Longtime advocate Lauren Branch is passionate about the need for organizations serving people who are blind to come together and find common ground to advance their interests. As president and CEO of NIB associated nonprofit agency NewView Oklahoma, a member of the NIB board of directors, and chair of the VisionServe Alliance executive committee, she is in a unique position to contribute to that effort.
“It is important for all of us to be working together and to be collaborating as true partners,” Branch says. “These relationships give us a bigger voice, a better understanding of the people we serve, and the opportunity to carve out a broad-based agenda that can better meet the needs of people who are blind or visually impaired.”
A certified public accountant, Branch is a Houston native who earned a degree in accounting and business administration from Texas A&M University. She has won acclaim for her outstanding leadership of NewView Oklahoma, (formerly the Oklahoma League for the Blind), which provides a wide array of rehabilitation services and employment opportunities for Oklahomans who are blind. This year marks her 25th anniversary at the helm of the agency.
Under Branch’s tenure, NewView has experienced dynamic growth, employing more than 150 people, most of whom are blind or low vision, and serving thousands of Oklahomans with vision loss. In the process, NewView has become the largest employer of people who are blind in the state and received recognition as one of the nation’s premier organizations providing comprehensive services for people losing their vision. Its many successes earned the organization a 2022 Talent and Workforce Innovator of the Year Award from central Oklahoma’s 405 Business magazine.
Despite this progress, Branch believes there is still much more to do to ensure that people who are blind have full access to technology, training, and opportunities to build a more fulfilling life.
Recognizing the value of partnerships to help achieve her goals, Branch has engaged and won the support of key civic and business leaders in Oklahoma. In addition, she reaches out to colleagues across the nation to compare notes and learn new ways to better serve Oklahomans who are blind.
Those efforts led to her leadership role with VisionServe Alliance, a St. Louis-based organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for people across the country who are coping with vision loss.
“Our vision for the Alliance is to serve as a national resource for issues affecting people who are blind,” Branch explains. “We want to be a thought leader and to move forward policies that will ultimately empower us to provide services to people who need them.”
As a member of the NIB board of directors, Branch sees opportunities for all three organizations to work together to achieve mutual goals. She notes that NewView, NIB, and VisionServe Alliance are working together to lay a foundation for public policy changes that will enable all people who are blind to have access to services and the opportunity to meet their own goals, including building a fulfilling career, if that is their wish.
She says the key to making this happen is influencing policy to ensure services for individuals experiencing vision loss are properly funded.
“At the end of the day our focus will always be meeting the needs of the community, be it on a micro or macro level,” Branch says. “The more that we can collaborate and provide a collective voice on critical issues impacting people who are blind and visually impaired, the better off it will be.”