Presenter Bios

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Kara Aaron

Kara Aaron has been the Visual Impairment Services Team Coordinator (VIST) at the Central Arkansas Veterans Healthcare System (CAVHS) in Little Rock since 2007. She earned her Master’s degree in Rehabilitation of the Blind from UALR, and is an ACVREP Certified Vision Rehabilitation Therapist. She has over 19 years of blind rehabilitation experience including working at DHS Division of State Services for the Blind, World Services for the Blind, and VA blind rehabilitation centers in Augusta, GA, and Birmingham, AL.

Betsy Barnes

Betsy Barnes is currently the Field Services Administrator for Division of Services for the Blind.  She has spent over 25 years in various roles working with individuals with disabilities to live and work independently in their communities.  She has a Masters of Public Administration from UALR that has served her well as Director of a non-profit and administering state government programs.  Betsy has served on numerous Disability Advisory Councils and is currently on the Arkansas APSE Board.  She has a married daughter, and a new granddaughter.

Melanie Birthright

Melanie Birthright lives in Hooks, Texas, and has been married to Michael for 19 years. They have a beautiful 13 year old daughter, Lilyan. Melanie has worked for Education Services for the Visually Impaired for 13 years. She achieved her BS from Texas A&M-Texarkana, and Masters of Education from Stephen F. Austin University. Her certifications include: Elementary Education, Special Education, Teacher of the Visually Impaired and Orientation & Mobility Specialist. From the Perkins School for the Blind, she also has achieved the CVI Endorsement.

Luanne Blaylock

Luanne Blaylock graduated from Stephen F. Austin University in Nacogdoches, Texas, with a Bachelor of Education in Rehabilitation and a certificate in Orientation and Mobility. She received her certification in Teaching Visually Impaired Children from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. Luanne has contributed to numerous educational materials, including Project Slate (Supporting Literacy Achievement and Teacher Effectiveness for Students who are Blind or Visually Impaired), Foundations of Education: Instructional Strategies for Teaching Children and Youths with Visual Impairments, and BOP (Building on Patterns), a primary braille literacy program. She has over 37 years experience as an itinerant teacher of students with visual impairment and orientation and mobility specialist. Presently she is retired and serves as a consultant for American Printing House for the Blind.

James Caton

James Caton has served in the field of blindness and visual impairments for the past twenty-one years at the Arkansas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired. He started his career as a Residential Advisor/Houseparent and from there moved into supervisory and administrative roles directing the residential program and the instructional resource center. Mr. Caton also taught art for several years before moving into the roles of Dean of Students, Assistant Principal, and Secondary Principal. In 2016 he was appointed by the Board of Trustees as Superintendent. He holds a BA in Art from UALR and a Masters in School Leadership, Management and Administration from UCA and a Post Masters Certificate in Educational Leadership from UCA. His CTVI was obtained through SFAU.

Emily Coleman

Emily Coleman is the current President of AERBVI, Superintendent of the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (TSBVI), and host of the podcast, “A Sense of Texas.” She was previously the Outreach Director at TSBVI and at the Washington State School for the Blind. She began her career as an itinerant TVI. Emily was also on the Pacific Northwest AER board for six years. Emily has three kids and her middle child, Eddie, was born blind with Optic Nerve Hypoplasia. She has written about him and her parental experiences through her blog on FamilyConnect.org.

Jo Ellen Croft

Jo Ellen Croft attended Peabody College for Teachers in Nashville, Tennessee, as an undergraduate student, and the received her M.Ed. from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. She holds certifications in Elementary Education, Teaching Visually Impaired Children, and Orientation and Mobility. Jo Ellen has been a contributing author of numerous educational materials, including Project Slate (Supporting Literacy Achievement and Teacher Effectiveness for Students who are Blind or Visually Impaired), Foundations of Education: Instructional Strategies for Teaching Children and Youths with Visual Impairments, and BOP (Building on Patterns), a primary braille literacy program. She has over 25 years of experience as an itinerant teacher of students with visually impairment and orientation and mobility specialist. She has also served as Adjunct Professor at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, primarily as the instructor for Braille and Relevant Formats. Presently she is a vision consultant with Education Services for the Visually Impaired and serves as a consultant for American Printing House for the Blind in the Educational Research Department.

