• 20211118-134400-Blind201
  • Stacy Cervenka
  • Maria Salazar
  • Wayne Pearcy
  • 20211117-203044-a4a5529d4f
  • 20211117-203048-8b760a777e
  • The Colorado Center for the Blind in Littleton
  • 20211117-203053-a927e006ef

More than a dozen previously unreported instances of sexual misconduct and abuse spanning at least two decades at the Colorado Center for the Blind in Littleton have surfaced during an internal investigation of the school’s parent organization.

Among the offenses were the alleged sexual assault of a 13-year-old girl by a summer youth camp counselor in 2001, of which police have no record; a teacher accused of sexually harassing students in 2019 who was hired despite school leadership allegedly knowing he had faced accusations of unwanted sexual contact at another school; and a teacher who admitted he engaged in a sexual relationship with a 19-year-old student in violation of school policy.

The allegations were made public in a report released in June by a special committee investigating misconduct claims in the National Federation of the Blind, the school’s parent organization.

The investigative findings bolstered the accounts of eight people associated with the center who told Colorado Community Media that leadership at the world-renowned school covered up sexual offenses for years or simply ignored them.

“I thought if the leaders knew, they would do something,” said Stacy Cervenka, a former counselor at a youth summer camp operated by the Colorado Center for the Blind who told her supervisor in 2001 that she had walked in on a fellow counselor sexually assaulting a 13-year-old girl.

The counselor was fired, but Cervenka said no one at the school reported the assault to police, raising questions about whether the school complied with a Colorado law requiring teachers and school officials to report the abuse of children.

School officials say they called police in Glendale, where the alleged assault occurred, and that an officer came to the apartment complex where students were staying to investigate. Glendale police, however, say they have no record they were contacted. Cervenka said she and others who were aware of the assault were not interviewed by police.

The National Federation of the Blind, or NFB, an advocacy group for blind and low-vision people, launched the probe at the end of 2020, after former students and their supporters published an open letter calling for reform. The letter said misconduct within the organization and its training centers in Colorado, Louisiana and Minnesota had been hushed up by leaders and allowed to fester for decades.

Former students and others associated with the Colorado center say the school’s leadership, including longtime director Julie Deden, pressured them to keep quiet about incidents of misconduct. Deden has declined to respond to any specific allegations.

None of the accusations are being criminally investigated, according to Littleton police and the 18th Judicial District Attorney’s Office. Littleton police spokesman Trent Cooper said investigators are unaware of any sexual misconduct complaints at the school.

At least two instances of sexual misconduct discussed in this story involve accusers who decided not to report them to police as crimes, citing the emotional toll of pursuing charges against the men they say were responsible.

‘Don’t call it rape’

Complaints about sexual misconduct — and failures to confront it head on — are startlingly common at NFB training centers and conventions, said Cervenka, who held leadership roles in the national organization before leaving in 2018.

“As long as I was in NFB, I heard stories from friends about sexual misconduct they experienced,” Cervenka said. “I’ve had a few incidents myself that were mishandled. I thought if the leaders knew, they would do something. That if people knew who was molesting and raping members (of NFB), they would be gone.”

Maria Salazar, 25, told Colorado Community Media she was drugged and raped one year ago by a roommate in an off-campus apartment — then counseled to keep quiet about it by a Colorado Center for the Blind administrative assistant.

“Don’t call it rape,” Salazar says she was told by a center employee who had personal ties to the roommate, who wasn’t charged. “He didn’t rape you. Don’t say that or you’ll ruin his life.”

Salazar said she went to a hospital where evidence was collected during a sexual assault forensic exam. But after talking with a crisis counselor, she decided not to pursue charges. She feared she wouldn’t be believed and it didn’t help that the school administration didn’t back her, she said.

The woman she accused of trying to cover up the assault remains employed by the school. She did not return a request for comment.

