Anil Lewis: Defining his identity
by St. Cloud Student Makayla Christen, B.S. in Psychology
Lewis recognizes the difficulties many individuals in the disability community may face in the workforce
Anil Lewis grew up in Atlanta, Georgia, as the third of four children in his household. Two of Anil’s siblings became blind from retinitis pigmentosa, which, later at the age of 25, affected his sight. Lewis has learned to live by his motto, “Everyone has opinions, and everyone can have their perception of your worth, but you need to develop and understand your worth and uniqueness. You must define and advocate your own identity”.
Lewis attended Georgia State University, where he received his Bachelor’s in Business Administration Degree for Computer Information Systems. He then gained his Master’s in Public Administration Degree for Public Policy. Lewis’ experience in working towards and obtaining his degrees was a significant motivation to him. This motivation made him strive to work at a bank, nonprofit, or in an advocacy setting. Lewis became blind and later recognized that he could reclaim himself as an individual after a long and personally challenging experience. This experience led to him changing career paths and wanting to allow other individuals to reclaim their lives. The National Federation of the Blind, a civil rights organization for blind individuals, shaped his work today. The blend of academic training and personal experience created his drive for advocacy; in 2010, he worked as chairman of the disability committee at Georgia state. The position allowed Lewis to bring ability awareness to campus and make the campus more accessible to individuals such as himself and others who are within the disabilities community. Lewis is a very well-rounded and accomplished individual that found many meanings and outlooks within the various positions and advocacy roles he has held.
Lewis first started his journey when he taught individuals to read braille and use assistive technologies. His natural love for technology and his past training and knowledge could be transferred into this field. Lewis later went further into the advocacy field and started advocacy in Georgia. After Lewis worked with the secretary of state, Georgia became the first state to provide accessible voting for blind individuals. He also worked to get access to 500 publications accessible for blind individuals. He worked diligently to impact educational programs that allowed students to get a quality education and adults to get proper and extensive training for work.
Lewis is currently the Executive Director for Blindness Initiatives for the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute, located in Baltimore, Maryland. He coordinates outreach, marketing, and fundraising activities for the national nonprofit organization. He leads a team of “individuals responsible for creating, developing, implementing, and replicating innovative projects and programs throughout a nationwide network that works to positively affect the education, employment, and quality of life of all blind people”. Lewis being the director of Advocacy and Policy for the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute, allowed him to be the legislative leader of the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute’s efforts to repeal Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act. This obsolete provision allows employers to pay workers with disabilities less than the federal minimum wage.
Lewis recognizes the difficulties many individuals in the disability community may face in the workforce. At the Jernigan Institute, he found it was easy to get the equipment and the support needed when completing any of his advocacy work or even the legislation work. The accommodations required were given and upheld to a high standard as well. He stated this created a false expectation that this is happening everywhere and is a model around. Lewis strives to generate this outlook and ideal for all in the community while being the Director of Advocacy and Policy. Lewis considers the ongoing struggle in the next ten years for the Jernigan Institute will be blind individuals getting access to braille, assistive technologies, teaching young children to use canes and be independent, and working towards blind adults having the same accessibility. The ten years hold something new and the technologies that will be created and instantly accessible to individuals without buying upgrades or creating shortcuts. It would also be individuals not having to buy a specific piece of technology to go about their daily lives; instead, the technology will not need routes to be accessible for use. One hope is that blind employees will not be treated and thought of as different but will be thought of and recognized as progressive entities in the workforce.
With this, Lewis wants people to know that it is nice to celebrate individuals’ accomplishments and get some “skin in the game” no matter what level but to work still to push individuals to exceed their expectations and others. For the organization, it would be whatever way they can support the institute’s work and be an active individual, or even a reactive voice for the struggle insidious in the disability community faces.