Teresa Doan

I began my career as an O&M specialist. I am dually certified as an O&M and TVI. I have been in the field of blindness for 24 years. I am currently the Lead Principal, LEA, and Athletic Director at the Arkansas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired. I have always been interested in physical fitness and overall well-being, which lead me to yoga. I completed a 250-hour training program at Barefoot Yoga Studio with the goal of sharing yoga with individuals who are blind and visually impaired. Since obtaining my yoga credentials, I have taught lessons to a wide variety of students (all ages – sighted and visually impaired).

Michael Eiseman

After volunteer tutoring minorities in math and science while working nearly 30 years as a chemical engineer for DuPont in research and development, Michael Eiseman developed Algebra By Hand™ (ABH), a web application to make math students faster, more accurate, and more confident at solving algebra problems. ABH is equipped with an inclusive interface that enables teachers of the visually impaired to assign worksheets to their blind students and allows those students to independently complete the worksheets. Students request automated, spoken aloud help through a simple keyboard interface that uses only the arrow keys for navigation and the enter key for selecting items from a list.

Christi (Gadberry) Dixon

Christi is an educator of 18 years who has taught pre-K to 12th grade in various roles and positions including junior high and high school science, health, physical education, elementary education, special education and teaching the visually impaired. She has also coached several sports for many years. She is newly certified in Orientation and Mobility and has a Master’s degree in Educational Leadership. Christi’s position as a Vision Consultant for ESVI gives her the opportunity to serve many students from Washington County to Conway County in the state. She assists the districts she serves by providing education, support and technology for students. Her classroom background paired with her love of technology give her a unique perspective and the expertise to help districts with their technology needs when serving visually impaired students. This love for technology is shared with her 13-year-old son, Landon. Christi also enjoys golfing, traveling, and biking.

Sharon Giovinazzo

Sharon Giovinazzo is currently the President/CEO of World Services for the Blind. Sharon has worked extensively on the local, state and national platforms at the executive level, as well as direct service in training and advocating for people who are blind and Deaf-Blind. Sharon was a nurse, and a combat medic in the US Army, and in 2001, she began losing her sight due to Multiple Sclerosis, little did she know that would launch her into a whole new journey of discovering and learning that losing her sight would allow her to gain a vision.

Becca Green

Becca Green, APR, Rock Region METRO director of public engagement, joined the organization in July 2015 and is responsible for strategic planning, public relations, collateral and content development, governmental affairs, media buying, website and social media management, community outreach and more. Prior to her current role, Green served six years as director of marketing and communications at ACCESS, a Little Rock-based nonprofit serving individuals with learning and developmental disabilities. She managed several hospitality industry accounts and media relations for Gov. Mike Beebe’s inauguration at the Little Rock-based communications firm CJRW. Green served two years as director of marketing and public relations at Arkansas Repertory  Theatre, Arkansas’ largest and oldest professional regional theater. She has been a member of the Public Relations Society of America since 2005 and served as the 2016 president for the Arkansas chapter. She is a graduate of the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce Leadership Greater Little Rock Class XXX.

J. D. Hall

Mr. Hall is the Director of the Arkansas Regional Library for the Blind, a position he has held for the past 32 years. He holds 4 degrees, including a Bachelor of Education in School Libraries, a Masters of Library Science, and an Educational Specialist. Before coming to Arkansas he was a school librarian for 4 years, the Director of a County Public Library for 4 years, and a consultant to Public libraries for 2 years. J.D. met his wife 37 years ago at the University of Alabama where they were both taking graduate degrees. They have been married for 36 years and have 2 grown sons.

John McAllister

Dr. John W. McAllister taught Orientation and Mobility at the Arkansas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired for 14 years. He joined the UALR faculty in 2015. Dr. McAllister has a B.A. (Psychology) from Philander Smith College, a M.A. (Orientation and Mobility) from UALR, a M.A. (College Student Affairs) from UALR, and an Ed.D. in Higher Education (Administration) from the University of Arkansas-Fayetteville.

Tiffany Moore

Tiffany Moore has been an educator for 14 years. Currently, she is an Itinerant Teacher for Students with Visual Impairments, as well as an Orientation and Mobility Specialist for Little Rock School District. She received a BA in History (2004) and a MSE in education, emphasis in special education (2009) from the University of Central Arkansas. She studied teaching students with visual impairments at Missouri State University and orientation and mobility at University of Arkansas at Little Rock. She is an AER member and former AR-AER board member. She strives to enrich students with ECC related skills to succeed in both school and beyond.