School leadership declined to directly address Salazar’s rape allegation. She said the assault took place in a school-owned apartment in Littleton where Salazar and her roommate were permitted to stay after both had completed their training programs.

Located in a former YMCA on a bluff above downtown Littleton, the Colorado Center for the Blind, or CCB, draws people from around the world who are blind or losing their sight. Students learn vocational and life skills including cooking, martial arts, woodworking and how to navigate big cities. Outings take students rock climbing and whitewater rafting.

The nonprofit center is funded by foundation grants and donations, and from tuition paid by students, largely covered by federal vocational rehabilitation dollars.

CCB opened in 1988 and serves roughly 60 students a year in a one-year adult independence training program, its primary offering. Other programs include summer sessions for middle and high school students and a program for the elderly.

Salazar and other former CCB students who spoke to Colorado Community Media say they left the center traumatized by the abuse they suffered and by what they call dismissive and retaliatory responses by the center’s leaders when they made reports.

“They said they were all about community,” Salazar said of CCB. “They said they were here to lift us up and support us, but they were ready to let me be homeless if I was going to make CCB look bad.”

‘People may figure out who you are’

NFB is important in the lives of blind people, Cervenka said, and that has left many accusers reluctant to go public with allegations of mistreatment.

“The blind community is very small,” she explained. “People depend on NFB for services, advocacy and community. When people involved fear retaliation for speaking out, they may fear losing access to housing, to adaptive technology and more. Even if you try to speak anonymously, people may figure out who you are.”

Allegations of sexual misconduct in NFB began to surface publicly in 2017, in the wake of the #MeToo movement that saw survivors publicize allegations of sexual abuse in many industries and organizations.

In late 2020, Cervenka helped spearhead a movement that came to be known as #MarchingTogether. She collected dozens of stories from those who say they were abused in connection to NFB, including several at the Colorado Center for the Blind.

The result was a letter sent to NFB’s board of directors and the National Blindness Professional Certification Board in December 2020 that was signed by roughly 500 current and former NFB members and their supporters, who called out the organization for tolerating sexual abuse and other misconduct.

“We won’t tolerate sexual, physical or psychological abuse, or those who ignore, deny or perpetuate it,” the letter reads.

The letter also called for an overhaul of the organization, including the removal of known abusers, mandatory anti-harassment training for all NFB staff, review and revision of internal policies, investigation of allegations of misconduct by a third-party investigator, and the creation of a survivor task force to issue further recommendations.

On Dec. 16, Mark Riccobono, the NFB president, responded to the open letter with an apology, published on the organization’s website.

“I am profoundly sorry that anyone has been harmed by experiences in our movement,” Riccobono’s letter reads. “I hurt for the survivors, and I deeply regret that I have made mistakes along the way.”

Riccobono announced a series of steps NFB would take in response: a partnership with the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, or RAINN, to create anti-harassment training programs for NFB members and students; the creation of a survivor task force to issue recommendations on policies and oversight; a special committee of NFB leaders to oversee investigations; the hiring of Maryland law firm Kramon & Graham to conduct interviews with accusers; the hiring of attorney Tonya Baña as an external investigator to make recommendations regarding those accused of misconduct; and extending the reporting window for code-of-conduct complaints.

On Christmas Eve, CCB published a letter endorsing Riccobono’s apology.

“We will move heaven and Earth to see that the verifiable experiences we are reading and hearing about are used to build a safer and better program,” the letter reads.

In an email to Colorado Community Media, Riccobono declined to address specific allegations, but wrote that he is committed to “transforming our movement in ways that allow all of us to heal from past trauma and move forward together.”

“I have and always will continue to listen to and learn from the members of this movement, especially around these critical issues, and the courageous victims, survivors, and allies who have shared their stories publicly and with me personally in the past several months,” Riccobono wrote.

Reports, arrests, reforms

The 66-page interim report released in June details NFB’s initial findings, progress and recommendations as part of its ongoing review.

