Where we’ve been
In the fall of 2006, Joyce Gilbert (then Thornton) and 19 other people, both sighted and visually impaired, determined that people with vision loss in southwest Florida were not adequately represented by the Florida Council of the Blind (FCB), so they formed the Southwest Florida Council of the Blind (SWFCB), a chapter of FCB.
As SWFCB’s first President, a post she held for the first two years of the chapter’s existence, Joyce presided over luncheon meetings at Perkins restaurant, where they would dine during the business meeting and have a wide variety of speakers. Subsequently, SWFCB met at Lee Memorial Hospital, where they still had speakers, but, alas, no meals.
At one of its first FCB State Conventions, SWFCB had a table in the vendor hall where women with vision loss could get expert advice about how to pick and apply makeup that most flattered their looks. Joyce’s sisters and her niece, a Mary Kay rep, flew, at their own expense, from Texas to Jacksonville, the site of that year’s Convention, and proved to be a huge hit with the female conventioneers. Joyce still remembers hearing stories from these women of how people around them, mostly family members, would say things like, “You don’t need makeup, you’re blind,” and “Why do you bother trying to wear makeup, you do it all wrong…” Joyce’s niece coached women with vision loss in how to apply makeup and brought Mary Kay products especially for African-American complexions. There was much laughter and tears as these women, some for the first time, enjoyed expressing part of their femininity through cosmetics. One young lady, fresh from her make-over, turned to her mother and asked, “Mom, am I pretty?” To which, the happy-teared mother responded, “Yes, you are beautiful!
After Joyce’s presidency ended, SWFCB wandered in a wilderness for a couple of years until Mike Ulrich served as President (2009-2013). Mike worked very hard, increasing the membership, holding numerous fundraisers, advocating for safer access and better transportation before city, county, and state entities, becoming involved at the FCB State level, and creating the Blind Fishing Tourney, now an FCB event.
In January 2014, Mary Ann Alexander became President. Hailing from Pennsylvania, where she held many leadership posts within the Pennsylvania Council of the Blind, Mary Ann has striven to bring her democratic collegial style of leadership to SWFCB, encouraging members to expand their horizons and flex their own leadership abilities. Advocacy has been and continues to be Mary Ann’s passion. As such, she has appeared numerous times before deliberative bodies, in print, and on local media, advocating for the rights of people with vision loss, be it the dangers of the so-called “doggie dining” law, the scandal that is the proliferation of fake service animals, the need for greater public awareness about the Florida White Cane Law, or the necessity of adequate public transportation for people with vision loss to live full and productive lives
SWFCB has been and continues to be a place where people with and without vision loss can come together to celebrate their unique experiences, contribute their hard-won expertise, and collaborate their advocacy skills to make Lee County a safer and better place for people with vision loss to work, play, and live.
Who we are
SWFCB is twenty-seven members strong and growing. Focusing our energies on advocacy, education, and improving the quality of life of persons with vision loss in Lee County, we offer opportunities where members can be informed, get involved, and make a difference in their communities through communicating with government officials, writing articles and op-ed pieces for local media outlets, and reaching out to other organizations to achieve synergies that not only combine but enhance the efforts of many along many fronts.
SWFCB also offers a monthly Peer Support group for persons with vision loss where attendees can talk freely and openly about their vision loss, the challenges it poses, and the ways and means they have found to overcome these challenges to not only survive but also thrive as fully-participating members of the community.
Where we are going
President Alexander’s vision for SWFCB:
The new administration will be focusing on advocacy of course, but will strive toward greater social and recreational opportunities. We will soon be forming southwest Florida’s first dart team for visually impaired folks and President Alexander says that it is her dream to bring accessible arts to Lee county.