Who Are the Leaders of the National Association of Guide Dog Users?
The National Association of Guide Dog Users (NAGDU) is a strong and proud division of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB). The NFB believes that blindness is not the characteristic that defines you or your future. Every day we raise the expectations of the blind because low expectations are the barriers that stand between blind people and our dreams. You can live the life you want! Blindness is not what holds you back!
While preparing a grant proposal recently, I asked each member of the NAGDU board to write a brief biography of themselves from a third person perspective. When I read the biographies they submitted I learned a great deal about those with whom I serve and the talent we have serving on the board of directors of NAGDU. I also realize that these brief biographies were a testament to the truth of the message of the NFB which opens this article: “You can live the life you want! Blindness is not what holds you back!” I know that these biographies only offer a glimpse of the incredible talent available to us in our grassroots membership. It also affirmed for me that the NFB, through NAGDU, is on the brink of superlative achievements that will radically shift public perception of the blind and, in doing so, unleash the incredible potential for change that lies in each one of us!
The National Association of Guide Dog Users holds its annual business meetings during the convention of the National Federation of the Blind. The board of directors is elected by the membership and consists of four executive officers – president, vice president, secretary, and treasurer – and three additional board members. In order to maintain its representative function, the president and vice president must be blind and either a guide dog user or between guide dogs and a majority of the board must be blind. The current board of directors are all blind guide dog users and is comprised of the following individuals:
Marion Gwizdala has served as the president of the National Association of Guide Dog Users since 2008. Prior to his election as president, Gwizdala served as the association’s vice president from 2004 until 2008. Marion possesses a Master of Science in Mental Health Counseling with special training in Rehabilitation Counseling. Marion has been involved in disability rights advocacy since 1984, specializing in blindness and service animal issues. He is a published author, an accomplished public speaker, and an experienced workshop facilitator in the areas of psychosocial aspects of blindness, disability policy, and legal issues related to the use of service animals. Marion has been a guide dog handler since 1987. He has been involved in several high profile cases both as a complainant and an advocate. He has been instrumental in creating civil rights legislation in several states and is a recognized leader in the blindness and service/guide dog users’ movements.
Michael Hingson has served as the vice president of the National Association of Guide Dog Users since 2008. Mike possesses a Master of Science in Physics and is a certified secondary teacher in the state of California. He is an internationally acclaimed public speaker and New York Times bestselling author for his book “Thunder Dog”, his account of his escape from the World Trade Centers during the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Hingson, who has been blind from birth, now works tirelessly to educate people about blindness, Inclusion, and many other topics. He also is a well-known expert on access technology for persons with disabilities.
Antoinette “Toni” Whaley has been the treasurer of the National Association of Guide Dog Users Since 2006. She also serves as president of the Pennsylvania Association of Guide Dog Users and is the treasurer of the National Federation of the Blind of Pennsylvania. Toni Possesses a Bachelor of Arts in Mathematics. Toni worked for the National Security Agency (NSA) AND Sun Oil Company as a computer programmer. After her daughter was born, she returned to school and received a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology, and Master of Education in Counseling. Toni was a research assistant in the Developmental Disability Center at Temple University where she developed a continuing education seminar for nurses about working with disabled patients and co-authored two papers on that subject, as well as the introductory chapter for a book about families with disabled parents. She also taught courses on the lifespan of human development at the undergraduate level
Sherrill O’Brien has served as the secretary of the National Association of Guide Dog Users since 2008. She is also the president of the Florida Association of Guide Dog Users and Secretary of the Tampa Bay Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Florida. Sherrill possesses a Master of Arts in teaching English as a second language and is conversant in Spanish. Sherrill is a life-long Braille reader and a tireless proponent of Braille literacy. She can often be found reading to children in Braille and teaching them about the tactile code used by the blind, as well as sharing accurate information about guide dogs.
James Boehm is our most recent addition to our board of directors, having been elected in July 2015. Jimmy is the president of the Tennessee Association of Guide Dog Users, and serves as Secretary of the National Federation of the Blind of Tennessee. Jimmy is a senior at Middle Tennessee State University pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology. Upon graduation in May, Jimmy will pursue a Master of Arts in counseling and licensing as a mental health counselor.
Jessica Snyder has served on the board of directors of the National Association of Guide Dog Users since 2014. Jessica is also the President of the New York Association of Guide Dog Users and an active member of the National Federation of the Blind of New York. She works as a Customer Service Representative for the Internal Revenue Service. Jessica enjoys skiing and competitive horseback riding, including hunt seat and Dressage, as well as Western saddle, winning a number of mainstream competitions.
Tina Thomas has served on the Board of Directors of the National Association of Guide Dog Users since 2012 and chairs its Social Networking Committee. Tina is the president of the California Association of Guide Dog Users and an active member of the National Federation of the Blind of California. Tina is a Braille Instructor for the Junior Blind of America in Los Angeles, California. Tina holds a 4th degree black belt in Judo. She competes internationally and is currently vying for a spot on the 2016 Para Olympic team.
The board of directors is charged with conducting the business of the Association between meetings. The board generally meets monthly via teleconference and its meetings are open for all members to observe. For more information about the National Association of Guide dog users or the National Federation of the blind, please send an email message to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit our website at www.nagdu.org.