NFB had nine complaints filed through its existing code of conduct complaint process before the scandal became public, the report found. Between December and June, though, an additional 60 complaints were filed, alleging 55 separate incidents across the country regarding the actions of 52 people, including eight accused of failing to respond adequately to sexual misconduct. Four of the complaints involve minors as victims.

Many of the complaints involve the Louisiana Center for the Blind, which shares headquarters with NFB in Ruston, Louisiana. Michael Ausbun, a former employee of the Louisiana center, was charged in June with 18 counts of child molestation by an educator, according to reporting in the Gambit newspaper in New Orleans, where reporter Kaylee Pochee has documented the scandal for months.

Of the 60 complaints received since Riccobono pledged reforms, three are from the Colorado Center for the Blind, involving three incidents. The Colorado reports include statements from six people who say they witnessed sexual misconduct or were victims. Outside of the code-of-conduct complaints, the report says, investigators conducted interviews with eight witnesses regarding 16 additional incidents at the school in Littleton.

Though a final report is not expected until later this year, the interim report includes recommendations, such as mandatory information sharing between NFB training centers about abusers, and also extending the time limit to make complaints about code-of-conduct offenses to three years from one. The report also calls for mandatory anti-harassment training, and barring NFB members from holding leadership positions if they are found to have engaged in sexual misconduct.

In response to the report, the American Council of the Blind, another advocacy group, in September passed a resolution urging the federal Rehabilitation Services Administration to stop sending students to NFB training centers that face allegations of sexual misconduct until the claims have been fully addressed.

The resolution also urges the federal agency to establish codes of conduct for training centers and to ensure any misconduct claims are reported to the state rehabilitation councils that administer the federal funds.

Schools that receive federal funding, such as for vocational training, are subject to Title IX, a federal law that prohibits sex-based discrimination in education, said Brett Sokolow, the President of the Association of Title IX Administrators.

Sokolow said the allegations of sexual misconduct and improper responses from school officials against CCB could be grounds for a federal investigation into whether the school exhibited a pattern of neglect, a violation of Title IX.

If an investigation found cover-ups of sexual misconduct were part of a pattern, federal funding used by students to attend the school could be withheld, though Sokolow called such an outcome extremely unlikely. Investigations more often result in an effort by government officials to bring schools into compliance with the law, he said.

Such an investigation would most likely be conducted by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights. The agency is not currently investigating CCB, according to its database of pending investigations.

Though the school has consistently declined to respond to specific allegations, often citing privacy concerns, CCB spokesman Dan Burke said sexual misconduct has been prohibited since the school was founded in 1988.

“We absolutely do not discourage anyone from contacting the police, and in fact, we encourage students to do so,” he wrote. “Like the rest of society, the Colorado Center for the Blind is learning more about how to enhance our policies to be more trauma-informed and survivor-centered, as well as to create the safest and healthiest environment that promotes the prevention of sexual misconduct.”

The center is working with the NFB and other entities on policy revisions and new response protocols, expected to be finished by the end of the year, he said.

‘A chilling effect’

The only person accused of sexual misconduct named in the interim report is Fred Schroeder, a longtime NFB member who held a variety of leadership roles over the years, mostly in Louisiana. Schroeder is accused of engaging in a 40-year pattern of abuse, including grooming and groping students, that was well known among NFB members, the report alleges.

It is not clear whether Schroeder’s conduct was ever reported to police, but NFB leaders were made aware of Schroeder’s misconduct “by 2002 at the latest,” the report found, with former NFB president Marc Maurer accused of ignoring or covering up the allegations.

Maurer did not respond to requests for comment.

When Riccobono took the helm of NFB in 2014, he asked Schroeder to step down as vice president of the NFB board in response to internal misconduct allegations, according to the report, though Riccobono made no public statement regarding why the change was made. Schroeder remained president of the board of the National Blindness Professional Certification Board, an arm of NFB, and later, with NFB’s backing, became president of the World Blind Union.

