also currently chair the international WBU Employment Committee, made up of delegates from around the world, including the United Kingdom, Lebanon, Poland, and Japan. It is developing tools to promote employment advocacy through policy development; grassroots public awareness campaigns; and the sharing of public and government policy, technology, and educational best-practices across international regions. The committee is also focusing efforts on developing WBU-adopted employment policies for people who are blind that aim at leveling the employment playing field and securing workplace rights. These policies will be presented to and reviewed by the WBU Officers Board at the spring meeting in Toronto. Then in 2008 the best-practices tool kits and the adopted policies will be rolled out at the seventh WBU General Assembly, to be held in Geneva, Switzerland.
As the world becomes smaller, the intersections where the NFB, the WBU, and NIB meet and partner on behalf of advocating opportunities for people who are blind are becoming more frequent and valuable. I look forward to working with the NFB leadership and membership to grow and improve employment and upward mobility opportunities for people who are blind.

Like you I fully believe in the capabilities and potential of people who are blind. I also fully believe in the capabilities and potential of organizations to enable people who are blind with the resources they need to obtain and maintain economic and personal independence. All socioeconomic programs must be revised in order to continue to be viable solutions that meet modern day challenges. NIB supports and encourages the inclusion of JWOD program initiatives that encourage and reward greater upward mobility of people who are blind and more effective advocacy, accountability, and results system-wide.

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