NFB of Utah Affiliate Board Members Bio
President: Everette Bacon
Everette Bacon was born in Huntington Beach, California. At the age of five he was diagnosed with cone-rod dystrophy, a condition which had run in his family on his mother’s side for thirteen generations, causing rapid-onset blindness primarily in female family members. Despite the diagnosis, Everette’s family took the advice of teachers and medical experts, believing (or, more accurately, hoping) that since Everette was male and his vision was not deteriorating rapidly like that of other family members, he was unlikely to go blind. As a result, Everette did not learn Braille or other alternative techniques during his school years. Looking back, Everette says, his mother and other family members wish that they had encouraged him to learn Braille and other blindness skills.
When Everette was around eighteen his entire family moved to Texas. Everette pursued a degree in church music at Dallas Baptist University. He jokes that he was pushed toward music because “you know, blind people sing.” His first job was teaching a seventh grade choir, but he found it not to his liking. Searching for other employment in order to earn money to help his wife through medical school, Everette ultimately accepted a management position with Blockbuster Video in 1997. He was very successful in this position, winning several awards and steady promotions. By 2004, he was managing ten stores in the Houston area.
Everette’s eye condition began to worsen, and instead of giving up, he adapted by using alternative techniques. “I started carrying a cane, mainly for identity, but I was using it when I felt I needed it.” “I was never embarrassed or ashamed about becoming blind, because I grew up around blind people, adapting was something you just became accustomed to doing.” However, when he asked for reasonable accommodations from his employer, instead of granting these accommodations, Blockbuster terminated his employment despite his outstanding record. The company even went so far as to describe Everette’s conduct as “fraudulent,” implying that he had deceived the company about his capabilities, even though he had previously been praised and awarded for his work.
This experience traumatized Everette and his family. His wife, mother, and other family members sent angry emails to everyone they could; urging readers to avoid shopping at Blockbuster based on discrimination against the blind. One of these emails found its way to Scott LaBarre, the president of the National Federation of the Blind of Colorado and a successful disability rights attorney. Scott took Everette’s case, and ultimately Everette received a settlement from Blockbuster. More importantly, though, he learned about the National Federation of the Blind and the many battles the organization has fought in the effort to advance and protect the civil rights of blind people. “I had heard of the Federation and been told that they were militant,” Everette says, “but my experience taught me the importance of our advocacy.” There are so many reasons to be proud of whom we are as blind people, and the Federation has paved the way for our climb to the top of the mountain of civil rights!
In 2004, Everette and his wife, Dr. Angela Peters, moved to Salt Lake City, Utah. Everette became involved in the Utah affiliate and developed what he describes as life-changing relationships with dedicated Federationists like Nick Schmitroth, Karl Smith, and Deja Powell. These friends helped Everette improve his blindness skills and grow in the movement. Everette was also looking for new employment opportunities in Utah and heard about a job opening as a Blindness Skills Teacher at the Utah Division of Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired. Everette remembers speaking with Ray Martin about the fact that he knew nothing about teaching blind people, Martin told him that being blind was the most important qualification. The agency supported Everette in his pursuit of a master’s degree in rehabilitation. He went from teaching technology to supervising the technology staff, and now serves as the agency’s field services coordinator, overseeing all of the agency’s technology and employment services, supervising a staff of nine.
Everette began advocating for Utah’s blind residents with an effort to encourage a prominent local cinema chain to incorporate audio description technology into its theaters, so that blind people who wanted to experience movies with audio description could do so. An avid movie fan with an extensive collection dating from his Blockbuster days, he believes that audio description can enable blind people to connect more easily with their sighted peers when discussing entertainment. “One of the most valuable lessons I have learned from the NFB is the understanding that blending in to society is an important skill. Being able to relate to our sighted colleagues about movies, television, politics, and sports are excellent paths to opportunities that help change common misconceptions about blindness.”
In 2012, Everette was elected president of the National Federation of the Blind of Utah. He is proud of the affiliate’s successful advocacy for a state “mini-508” law requiring accessibility of new state websites and procurement of accessible electronic and information technology; subject to fines when agencies fail to comply. His advocacy for accessibility made him an outstanding candidate to serve as the Federation’s representative on the Disability Advisory Committee to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). He was nominated for appointment to this committee by President Riccobono and duly appointed to serve by the FCC in 2015. Everette is chair of the Utah Library Advisory Board. He also sits on the Utah Assistive Technology Council and the Library of Congress’ National Library Service for the Blind’s Audio Equipment Advisory Committee (Western Region). He was unanimously elected to the Board of Directors of the National Federation of the Blind at the organization’s 2015 convention. He and Angela and their two dogs live in Salt Lake City, but Everette still roots for his beloved Dallas Cowboys.
