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2022 Innovator Award: NewView Oklahoma

Since 2020, requests for NewView Oklahoma’s services have increased by 28%. Thankfully, through innovation and creative problem solving, NewView has been successful in increasing revenue from $32.9M in 2020 to $39.9M in 2021, during a time when most businesses were experiencing a decline in revenue. This is the direct result of diversifying revenue streams, pivoting to evolve services to better meet community needs, and a community of donors that continue to support the NVO mission. According to the American Foundation for the Blind, 67% of individuals who are legally blind, are unemployed. To NewView, revenue means the ability to provide job opportunities, and employing their neighbors living with vision loss is a top priority.   

Providing an accessible workplace, where approximately half of your employees are living with a disability of some sort, requires innovation.  The NVO team continues to leverage technology and produce creative solutions to support the creation of opportunities for citizens who are blind. Some of those solutions have led the technology providers that NewView works with to amend their own products. Lauren Branch, President and CEO of NewView says, “Our adaptations have created ‘Aha!’ moments that have influenced our industry through systems that can be replicated and implemented elsewhere.” One example is an automated Pressure Buzzer. Through their manufacturing plant, NVO manufactures and tests fire hoses. One of the devices required for assessing the pressure of hoses only offered visual cues, a gauge with a dial that had to be watched.  NewView approached the manufacturer of this device and together found a way to incorporate an auditory notification making it accessible for blind or low vision users. A tone was added to indicate when adequate pressure has been reached. The result was an accidental discovery that an audible reading was significantly more accurate for testing than a visual reading and the manufacturer of that device now incorporates the auditory notification for all their customers.  

There are other things NVO must consider when it comes to ensuring the safety of employees who are blind; emergency preparedness also requires innovation. NVO had to find a tactile method for helping employees to better understand the layout of buildings, where things are located, and what to do during an emergency. One way they have started doing this is using a 3D printer.  The printer is used to create 3D models of various workspaces, created to scale, to help employees who are blind to conceptualize floorplans and emergency routes.  

Lauren Branch has served as NewView Oklahoma’s President and CEO for 25 years as of April 2022. When asked how the role of innovation has changed during that time she responded, “I’m not sure the role of innovation has changed, but I do think for any business that if you’re going to sustain and grow, you must be innovating all the time.  We’ve taken the position that we need to be early adopters and adapters”. NVO is consistently evaluating the future and casting a vision for what is next, and they have adopted a culture that focuses on creative problem solving. At NewView, nothing is impossible, but getting where you are trying to go might require some creativity. If you spend enough time at NewView you will get to hear countless stories of staff and clinicians finding innovative ways to help their clients continue doing the things they love and to be active participants in their community. One of NewView’s COTAs (Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant) even created a homemade device out of PVC to help a client that is wheelchair-bound to continue being able to use their stove. NVO employees truly live into the old mantra, “if there is a will, there is a way.”   

NewView has big aspirations for serving every Oklahoma citizen living with vision loss, and that means evolving and never standing still.  When Branch took over, she says, “It took a little while to figure out where we need to go, but it became evident that we needed to be doing more for the people we are serving. I wanted, and our people wanted and deserved, for us to be a premier organization. To do that meant investing in the people and our community.” Over the past 25 years, under Branch’s leadership, the organization has hit major milestones as a direct result of continued innovation. In 1998, NewView was awarded their first service contract creating new job opportunities for citizens who are blind. Since then, service contracts have become a priority and NVO has ten active contracts. Manufacturing services also continue to evolve. In 2000, NewView earned a contract with the US Forest Service and to this day they are their sole provider of fire hoses. In 2005, NVO introduced their rehabilitative services providing in home rehabilitation as well as job and workforce readiness training in Oklahoma City and in 2014 a second clinic opened in Tulsa.  

More recently, in 2020 when the pandemic hit, NewView pivoted to manufacture PPE to be distributed to federal, state, and non-profit agencies when they needed it most. They also got creative about how they served their patients by turning to telehealth options and fighting to ensure their patients maintained access to life sustaining resources. COVID limited available public transportation and social distancing protocols meant no in person assistance. The reliance on technology during this time was problematic in the sense that accessibility was an afterthought. Imagine trying to schedule your vaccine only to find out the systems put in place were not accessible. Websites did not account for assistive technology and individuals who are blind could not even schedule themselves to receive the vaccine without help from others. Branch says, “Accessibility isn’t a new problem, but it became amplified by the circumstances we were all facing, and when businesses began to rely solely on technology to serve their customers, NewView stepped in to fill a need.” To meet this need, NVO launched a new division focused on digital accessibility called READable. This team is dedicated to remediating websites and digital documents to ensure they are accessible to blind and low vision users. 

Innovation and accessibility go hand in hand. Branch says, “It might surprise some Oklahomans to know what is possible in terms of creating an accessible workspace and how capable employees with disabilities are.” This is a world fueled by technology and incorporating specific technology to support adaptations that promote a more accessible work environment is more seamless than some might think. The team at NewView is working to change how people see barriers – to this group, barriers are simply an opportunity to do something a little differently.

We are honored to have been awarded this recognition. Our work will never be done! To read more about the 405 Business’ award, including their own write up, click here!

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