Neva M. Fairchild, MS, of Flower Mound, Texas, is currently the National Aging & Vision Loss Specialist for the American Foundation for the Blind, where she has worked since 2008. She oversaw Esther’s Place at the AFB Center on Vision Loss until that program was moved to Envision Dallas in 2019. Her work for the next year focused on the issues of aging and vision loss, specifically regarding access to transportation for older people who are blind or have low vision. In July, 2020, she began to oversee the AFB Blind Leaders Development Program, when the original Program Manager was promoted. She coordinates the planning & execution of leadership development training for each cohort of the program, including communication with Fellows and mentors, coordination of training facilitators and ongoing program evaluation, including longitudinal research.
Prior to working for AFB, she was employed for over 15 years by the state of Texas as a Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor at Texas Commission for the Blind and as an Employment Assistance Specialist for the Department of Assistive & Rehabilitative Services (DARS) Blind Services. She began her career in vision rehabilitation at the Dallas Lighthouse for the Blind, Inc., as a Vocational Evaluator in 1991.
Neva’s new part-time professional endeavor is to provide expert witness services to attorneys in legal cases that involve people who are blind or visually impaired. She purchased Experts on Blindness in February, 2023 from a colleague who retired from providing expert witness services part time for 23 years.
Neva went directly from high school to Texas A&M University, at age 18 as a student with extremely low vision and no blindness skills. Her vision loss at that time was thought to be due to Retinopathy of Prematurity. Neva left school three years later to be a stay-at-home mom when her husband completed his master’s degree. After nine years at home, when both of her children were in school, and with the help of the Texas Commission for the Blind, she returned to college and completed her BS in Rehabilitation Science in 1988 and her MS in Rehabilitation Counseling Psychology in 1992 at The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas. Near the beginning of her masters program, her low vision aids were no longer working well enough for her to read regular print. She revisited a retinal specialist who thought she may have been misdiagnosed as a child, and he recommended further testing. An electro-retinagram confirmed that Neva had a form of Retinitis Pigmentosa known as Cone Rod Dystrophy. Thirty years later, genetic testing confirmed Stargardt Disease, and over the intervening years Neva’s loss of sight has resulted in no useable vision today.
Neva has been involved in leadership roles in two professional associations throughout her career. She was secretary for many years and then President of the Dallas Area Rehabilitation Association, the local chapter of the Texas Rehabilitation Association and a subchapter of the National Rehabilitation Association. She also served at the state chapter level of the Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired (AER) as secretary for many years and then as President in Texas at the beginning of the 21st century. She has also served in leadership roles at the international level of AER in Division 2 (Employment Services), Division 5 (Information & Technology) and Division 15 (Aging). For three non-consecutive terms, beginning in 2008, before being chosen to be President Elect of AER in 2019, she served on the international board in various roles. Neva assumed the role of President of AER in August, 2020 and completed her term in July, 2022. She assumed the role of Past president at that time, and she will plan the AER International Conference that will occur in Charlotte, North Carolina in July of 2024. AER is an international professional association of about 3000 members, all working in careers that serve people who are blind or have low vision. Neva also serves as President of the Dallas/Fort Worth chapter of the Foundation fighting Blindness, an organization that funds research to prevent, treat and cure inherited retinal diseases (IRD) and support those living with IRDs.
Neva was appointed by Governor Gregg Abbott to the Rehabilitation Council of Texas in the fall of 2015 where she served for four years. During her last two years on the Council, she was the Chair. During her tenure, DARS was abolished, and all state vocational rehabilitation services were transitioned to the Texas Workforce Commission. She worked hard during her time on the council to be sure that services to people with visual impairments remained robust across Texas.
In October, 2020, Neva was appointed to the Governor’s Task Force on Emergency Preparedness for Older People and People with Disabilities. She seeks to bring awareness of the needs of people who are blind or have low vision to the attention of legislators and state government officials making decisions about planning, programming, and emergency evacuation procedures in Texas.
Since 2016, Neva has been part of a campaign to improve services to older people with vision loss nationwide. She is the AFB liaison on the Aging and Vision Loss National Coalition (AVLNC), serving on the Steering Committee and is Co-chair of the Access to Quality Services Committee. She is also a member of the Vision Loss in Older Adults (VLOA), a work group formed by the health & Human Services Commission in Texas, which is seeking to improve services to those over age 55 with vision loss. It is her passion to bring help and hope to all people who cannot imagine how they can continue to live full, rewarding, productive lives with low or no vision. In 2020, Neva joined Toastmasters to improve her public speaking abilities.