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NIB Advocates

LightHouse Staffer Caitlin Conquers Capitol Hill, as an NIB Advocate

LightHouse Staffer Caitlin Conquers Capitol Hill, as an NIB Advocate

Rey Villarreal, Sharon Giovinazzo and Caitlin O’Malior stand on the steps of Capitol Hill

For the first time since the establishment of the National Industries for the Blind (NIB) Advocates for Leadership and Employment Program in 2012, LightHouse has a staff member to represent our organization as a national legislative advocate, and I am beyond honored and privileged to be that person.
As a Communications Specialist, I love being able to combine my passion for writing and words with my dedication to the blind community and provide a voice to our students, our organization, and those whom the LightHouse serves. It has been my pleasure to share the stories of triumph and opportunity with our LightHouse Lately readers.

Two months ago, I was accepted into NIB’s Advocate program and on May 8, I began my advocacy training in Washington D.C. at the NIB headquarters. It was a humbling experience to spend two days in a room with so many other incredible blind and low vision individuals from across the country, all with a common goal of advocating for employment, increasement of the working population within the blind community, and utilization and protection of government programs designed to employ blind and low vision people. After eight hours of Public Policy training, Government 101, and “Elevator Pitch” practice with NIB employee and registered lobbyist, Rick Webster, I felt ready. 

And so, to Capitol Hill we go! On May 10, the NIB Advocates took to Cap Hill to meet with our perspective state Congresspeople and Senate members. The walk up the white marble steps of the historical building was exhilarating! I was joined by LightHouse CEO, Sharon Giovinazzo, and fellow California Advocate, Rey Villarreal from Valley Center for the Blind in Fresno. Together, we met with Congresswoman Matsui of Sacramento’s staff member Elise Buellesbach, and Brian Rogers, Deputy Chief of Staff for Congressman Mullin of South San Francisco.
My stomach was flipping and my hands a bit shaky as we walked the beautifully tiled floors and echoing halls, but once the meetings began, my nerves disappeared as my passion took over. It is amazing the ease of which you can speak about the issues and topics that matter most to you. Our words were heard by empathetic and compassionate ears.

As I left Capitol Hill that afternoon, an overwhelming dream was realized – a dream I did not know was possible until that day, that we, LightHouse for the Blind in San Francisco, have the opportunity to make long-lasting effective legislative change. It thrills me to think of how the blind community can – and will – be represented in the working population in the years to come. To watch our community, thrive and turn tax-takers into taxpayers is an overwhelming goal with which I am dedicated to see to fruition.
I cannot wait to continue this work at home at the local and state level. It is a long road of hard work ahead, but a road that is important, and one I cannot wait to travel.