First Vice President: Cheralyn Creer
Cheralyn was born with Cone Dystrophy. She had a typical upbringing and was held to the same expectations as her peers and nine siblings. She progressed through the Utah public school system receiving family and special education support. However, she found herself lacking the confidence necessary to achieve her dream of becoming a teacher. In college she became acquainted with the National Federation of the Blind. Surrounding herself with successful blind adults changed her life dramatically. Shortly thereafter, she accepted a position in Davis School District teaching Special Education. She taught and consulted for five years. After marrying her best friend, Nate Creer, she moved on to employment with the Utah State Office of Education. Among her many responsibilities, she served as the Vision Impairment Specialist for over 3 years. Because of the impact the NFB had on her own life, she is committed to helping others to recognize and achieve their own potential. One important way she does this is coordinating the Utah network for Mentoring Excellence (U’nME). This program brings successful blind mentors together with blind youth. In conjunction with Project STRIVE, she hopes that today’s youth will have the skills and confidence she lacked at their age. Cheralyn is the proud mother of Chase and Amelia Creer. Chase and Amelia inherited their mother’s eyes so she is even more determined to improve the quality of education and opportunities for blind and visually impaired children in the state of Utah.
Second Vice President: Karl Smith
Karl joined the NFB in 1978 and has held a number of leadership positions since including: local chapter president, secretary, and state president from 1981 to 1996. He currently serves as 2nd vice president of the state affiliate and treasurer of the Salt Lake chapter.
Karl is Vice President of the Louisiana Center for the Blind board of directors, a member of Toastmasters and is also active in his church. Other interests include singing, playing the guitar and traveling.
Karl and his wife Sharon have five children including two from Viet Nam and one from Guatemala.
Secretary: Barbie Elliott
Barbie is a Utah native, born completely blind with optic nerve hypoplasia. Her family has no history of blindness. In the 1930s and 40s, long before Barbie’s parents were even born her grandparents had positive experiences working with blind professionals. Her maternal grandmother worked for a blind journalist /teacher and her paternal grandfather worked with an attorney. Both of these men passed away long before Barbie was born, but these experiences helped her grandparents influence Barbie and her parents to believe that blindness was an obstacle rather than a barrier in developing and achieving dreams. Barbie’s family taught her not only to follow those dreams but to take responsibility for her life. She was expected to do the same household jobs as her sighted siblings and do them well. Her family worked hard to give her opportunities to participate in the same kinds of extracurricular activities such as girl scouts, piano lessons, bike riding and school clubs as other children her age. She learned that hard work and high expectations has more to do with success in life than having sight does. Barbie is the second completely blind person in the state of Utah to graduate from public schools having been mainstreamed in Kindergarten. She graduated with a bachelor of arts in music from Brigham Young University, married her college sweetheart Walt, and together they have 4 children. Barbie is a semiprofessional musician performing and recording original and popular music whenever she can. Barbie is currently working full-time as a home management teacher at the Utah Division of services for the blind and visually impaired. Because of the positive influence of blind professionals in her grand parents’ lives, and the lack of them in her own life, she believes that blind children and their families need positive successful blind role models and loves working with the blind people of Utah. In her spare time (which is rare with a house-full of kids, a full-time job, and a husband to manage), she loves hiking, repelling, water skiing, ice and roller skating, reading, crocheting, and surfing the web to obtain knowledge and participating on social media
Treasurer: Mark Turley
This is a brief account of my professional, educational, and volunteer recent history. I worked for the US Navy for 20 years, retiring in 2005 after my vision became bad enough that I could no longer efficiently do my job. Unfortunately, I was not involved in any advocacy groups that could help in learning about accessibility and ADA accommodations. In 2007 I became involved with the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) and their philosophy has helped me immensely. I then served as the secretary for the Salt Lake Chapter and am now the President of the Salt Lake Chapter of the NFB of Utah and also serve on the state board of directors. I also went through training at DSBVI in 2009-10 which taught me invaluable non-visual skills to live a full, successful life. I am much more confident traveling independently in challenging areas and I still read braille every week. I am a current client of Vocational Rehabilitation. I am a student at the University of Utah studying for a Master’s degree in teaching. I have been able to maintain a 3.9 GPA and was fortunate enough to win two NFB scholarships and a U of U scholarship which was applied to my tuition, lowering the amount paid by Vocational Rehabilitation.