Marty Shultz

Marty Shultz is a mentor-speaker, angel fund investor, award-winning innovator and has bootstrapped and grown over five companies in his career. His current hobby is building accessible audio games for the blind. To date, his company, Blindfold Games, has released over 80 games that promote learning through gamification. The games are enjoyed by over 25,000 people from 7 to 70 years old, and recently surpassed the 500,000th download. Marty is a co-founder of ObjectiveEd, a new company whose mission is to maximize educational outcomes. Marty holds degrees from Carnegie-Mellon University and a certificate from Harvard Business School.

Melanie Thornton

Melanie Thornton is the Coordinator of Access and Equity Outreach at the University of Arkansas Partners for Inclusive Communities. In this position, she provides professional development and technical assistance on topics related to disability, diversity, digital access, leadership, and design. Previously, she worked at the Disability Resource Center at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock where she served as the Associate Director and as the Director of Project PACE. In the capacity of Director of Project PACE, led the campus community in increasing capacity related to web accessibility and inclusive curricular design. Melanie has presented at state, national and international conferences on topics related to disability and access and has worked as an independent consultant in a variety of capacities for 10 years.

Tyrone Williams

I began my career in education as a paraprofessional in an ALE classroom. With some encouragement from my wife, I began to attend college to become an elementary teacher. I graduated in 2006 with an Associate of Arts Degree. In 2012 I graduated from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock with a Bachelor’s in Elementary Education. After my first year teaching I went to the ESL Academy at Henderson State University in Arkadelphia to get an ESL endorsement. I began working at the Arkansas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired in 2014 where I concurrently worked on getting my Master’s in Building level Administration and becoming certified to teach the visually impaired. I completed both programs in 2016. In 2017 I received the SPED endorsement added to my Curriculum Administrator license. I am currently the Assistant Principal at the Arkansas School for the Blind  and Visually Impaired where I focus on curriculum and the day-to-day needs of the school.

Cassondra Williams-Stokes

Dr. Cassondra Williams-Stokes has a passion for public service and has served in state government for over 19 years. Her career began with the Arkansas Department of Human Services, Division of Youth Services-Juvenile Justice Delinquency and Prevention Unit. She was employed as the Juvenile Justice Specialist for the State of Arkansas and assisted non-profit organizations, and local and county government agencies to develop delinquency and prevention youth programs in underserved communities for 9 years. Her current role as Interim Director for the Arkansas Department of Human Services, Division of Services for the Blind continues to offer outlets to help individuals achieve personal independence in the home, work, and community. In her spare time, Cassondra serves as a mentor for young women seeking to advance professionally, which aligns with her life passion of seeing others achieve their goals. She graduated from the University of Arkansas, Little Rock with an undergraduate degree in Public Health Education in 1999, and Masters in Adult Education in 2001. She earned a doctorate in Management from the University of Phoenix, School of Advanced Studies in July 2017. She currently serves as a board member for the Arkansas State Independent Living Council and Arkansas Workforce Development Board. Cassondra lives in Little Rock with her husband, Anthony, and they share 3 children, Anthony II (24), Camri (22) and Sidney (16).

Eric Yarberry

Eric Yarberry is the Director of Education and Training at World Services for the Blind. At WSB, Eric oversees the instruction and implementation of programs. Eric graduated from UALR with a Bachelor’s in English and a Master’s in Professional and Technical Writing. Eric brings to the table real world knowledge of living with a visual impairment and 4 years of working with blind youth and adults. He lives in Little Rock with his lovely wife, Emily, and his Leader Dog, Hank.

Angyln Young

Angyln is the AR State Director of Educational Services for the Visually Impaired (ESVI) as well as the State Director for Children and Youth with Sensory Impairments (CAYSI). She has spent the last 37 years at ESVI in various roles working with children ranging from birth through 21 years of age. Angyln serves as the Arkansas Department of Education Ex Officio Trustee of the American Printing House for the Blind (APH). She has served on both the Educational Services Advisory Committee and the Educational Products Advisory Committee at APH. Before joining ESVI, Angyln taught Special Education K-6 in the Fort Smith School District. She is a long time member of AER.


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