About Us

three yellow dots

From the first formal meeting of the Buffalo Association of the Blind in 1907 to the Olmsted Center for Sight and now VIA, this organization has a rich history of helping the visually impaired see the future and be seen as productive members of the community by the world around them.

Whether we’re working with a child who was born blind, or an adult experiencing vision loss, VIA has a proven history of guiding people through vision loss, helping them to overcome it and providing the skills that restore their independence and confidence.

Staff/Leadership

VIA employs about 150 team members, some who have been committed to the agency for more than 30 years. Their dedication is what makes this organization the premier provider of services to the visually impaired community in Western New York.
Tammy Owen
President & CEO
Franca Trincia
Chief Financial Officer
Renee DiFlavio

              Senior Vice President               Development

Amanda Cleesattel
Vice President of Vision
Rehabilitation Services
Ray Ludwig
Vice President of Manufacturing, Distribution and Business Development
Dan Genco
Director of Manufacturing
Kelly Dodd
Director of Contact Center Services
GARY WAGNER

Director va contracts & public policy

Danielle Vacco

Director Human Resources

Shannon Lach

Marketing & Special Events 

Board of Directors

VIA is honored and humbled that many of Western New York’s most dynamic business leaders have gifted us with their talents and expertise. The guidance and insight of our Board is critical to the accomplishment of our mission.
Chairperson
KEVIN J. CROSS, ESQ

Attorney, Partner
Lippes Mathias Wexler Friedman LLP

Vice Chairperson

ALTHEA LUEHRSEN

CEO
Leadership Buffalo

Secretary 
LISA RAFALSON, PhD

Chair, Health Services Administration
D’Youville College

Treasurer
LISA M. KIRISITS

Managing Partner
Kirisits & Associates, CPAS, PLLC

Board Members

STEPHEN V. CROSS

VP & Chief Information Officer
Merchants Insurance Group

PAUL LEE, MD
Retina Consultants of Western New York
CARL SCANLON JR.
Store Manager
Wegmans
PATRICK ENGASSER
Direct Sales Coordinator
AFLAC
SHARON LOCHOCKI
Senior Vice President
Regional Retail Leader
Key Bank
ERIC RECOON
Vice President, Development & Leasing
Benderson Development
JACK GRECO
Executive Director
Techstars Ecosystem Development Program
MAI NGUYEN
VP Business Banking
M&T Bank
DENNIS McCOY
Attorney, Partner
Barclay Damon, LLP
KELSEY HANKS
Marketing & PR Services
RAYMOND REICHERT
Attorney
Bond, Schoeneck & King
GEORGE WANDS
Director, Internal Audit
Independent Health Association
JOHN KREMER
Employee Benefits Consultant
USI Insurance Services
DOMINIC SECCHIAROLI
Independent Business Owner
LAMONT WILLIAMS
Private Businessman
MARTHA LAMPARELLI

Retired – Coordinator Special Education Services Buffalo Public Schools

STEVEN V. CROSS
VP & Chief Information Officer
Merchants Insurance Group
PAUL LEE, MD
Retina Consultants of Western New York
CARL SCANLON JR.
Store Manager
Wegmans
PATRICK ENGASSER
Direct Sales Coordinator
AFLAC
SHARON LOCHOCKI
Senior Vice President
Regional Retail Leader
Key Bank
ERIC RECOON
Vice President, Development & Leasing
Benderson Development
JACK GRECO
Executive Director
Techstars Ecosystem Development Program
MAI NGUYEN
VP Business Banking
M&T Bank
DENNIS McCOY
Attorney, Partner
Barclay Damon, LLP
KELSEY HANKS
Marketing & PR Services
RAYMOND REICHERT
Attorney
Bond, Schoeneck & King
GEORGE WANDS
Director, Internal Audit
Independent Health Association
JOHN KREMER
Employee Benefits Consultant
USI Insurance Services
DOMINIC SECCHIAROLI
Independent Business Owner
LAMONT WILLIAMS
Private Businessman
MARTHA LAMPARELLI

Retired – Coordinator Special Education Services
Buffalo Public Schools

about via

What does VIA stand for:

VISUALLY
IMPAIRED
ADVANCEMENT

Tag Line:

Pathways for the Visually Impaired 

Pronounced:

“VEE-AH”

 

VIA Logo. Link to Home Page

OUR MISSION

To help people who are blind or visually impaired achieve their highest level of independence.