Schroeder’s reputation as an abuser permeated NFB, according to the report. When he was announced at the last minute as a replacement for another speaker at the organization’s national convention in 2019, “dozens of people stood and left the room,” the report said, characterizing the episode as a galvanizing moment in the awakening around sexual misconduct in NFB.

Schroeder did not respond to requests for comment.

Baña, the independent investigator hired by NFB, recommended Schroeder be suspended from membership in the organization for five years, and only be allowed to reapply if he “has complied with several conditions,” though the report does not specify the conditions.

To some in the blind community, the punishment seemed small relative to the decades of allegations against Schroeder.

“It is inconceivable to me why permanent expulsion would not be a more appropriate consequence,” Ryan Osentowski, a former CCB counselor, wrote in a blog post. “I can’t help but think that this will only have a chilling effect on the complaint process going forward.”

Expulsions and suspensions

One Colorado Center for the Blind counselor, Rex Schuttler, was permanently expelled from NFB membership in March, according to a report.

Schuttler previously worked as an instructor at the Louisiana Center for the Blind, according to the report, where students reported he groped and sexually harassed them. Staff there notified CCB about the allegations when Schuttler applied for an apprenticeship in Colorado in 2019, the report says, but CCB hired him anyway.

In December 2019, a CCB student reported to CCB director Deden that Schuttler was sending her sexually harassing text messages.

“When the leadership at the Colorado Center confronted Mr. Schuttler, he confirmed that he had sent the inappropriate text messages and acknowledged he had similar trouble in the past, that this behavior was a compulsion, and that he needed help to deal with this problem,” the report said.

The report does not say what if any action Deden or CCB leadership took in response. Schuttler did not respond to requests for comment from Colorado Community Media.

Deden has declined to respond to specific inquiries regarding Schuttler’s hiring or conduct at CCB, although CCB spokesman Burke wrote in an email: “We do not hire or give other opportunities like internships to those who we know have committed sexual misconduct elsewhere.”

In January, Cervenka, the former counselor, filed a code-of-conduct complaint about the assault she said she witnessed in 2001. In her complaint, she wrote that CCB leadership had been informed a 33-year-old counselor was developing an inappropriate relationship with a 13-year-old. Leadership warned him not to be alone with the girl, Cervenka wrote.

Cervenka, who shared an apartment with the girl in Glendale, says she came home one afternoon and found the man sexually assaulting the girl on the floor.

Cervenka says she and another counselor reported the incident to CCB leadership, including Deden, who has been the executive director of CCB since 1999, and Melissa Riccobono, wife of NFB president Mark Riccobono, who Cervenka said was co-director of the CCB summer program at the time, and now sits on the board of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children. Riccobono did not respond to requests for comment.

The counselor was fired, Cervenka wrote in her complaint, alleging that neither Deden nor anyone else at CCB reported the incident to police. Cervenka said the girl later told her that Deden had discouraged her parents from reporting the incident to police, saying doing so would be disruptive to other students and would mean the girl would have to leave the program.

In an email, Burke denied the allegation, saying CCB staff called police, who spoke to the counselor and cleared him to leave the state.

“Our internal records reflect that the Glendale City Police department was called and that a female officer, Officer Yanke, visited the apartments where the summer students were housed and spoke with the alleged perpetrator,” Burke wrote. “Officer Yanke then told CCB staff that she had the information she needed and that the alleged perpetrator was free to leave the state of Colorado. His employment was terminated, he was sent to a hotel to stay overnight, and the next morning was escorted to the bus depot to go back to his home out of state. He was also told not to have any further contact with students or staff of CCB.”

However, Glendale police do not have any record indicating police were called in the incident, according to Glendale police records clerk Grace Phelps. Further, Phelps said the department has no record of an officer named Yanke, though the department had an officer in 2001 whose name was spelled similarly. That officer, who is no longer at the department, said she does not remember such a call and had no further comment.

Burke did not respond to a request for corroborating documentation that CCB called police in the incident.

