Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired

Orientation and Mobility Division


The Lawrence E. Blaha Award


Presentation to


Dona Sauerburger, COMS®

July 15, 2004    n    Orlando, Florida




Award Presentation

by Bill Wiener, COMS®


     Today the Orientation and Mobility Division is presenting the Laurence E. Blaha Award to Dona Sauerburger for her untiring devotion to the field of Orientation and Mobility.  Those of us who regularly check the O&M listserv have come to know Dona as a frequent contributor.  In fact she has affectionately been called the “Queen of the listserv.”  On any given day, she will respond to question after question.  When she doesn’t know the answer, she will go offline to contact others who may know the answer.  She has made it her mission to serve as a mentor to so many of our members.  What you may not know is that Dona has had one of the most distinguished careers in our field.

     Dona has spent the past 34 years serving the profession of orientation and mobility.  She has worked with both children and adults in school settings, agencies, and in the community. Throughout her career Dona has held traditional positions as well as serving as an independent contractor.  In the early 1970's she developed and implemented some of the first O&M programs in West Virginia and in Pennsylvania that served adults with visual impairments.  Almost a decade later, she served as an O&M specialist serving children of various ages in Prince George’s County Public Schools, Maryland.  In between these positions and following these positions Dona worked as an independent contractor in O&M.  During the 1970's, after starting to work with consumers who are deaf-blind, she began studying American Sign Language.  By the late 1980's she was working for Family Service Foundation’s Institute on Deaf‑Blindness in Lanham, Maryland, serving adult consumers who were deaf‑blind.  By the 1990's she was widely known for her expertise in how to serve people with both vision and hearing loss.

     As one of the few O&M specialists with specialized knowledge on deaf‑blindness, Dona shared her knowledge freely with her colleagues.  In 1993 she wrote a book entitled Independence without sight or sound; Suggestions for practitioners working with deaf‑blind adults.  She followed this up co-authoring chapters in two other textbooks:  “Transition: Travel Skills for Adult Living,” in Hand in hand: Essentials of communication and O&M for your students who are deaf‑blind, and “Learners with Vision and Hearing Impairments,” in the second edition of Foundations of Orientation and Mobility. 

     Dona has also devoted much of her time to developing new techniques to address the safety of visually impaired travelers.  Faced with evidence that blind people have difficulty crossing streets that do not have traffic control, she developed a timing procedure that assisted with the determination of whether it’s possible to know when it’s clear to cross.  Once developed, she shared her insights with her peers through various venues such as publications and presentations.  Beginning in 1989 she wrote “To cross or not to cross: Objective timing methods of assessing street crossings without traffic controls,” published in RE:view.  In 1995, 1996, 1998, and again in 1999 she wrote articles that further developed the concept of how to consider crossings without traffic controls.  Her approaches to these issues have been broadly recognized and have impacted the content of many of our university programs.

     Dona has given much of her time and energy in service to the field.  She has provided her editing skills to a number of newsletters that have benefited the profession.  From 1992 to the present time, with a short hiatus between 1996 and 2000, she served as the editor of newsletter for O&M Division of AER.  It is through her efforts that the Division has shared the progress of its different committees and prepared the membership to vote on many new policies.  She has similarly worked as the editor of the newsletter of the Mid‑Atlantic Region of AER, the newsletter of the Metropolitan Washington O&M Association, the newsletter for DC‑MD Chapter AER, and the newsletter of the Metropolitan Washington Association of the Deaf‑Blind.  She has even functioned as a columnist for “Moving Right Along,” published in Deaf‑Blind American, the quarterly magazine of the American Association of the Deaf‑Blind.

     Another source of service to the profession has been through her leadership to the O&M Division.  She has served on such committees as the Environmental Access Committee, Professional Standards Committee, Finance Committee, Certification Standards Committee, Functional Abilities Assessment Subcommittee, and the Archives Committee.  As co‑chair of the Archives Committee, she was instrumental in developing the O&M Division Archives.

     In 1998 Dona began serving as Chair of the O&M Division.  During this time she reviewed all of the past policies of the Division and worked with the Executive Committee to develop their first policy manual.  Today the decisions that are made by the O&M Division follow the procedures outlined in the manual developed during her tenure as president.  

     Finally, Dona often works from behind the scenes to make sure that issues relating to Orientation and Mobility and the O&M Division are given the necessary consideration.  As an example, at the last AER biennial conference she helped write several resolutions that address critical issues to the field.  Another example occurred in November of 2002 when the Rehabilitation Services Administration sponsored a program on cutting-edge practices in O&M.  When Dona recognized that blindfolding would be presented as a cutting edge practice but not the use of low vision, she immediately agreed to develop a presentation that would address the important topic of use of  residual vision.  Her hand is often found in the organizational efforts of the O&M Division.  Nowhere has this been more evident than in the New Orleans Orientation and Mobility Division Conference.  She worked tirelessly to help organize this conference and make sure that it considered topics of importance to the field.

      Many practitioners within the field have had the opportunity of learning from Dona Sauerburger’s experiences.  She has given more than 40 presentations at venues from regional O&M conferences to international O&M conferences.  And of course she has taken an untiring interest in monitoring the listserv and helping those with questions.  She has become a dependable source of up‑to‑date information on various topics of importance.

     Dona is most proud that as a practitioner she was able to contribute so much to the profession.  Often practitioners believe that you must be an administrator or a university instructor to make a substantive contribution.  Dona Sauerburger’s example teaches us the contrary.  Dona has worked over the years in many venues to create best practice. 

     For all of these accomplishments, the O&M Division is bestowing the highest honor it can give to one of its members:  the Lawrence E. Blaha Award.


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