 

THE BRAND PROMISE

You cannot underestimate the impact a diagnosis of visual impairment or blindness has on a person and their loved ones. From education and equipment, to services and support, you are a partner that provides hope, empowerment and solutions for the visually impaired community.

contact Us:

1170 Main Street,
Buffalo NY 14209
Main Number: 716-882-1025
Hours of Operation
Monday – Friday 8am-4:30pm

Send Us an Email

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History

Our journey to VIA started in 1907 and has started and led to many interesting directions over the decades. Here’s a quick synopsis of our timeline.

1907-1920

May 1907 – The first formal meeting of the Buffalo Association for the Blind (BAB) was held- Mr. Carlton Sprague was elected president
1907 – A broom factory employing blind workers was opened at 489 Ellicott Street
1908 – A Certificate of Incorporation for the BAB agency was issued, stating in part its objective “to improve the condition of the blind within the County of Erie.”
1913 – The Wishbone Club, the agency’s first social club, was formed to promote social life among blind women
1916 – Rug weaving, chair caning and basketmaking were added to workshop activities at the BAB
1917 – The agency worked with the New York State Commission for the Blind in providing home visits to blind community members
1919 – The BAB agency joined with eight other social agencies in the city to form the “Federation of Charities and Social Agencies for Financial and Other Purposes,” which ultimately became the United Way of Buffalo and Erie County

1921-1940

1923 – The agency’s headquarters relocated to the old Lutheran Church at Michigan and Goodell Streets
1927 – Dr. Conrad Wettlaufer, Board President, donated funds to remodel agency headquarters to house the Buffalo Eye, Ear, Nose and Throat Clinic; also known as the Wettlaufer Clinic
1936 – The agency became a distributor of Talking Book Machines. Manufactured under the aegis of the Library of Congress, as part of the WPA
1937 – The agency’s first news and cigar stand, operated by blind vendor Anthony Obstarczyk, opened on the first floor of the Erie County Office Building
1937 – A telegram from Helen Keller recognized the BAB agency’s 30th anniversary, commending the organization’s “pioneer work in broadening the field of opportunity for sightless people.”

1941-1960

1946 – The agency purchased property at 864 Delaware Avenue to accommodate the growing organization
1946 – The agency’s first preschool, the Michael Nursery School, opened to help prepare blind children for mainstream schooling
1949 – The first client to the agency’s newly established “Testing and Rehabilitation Center” was accepted, receiving training in skills of daily living and household carpentry
1949 – The Lighthouse Unit, a women’s service guild, was organized and sixty women signed up to begin the tradition of volunteerism and fundraising
1953 – Sub-contract work of stitching cardboard cartons for the Iroquois Brewing Co. was secured in the workshop
1957 – The agency became a member of Industries for the Blind of New York State, an organization that secures orders from state institutions for workshops for the blind throughout New York State

1961-1980

1962 – Renovations began on the agency’s current building at 1170 Main Street
1964 – The agency initiated an Orientation and Mobility (O&M) program, including training in the use of the white cane
1971 – The agency became an affiliate of National Industries for the Blind (NIB), a workshop development organization
1974 – The agency was renamed to the Blind Association of Western New York
1975 – The agency acquired its first closed circuit television visual aid, the Visualtek, which enabled people with some functional vision to read books and other written materials
1976 – The Low Vision Clinic opened, providing people with impaired sight specialized optometric exams and prescriptions
1979 – The Skills of Daily Living apartment was opened, featuring a living room, bathroom, laundry area and kitchen where clients could train in performing day-to-day activities
1980 – The Technical Advisory Committee developed the first-ever Braille desk calendar, filling a strong need expressed by blind professional workers