Board Member: Helen Eckman
Helen Eckman was born blind in the early 1960’s in Alaska. She was several months old when they discovered she had some vision. Her parents had no advocacy organizations or role models to help guide them in raising a blind child. However, they did an amazing job or rearing an independent, competent child. She was taught from a very early age that “If it’s too hard for anyone else, it’s just right for you!” Consequently it never occurred to her, or her parents, that her life should be limited because of her vision loss. Her parents were provided with a lot of poor advice, which they routinely declined to follow. “Don’t move the furniture as it will disorient and confuse her.” Needless to say, the furniture was reorganized intentionally and often. She was the first blind child to be mainstreamed in the small school district in which she lived. Because she had residual vision, her parents were told she should not be taught Braille because “She will cheat.” She says they tried to set her up for failure even before she started school. Never one to conform to low expectations, she moved through school and graduated in 1981. Her favorite pursuits were choir, drama and language arts.
Her first association with the NFB was in 1978. At that time she was assisted in raising money so she could tour Europe for a month with “America’s Youth in Concert.” Her NFB contact suggested she use a white cane so that if she was hit and killed while traveling, her parents could receive a hefty settlement. Rejecting this flimsy rationalization, she did not learn to travel with a cane for several years. At the age of 23 she attended the Alaska Center for Blind Adults in Anchorage with James Omvig as its director. There she learned skills that would assist her moving forward. Additionally, she learned the philosophy of the NFB and became an active member from that time to the present. She was a member of the State Independent Living Council (SILC). She has held offices in the NFB including affiliate president, secretary and board member in Alaska and elsewhere. She was named to the Board of Directors then “Merchant’s Division” in 1990. She currently serves as President of the Red Rocks chapter. She worked as Project Coordinator for Alaska’s Business Program for 7 years during which time she helped to expand the program from 6 to 13 facilities, including making Alaska’s first advances in working with the military to create new contracts.
She is the mother of three and grandmother of 9. The NFB guided her in the beginning. She has been working to extend similar support to others for the past 40 years and she will continue to do so.”
Board Member: Yadiel Sotomayor Bio Coming soon
Board Member: Deja Powell
Deja Powell was born and raised in Salt Lake City and was diagnosed with a visual impairment at nine months old. Deja has been blind her whole life, but because of having significant residual vision, she was never taught braille, cane travel, or how to use assistive technology. Deja’s parents however, always had the insight to push her to excel, set high expectations for her, and required her do the same things any other child should do. She was very active growing up participating in dance, gymnastics, singing, bicycling, acting, skiing, camping, and hiking. Early on Deja loved to boss people around, and often put on elaborate plays and musicals in her neighborhood; She still likes to boss people around. In high school she was part of the choir, performed in various school musicals, was a cheerleader for three years, and wrote for the school newspaper. In 2001, Deja joined the National Federation of the Blind, and attended her first National Convention that year in Philidelphia. Today, Deja is an active member of the organization, serving as a board member for the NFB of Utah. She is also an orientation and mobility (cane travel) instructor at the Division of Services for the Blind in SLC, and has now taught at the agency for four years. She has a Bachelor’s Degree in journalism from Utah State University, a Masters in Educational Psychology from Louisiana Tech University, and is currently a PhD Candidate in K-12 Education Studies at Capella University. Truman Capote said, in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, “Anyone who ever gave you confidence, you owe them a lot.” Deja gives significant credit for her happiness and confidence to her parents, training at the Louisiana Center for the Blind, graduate work at Louisiana Tech, and the National Federation of the Blind. When Deja is not working on her dissertation or teaching, she loves anything related to shoes, cupcakes, fashion, glitter, being an aunt, football, pink, and dancing. She also attributes much of her happiness to her very good looking husband Lucas. Deja leaves a trail of glitter wherever she goes, and loves her life, preferably dipped in chocolate.
Board Member: Jennifer Kennedy
Jennifer is originally from Ohio and joined the National Federation of the Blind after winning her first national scholarship in 2001. She lost her vision as a teenager as a result of Uveitis and was the only blind person in her school district. While the local high school was willing to provide accommodations, nobody had any idea where to start. Jennifer spent her freshman year attending the school for the blind in Ohio where she was introduced to screen readers, the white cane, and Braille. Her parents recognized that while the blindness skills she had learned that year were important, she needed to be mainstreamed so that she could learn to be an integrated member of society before she went to college. Jennifer remembers how difficult it was to all the sudden have to use her cane and read Braille while watching her old friends go about life without any changes. “It wasn’t that they didn’t like me, it was that my old friends did not understand I was the same person behind the white cane.” When it came time to graduate, she sought scholarship opportunities and started reading about the National Federation of the Blind. “I had heard of the group and all about their super long white canes and militant attitude,” she recalls. After spending an hour and a half on the phone with the then affiliate president, Barbara Pierce, she knew she had found more than just a chance at a scholarship. “The Federation sounded like a group of blind people who had so much to offer and talked about blindness in a way that was not tragic. It was just another one of life’s unexpected hurdles that you had to jump over and believe you were just as good blind as you were sighted.”