The alleged victim, who is now 34, declined to comment. The counselor, who went on to hold a leadership position at a California chapter of NFB, did not return multiple requests for comment.

Deden said while she did not believe she is considered a mandatory reporter of sexual abuse of minors according to Colorado law, she has always considered herself one, as required by CCB’s bylaws. (Colorado’s mandatory reporter law, enacted in 1987, requires “any public or private school official or employee” to report neglect or abuse of children to law enforcement.)

Many of the accusers’ claims could expose CCB and its leadership to civil liability, said Laura Wolf, the managing partner of Spark Justice Law, a Denver-based, civil rights law firm. She also is an adjunct professor at the Sturm College of Law at the University of Denver.

Some claims, including the accusation that CCB leadership failed to report the sexual assault of a 13-year-old, could constitute violations of Colorado’s mandatory reporter law, Wolf said, except that the statute of limitations to pursue charges has expired. Wolf said some more recent accusations may also constitute mandatory reporter law violations, which are misdemeanors under Colorado law.

Cervenka said she also could have — and should have — reported the incident to police, but was unsure what was required of her.

“In my 20-year-old mind, I thought I had done my part by reporting the incident to my superiors,” Cervenka said. “We got no training on mandatory reporting. I had no idea what my legal obligations were. It’s not an excuse, but I naively trusted the people I worked for would do the right thing. I’ve thought back on it a lot, and I regret it.”

“I fear that this is part of a long line of incidents where (Deden) has discouraged victims of sexual misconduct and parents of minors who have experienced sexual misconduct from going to the police,” Cervenka wrote in her complaint.

NFB has not issued a response to Cervenka’s complaint.

‘It’s not enough’

Some instances of sexual misconduct noted in the report fell short of being crimes, but were still based on what investigators described as an abuse of power.

Wayne Pearcy, now 35, says he remains troubled by a sexual relationship with a popular staff member that began in a hotel room during a mandatory school trip.

The son of two employees of the Louisiana Center for the Blind, Pearcy arrived at CCB in 2006 at age 19, and said he found himself an outcast in a cliquish atmosphere among students.

But the young musician found a friend in Brent Batron, then a 35-year-old instructor who taught “cane travel” — how to navigate the world with a cane.

When it came time to attend a NFB national conference — one of the requirements for students in the adult independence program — Pearcy was assigned to room with Batron at the Dallas convention.

One evening, Batron instructed Pearcy to remove his clothes, Pearcy said. Pearcy said he was not sure what would happen if he declined, so he obliged.

“I was just a kid,” Pearcy said. “I knew nothing about sex.”

“I always knew you were gay,” Pearcy said Batron told him after they had a sexual encounter. “This is a secret. People like us are persecuted for feeling this way.”

Pearcy said Batron was a role model at CCB, in part for his seemingly happy family life — he was married and a father, and his wife was pregnant at the time.

“I was totally mixed-up and confused,” Pearcy said. “I told my mom I might be gay. I was so shell shocked I couldn’t tell her I was being manipulated by an older man.”

In the months that followed, Pearcy said he and Batron had numerous sexual encounters that left him careening between the thrill of his first sexual relationship and feelings of guilt and shame.

“I was so young and vulnerable. I thought if I don’t finish the program, I’ll be judged by people back home,” Pearcy said. “Because of that, I endured more manipulation.”

Pearcy said Batron grew jealous of his friendships in Littleton’s music scene, at times telling him to stay away from fellow musicians. When Batron’s child was born, he cut off contact with Pearcy, leaving him hurt and confused. Later that year, Pearcy left for college in Boston and withdrew from NFB.

At Cervenka’s urging, Pearcy filed a code-of-conduct complaint earlier this year. Records show that Batron, by then the center’s assistant director, admitted the relationship, which violated the center’s prohibition on intimate relationships between teachers and students.

“Mr. Batron plainly abused his authority as an instructor by exploiting the unequal power dynamic of the student-teacher relationship for his own sexual gratification,” the investigator’s report reads.