1981-2000

1983 – The Visually Impaired Preschool (VIP) started –  a home-based program for infants and pre-schoolers up to age five
1983 – The first ‘Ride in Plain Sight’ bike tour was held, an annual fundraiser that featured tandem bicycles ridden by visually impaired cyclists with sighted partners – In 1988, a stationary bike corporate challenge was added to the event
1987 – Senior Vision Services was started, a program serving Erie County senior citizens who are experiencing diminishing sight
1993 – The agency opened its first apartment building, Excelsior Manor, in the city’s Lovejoy area
1996 – The agency began managing switchboard operations at the Buffalo Veterans Administration (VA) Medical Center, employing a full staff of blind and visually impaired operators
1997 – Grand opening of Gratwick Manor, the second housing project for visually impaired or physically disabled tenants
1999 – The National Statler Center for Careers in Hospitality Service conducted its first student class 
1999 – The agency changed its name to the Elizabeth Pierce Olmsted, M.D. Center for the Visually Impaired
2000 – A grand opening celebration was held to show off completed renovations of 1170 Main Street, including new education center/auditorium, an expanded vision rehabilitation clinic, a resource library and an atrium

2001-Present

2001 – Olmsted Center adopted the theme line “Where Challenges Meet Solutions”
2001 – Olmsted Center’s manufacturing division supplied all the U.S. Flags at the opening game at Yankee Stadium following the tragedy on September 11, 2001 – This was the largest distribution of flags in New York State
2003 – The manufacturing division at Olmsted Center secured its first federal contract with the Department of Defense for flight jerseys for the Navy
2003 – The agency opened Elizabeth Harvey Apartments in the North Tonawanda, the agency’s fourth housing project
2003 – The agency began managing switchboard operations at the Erie Veterans Administration (VA) Medical Center in Erie, Pennsylvania, employing a full staff of blind and visually impaired operators
2005 – Statler Center accepts its first international student from Canada
2006 – Construction begins on the Ira G. Ross Eye Institute; a unique and nationally innovative collaboration among the Department of Ophthalmology of the University at Buffalo (UB) School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, Olmsted Center for the Visually Impaired, and University Ophthalmology Services
2006 – Olmsted Center brings property management of all five of its properties in-house
2007 – Statler Center hosted its first class outside of Buffalo, New York; The Blind Center in Las Vegas, Nevada, became home to Statler Center for 10 weeks and became the 23rd graduating class since its inception in 1999
2007 –  The Paul T. Bulger Vision Rehabilitation Clinic opened its doors after gaining approval from the New York State Public Health Council to open a subsidiary Article 28 Diagnostic and Treatment Center
2007 – Statler Center was awarded $457,000 from the Lavelle Fund for the Blind, Inc.,  to train and work with disabled people more strategically in career development
2007 – The Olmsted Institute of Business and Technology is established
2007 – Olmsted Center celebrates 100 years since inception
2008 –  A centennial celebration takes place in summer 2008 since the corporation was officially formed in December 2008
2008 – Statler Center begins training of the first contact center training program at the agency
2008 – Avaya Corporation donates a new telecommunications system for the entire agency enabling Olmsted Center to open a call/contact center – system provides additional functionality for all users who are blind
2008 Olmsted’s Summer Employment Program (SEE) for students between the ages of 16 to 19 who are blind is expanded to include weekend programming allowing students from across the state to participate
2008 Statler Center, in partnership with Lighthouse of Central Florida and the Department of Education, Division of Blind Services, brings their successful hospitality and customer service training program for the blind or visually impaired to Orland, Florida
2010 Olmsted Center opens Nelson Hopkins Apartments, its’ sixth residential affordable apartment building specifically designed and built for people with physical disabilities