As part of the scholarship program, Jennifer attended her first national convention in Philadelphia and immediately saw something she wanted to be a part of. “I vividly remember seeing so many independent blind people wandering throughout the convention hotel. They moved so gracefully with their long canes and were making change through their organized actions. No one seemed to be worried about how they were going to get to the next meeting and were making real changes for the blind through collective action.” She spent hours asking her scholarship mentors about the Federation and how their involvement had bettered their lives. It was respectable to be blind, they said over and over again. She knew she had found her second family and has been active in the organization since. Jennifer has served in several leadership roles, including Ohio student division president, Richmond chapter president, state scholarship chair in both Ohio and Virginia, Legislative Director, and is currently the second vice president of the Salt Lake chapter. She has also served on the Board of Directors for the Ohio and Virginia affiliates in various positions. Jennifer joined the Utah Board of Directors in 2017 and is the coordinator for the new At Large chapter. “I feel incredibly lucky to have lived in so many states with great leadership and mentors.”
She completed a bachelor’s degree at Kent State University in Communication Studies. While pursuing this degree, she took time off to attend the adult adjustment to blindness program at the Louisiana Center for the Blind. It was the first time she had encountered the structure discovery method, a person-centered approach that emphasizes problem-solving through the use of Socratic questioning. “It was so empowering to be taught that I was the person who would fix my mistakes and that with opportunity, I could live my life without needing to keep going back for training.” She became interested in pursuing a career in blindness rehabilitation and taught for several summers in youth programs for blind students. After receiving her second national scholarship in 2007, Jennifer attended Louisiana Tech University, where she earned her Master’s in Educational Psychology with a concentration in Orientation and Mobility. She also earned her National Orientation and Mobility Certification (NOMC). Following graduation in 2008, she taught cane travel for nearly 7 years in Richmond, Virginia at the state’s rehabilitation center. In June of 2015, she moved to Salt Lake City and joined the staff at Training and Adjustment Services with the Division of Services for the Blind and Vision Impaired. When she is not out teaching, she enjoys providing other blindness professionals training in the structure discovery method and has served on the certification team for the NOMCs for several years.
Jennifer is married to Daniel Ashman, a fellow Kent State University graduate. She calls him blind at heart as he has also joined the Federation and made a career in blindness rehabilitation. Because of Daniel’s background in Fine Arts and Jennifer’s love for live theater, the two can be found enjoying the art scene wherever their travels take them. In addition to traveling, they are involved in Toastmasters, ballroom dancing, hiking, downhill skiing, and most recently started to tandem bike ride. Jennifer also enjoys reading, following current events, and knitting.
Board Member: William Black
Willie, as he is affectionately known, is the current Chapter President of the Weber/Davis Chapter. Willie became active in the National Federation of the Blind of Utah around 2005 in the local Salt Lake Chapter, where he served as Secretary for many years. Willie is one of the NFB of Utah’s beloved Project STRIVE Instructors and is also the current liaison to our Utah Association of Blind Students. He is most proud of his work with transition aged youth and works tirelessly to help youth with blindness and low vision about how they can have a bright future doing whatever they want!
Willie has worked in the field of retail for Target and Verizon Wireless, but is most proud of his accomplishments in the Utah Business Enterprise Program. Willie is the Owner of the contract for the cafeteria located at the Utah Health Department building, just off of North Temple. Willie B’s Café is a great place to get a burger, a pulled pork sandwich, or your favorite grilled cheese! Willie is also involved in the NFB’s National Association of Blind Entrepreneurs.
Willie is legally blind from birth from Albinism and is married to Marnie West, who is also blind. Both Marnie and Willie have 2 daughters from previous marriages and together they gave birth to their son, Westry who is 6 years old. All 5 of their children remain in very close contact and the entire family will go on cruises and to the NFB National Convention whenever possible. They live in Clearfield and commute to Salt Lake for work daily.
Willie is proud of his accomplishments as a husband, father, and business owner who just so happens to be blind! He is truly living the life he wants and is proud to be an integral part of the NFB of Utah!