“It would have been easy for him to lie,” Pearcy said. “I respect him for admitting it. He realized he made a big mistake, and he owned up to it.”

Batron no longer appears on CCB’s list of staff, though whether he was fired or retired is unclear. Batron is banned from membership in NFB for three years. After that, he is allowed to reapply for membership in NFB, so long as he proves he has undergone mental health counseling. He is not to be placed in supervision of minors.

Pearcy is bothered that Batron’s punishment wasn’t more severe.

“Why allow him back in at all?” Pearcy said. “It’s not enough. At this point, even if the directors of the centers resigned, why should anyone trust NFB to replace them with someone trustworthy?”

Batron declined to comment for this article.

‘I didn’t know who was spreading rumors’

Another woman who shared her story with Cervenka, but has not filed an official code-of-conduct complaint, said her experience leaves her questioning the legitimacy of NFB’s survivor task force.

Addie Hugen, 28, moved to Colorado from Iowa for college in 2015. She hoped to develop her navigational and technical skills at CCB.

But before signing up for programs at the center, she looked for friends in a Bible study group hosted by CCB students at the center’s apartment complex in Littleton.

After a few study sessions, another member of the group, a young man who had just started losing his sight, offered to help her navigate home in the dark.

“It seemed nice of him to be concerned,” Hugen said. “I was naive.”

The CCB student called an Uber for Hugen and himself, then told her he needed to stop at his apartment first to pick up a forgotten item. She went inside to use the bathroom, where Hugen said he sexually assaulted her.

Afterward, he asked for her address to send her home in an Uber.

“I was in shock and wasn’t thinking straight,” Hugen said. “I gave him my address because I just wanted to get out of there as quickly as possible. He told me if I stopped talking to him, now he knew where to come find me.”

Hugen had a rape kit conducted at a hospital, but decided against pursuing charges after a conversation with a crisis counselor left her concerned the process could be retraumatizing without achieving justice.

Initially, Hugen told no one about the assault, and continued attending Bible studies.

“I thought he shouldn’t be able to take away my connection to friends,” she said.

But she wasn’t the same. Other students in the group noticed she seemed off. Hugen opened up to Sarah Meyer, a CCB student.

Meyer was initially sympathetic, Hugen said, but shifted her tone when Hugen told her who the assailant was.

“She said she couldn’t believe he would do that, because she had slept with him, too, and couldn’t imagine him doing such a thing,” Hugen said.

Meyer told Hugen she would tell Deden about the incident, but Hugen never heard from Deden.

Instead, Hugen got a call from Batron and Kimberley McCutcheon, then the director of student services. McCutcheon retired in 2017.

Hugen said Batron and McCutcheon berated her.

“They didn’t let me speak at all,” Hugen said. “The story the perpetrator gave them was that I was dating him and consented to sex, even though I had only met him once. They said I was trying to ruin his reputation. They told me I wasn’t allowed to talk about what happened except to a counselor or they would sue me for slander.”

Meyer now sits on NFB’s survivor task force.

“Experiencing sexual misconduct within the blindness community, and being familiar with the harm caused by not having had sound procedures to address this trauma, have compelled Sarah to participate in efforts to make NFB a safer environment that allows blind people to live the lives they want,” a biography of Meyer on the task force’s website reads.

Neither Meyer nor McCutcheon responded to requests for comment.

“It seems like their purpose is to work for NFB, not for survivors,” Hugen said.

A different conduct complaint alleges that Marci Carpenter, who leads the NFB survivor task force, failed to act after a woman alleged she had been sexually assaulted by a youth program director at NFB’s Minneapolis training center, BLIND, Inc. The man involved previously worked in the summer program at CCB.

The woman alleges that when she reported the assault, Carpenter, who at the time was the head of NFB’s Washington state chapter, said she felt stuck in the middle and didn’t want to talk about it.

