Vision loss no obstacle to success for former Margaretville resident
Contributed by Jennifer Cubic
A trip down memory lane brings Danny Novielli back to Margaretville. Although Danny currently lives in Arkansas, his grandmother, Aunt Marie and Uncle Joe still live here. Danny was a typical kid growing up in a small town. He loved hanging out with friends while fishing, hunting and riding dirt bikes. He graduated from Margaretville Central School. Danny was 20 when he left Margaretville to join the U.S. Coast Guard. Since then, his life has been anything but reflective of the calm of his childhood.
Shortly after being honorably discharged from the Coast Guard, Danny was in a head-on collision in Tennessee that nearly took his life. He was life-flighted to Vanderbilt Hospital where he spent two weeks in a coma. Danny suffered a stroke, paralyzing one side of his body – an ailment that affects him still. After 10 weeks in the hospital, his 30 broken bones healed and he regained the ability to walk, but severed optical nerves meant he would never see again.
Life would certainly be different after the accident, but Danny was not about to let his blindness dictate his future. As a veteran, Danny was entitled to vision rehabilitation from the Veterans’ Administration. During the five months he spent at the VA Hospital in Waco, Texas, Danny learned Braille, living and travel skills and how to use assistive technology.
From there, he traveled to Morristown, NJ to the Seeing Eye to get his first seeing-eye dog, Quaid. Motivated by his growing independence, Danny enrolled at Middle Tennessee State University and became the school’s first blind person to receive a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration. He graduated Magna Cum Laude. Following college, Danny was recruited into the U.S. Army Outstanding Scholars Program in Rock Island, IL where he worked as a contract specialist.
In 2003, Danny joined the National Industries for the Blind’s (NIB) Business Leaders Fellowship Program. He spent two years working in different agencies around the country that employ people who are blind and visually impaired. As well as being exposed to all facets of operating a business, Danny took part in a 16-month executive program at Virginia’s Darden Graduate School of Business Administration. He took a job with one of the agencies he worked with during the program and spent three years as the senior manager of business development.
Danny was eventually recruited by the Arkansas Lighthouse for the Blind to direct its business development department. The Lighthouse produces thousands of shirts, pouches and belts for various branches of the Department of Defense. Last year alone, they produced 1.3 million steno notebooks for the federal government.
Danny’s department was responsible for building a call center to launch the Lighthouse’s new services offerings. All of the products are made in-house and at least 75 percent of the direct labor is performed by people who are legally blind. One of Danny’s department supervisors is also blind which means that people who are blind are employed at all levels of the organization.
Last month, Danny was promoted to the chief operating officer at the Arkansas Lighthouse. He now oversees an organization that generates $8 million in sales each year and employs 86 people who are blind. He continues to hone the skills he learned in Texas and use some of the latest cutting-edge adaptive technology. Danny is committed to the Lighthouse’s growth and strives to create more employment opportunities for people who are blind. Vision loss has not slowed him down.
Danny’s story is exceptional. His accomplishments are extraordinary by any standard. For many, vision loss results in a loss of self-esteem, security and independence. After being diagnosed legally blind, many people feel there is nothing more they can do – they don’t know where to turn. But there are vision rehabilitation services, like the ones Danny received in Texas, available to people in New York State.
The Association for Vision Rehabilitation and Employ-ment (A.V.R.E.) is headquartered in Binghamton and is the regional vision rehabilitation and employment center for people of all ages. A.V.R.E. provides services for people in nine New York counties, including Delaware. Vision Rehabilitation staff come to clients – where they work, where they go to school, where they live – and teach the skills needed to maintain independence.
Anyone who knows someone who might benefit from vision rehabilitation services, or anyone simply wanting to know more about vision loss, is invited to contact A.V.R.E. at 607 724-2428 or visit its website at www.avreus.org. At A.V.R.E., they’re seeing things differently.