2011 Central Referral Services/211WNY formally merge to become a program of Olmsted Center. 211WNY has a national presence in approximately 45 states and provides health & human services information and referral resources to the community at large
2011 Regional Action Phone (RAP), based in Batavia, New York, officially becomes a subsidiary of Olmsted Center
2011 Olmsted’s Early Education Program begins providing school age contracts for expanded vision services
2012 Vision Rehabilitation begins offering Diagnostic Vocational Evaluations
2012 Renovations on the 4th floor of 1170 Main Street are completed
2012 Olmsted Center holds its first Fore Sight Golf Tournament at Chestnut Hill Country Club
July 2012 Statler Center hosts graduation ceremony at the historic and newly re-opened Statler Hotel. The celebration is of significance since Ellsworth Statler built the hotel in the early 1900s and was widely recognized as a pioneer of the entire hospitality industry. This event also was the unveiling of a commemorative display highlighting the life of Ellsworth Statler to be displayed permanently at Olmsted Center
August 2012 Vision Rehabilitation Department launches a summer program for children; Youth Experiencing Success (YES) is a program designed to introduce and reinforce the necessary life skills to students ages 10-14. 
2012 Ron Maier, President for 27 years, retires from Olmsted Center
2012 Olmsted Center hosts it first annual Dining in the Dark fundraiser, hosting 125 guests
2012 Statler Center conducted training program in Albany, NY for 12 legally blind students
2013 The Rehab Department introduced FOCUS, a two-day, one overnight, recreational program at Beaver Hollow Conference Center for children who are blind/legally blind. Program objectives focus on the student’s socialization, self-confidence, teamwork and leadership skills
April 2013 Tamara Owen started as President & CEO
2013 Olmsted/Statler Center partners with Veterans One Stop and has dedicated office hours helping disabled and blind veterans
2013 2nd Annual “Fore Sight” Golf Tournament @ Chestnut Hill with 125 golfers
2013 Statler Center went to El Paso Texas and trained blind students for contact center work; Six of the students were immediately hired by Hewlett Packard for a homeland security contract and one student was hired at Austin Lighthouse
2013 Finalized merger with RAP;  2-1-1 received AIRS Re-Certification; 2-1-1 launches “Healthy Mom, Healthy baby campaign”
2014 Contact Center launches 1st large National Industries for the Blind contract with Lutron Lighting, a large national lighting firm
2014 May 13-15, seven representatives from OCS staff and Board travel to Washington to receive sustainable funding training from Benevon
December 2014 Section-14c certificate surrendered, Sheltered Work Activities Program closed
2016 Launched Business Development Partnership with CABVI
2016 5th Annual Dining in the Dark, 475 attendees
2017 Transitioned the operations of the Olmsted’s Center-based Pre-school Program to Buffalo Hearing & Speech Center
2018 Received $975K DASNY Grant for renovation of 1st floor of 1170 Main Street to integrate programing
2018 Commenced DASNY Construction Renovations – 1st floor 
2019 Manufacturing Department began packing 1.2M boxes of gloves for our new commercial contract with Wegmans Food Markets – providing gloves for the food service workers in all 100 stores
2019 1st shipment of gloves to Johnston Paper, for distribution to Wegmans stores
2019 8th Annual Dining in the Dark, 600 attendees
November 2019 Board of Directors voted to approve a resolution to change the agency name to “VIA Visually Impaired Advancement” and the d/b/a VIA
2020 All staff has relocated from 4th floor and the Statler Center into new space on 1st floor at 1170 Main Street
March 2020 COVID-19 Pandemic, Governor’s Executive Order required closure of all on-site business except for services deemed to be “Essential Services” by the EO. Due to the PPE related products produced and distribute in manufacturing, the 211 Health & Human Service Helpline in the Contact Center, and the VA Switchboards operations at VIA remained fully operational. Staff from non-essential services were re-deployed to assist in the other areas.