Carpenter declined to comment. Dan Wenzel, the youth program director, was barred from holding or running for any elected positions in NFB for five years, the report says, and “strongly advised to refrain from conduct that may cause a similar complaint in the future along with notification that additional complaints of this nature may lead to his expulsion from the organization.”

Wenzel remains the director of the Wisconsin Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired. He did not respond to requests for comment.

‘A person of integrity’

Burke, the CCB spokesman who is married to Deden, said the Colorado center has made big strides toward addressing the concerns raised by accusers. All CCB staff have completed the RAINN anti-harassment training sessions, he said, and the center has partnered with All Health Network to provide ongoing training on stress management, personal space and boundaries.

“We’ve always said in NFB that we’re a cross section of society, and now society is making these adjustments in how we view sexual misconduct,” Burke said. “People are speaking out, and we’re just part of that, I guess. We’re committed to a change in society. It’s going to get better, but the process to get there is difficult.”

Deden reiterated to Colorado Community Media that she would not comment on any specific allegations pending the outcome of NFB’s investigations, but said she felt she has always done the best she can for students.

“I have always wanted to ensure that our students come first, no matter what,” Deden said.

Deden said the center has long held internal anti-sexual harassment and abuse training, and cited the center’s self-defense classes as a boon to students wary of sexual misconduct.

Several former students said they would like to see Deden step down.

“I’m sorry they feel that way,” Deden said. “I don’t have a lot more to say than that. I don’t have plans to step down.”

“It’s really sad” that some students say they have left the center traumatized, Burke said. “It makes us feel sad when someone leaves less confident. We’re not setting out to do that by any stretch. So many people experienced these things, but people keep coming. We need to acknowledge if we’ve made mistakes, and address those.”

Generally, even people angered by CCB’s handling of the sexual abuse complaints do not want to see it shut down. Several told Colorado Community Media they remain grateful for the skills they learned at the center. But they say it’s time that NFB cleans house.

Hugen called their promises of support “platitudes.”

“Every organization deals with sexual misconduct,” she said. “If perpetrators and those who protected them were truly being held accountable, they would be gone for good.”

‘Keep the wolves away from the chicken coop’

One high-profile Florida attorney said NFB’s response so far seems to be falling short of the magnitude of the allegations.

Mark O’Mara said he plans to sue NFB on behalf of a half-dozen plaintiffs, mostly former students of the organization’s training centers.

“What does it take to refer some of these cases to prosecution?” O’Mara said. “Why suspensions? My fear is this process is tamping down the true nature and extent of these problems.”

O’Mara said he’s concerned the true purpose of NFB’s investigations is to keep the offenses quiet.

But NFB spokesman Chris Danielsen said the organization is dedicated to making sure people are heard.

“We are working hard on a trauma-informed, survivor-centered approach,” Danielsen told Colorado Community Media. At this summer’s national convention, NFB announced the creation of a $250,000 fund to cover the cost of counseling and therapy for survivors.

“We’re committed as an organization to not tolerating this behavior,” he said. “We don’t want to just technically do the right thing, but to help survivors heal from past traumas.”

Salazar, the woman who alleged she was raped by her roommate, still wrestles with what happened to her.

She came to the Colorado Center for the Blind from California in 2019 after learning of the training program from a friend who said it was a place where blind people thrived and flourished. At times she felt like one of them, finding joy and confidence in her new skills.

But her experience last fall, she said, left her racked with despair and she recently attempted suicide.

The Colorado Center for the Blind changed her life for better and worse, and she has conflicting feelings about her time there. She recently learned of Batron’s intimate relationship with Pearcy, the student, but she said she also found his professional success at the school inspiring.

“I’d never seen a blind person who had a life,” she said. “Someone who had kids and a job.”

Salazar said the trauma she experienced at the school has been debilitating, but she also gained independence as she honed her skills at navigating new places, using public transit and shopping by herself. 

“Colorado did something for me,” she said.