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Through the LENS of Experience: Cultivating a New Generation of Blind Leaders

Through his work with Partners for Youth with Disabilities and its LENS program, Aaron Rawley has become the guiding hand he wished to have as a young person growing up with blindness

Aaron, a young white man with a mustache and black-rimmed glasses, smiles for the camera

My name is Aaron Rawley. I was born with Retinopathy of Prematurity and cerebral palsy as a one-pound preemie.

My parents brought me to the Infant-Toddler program at Perkins School for the Blind, and I slowly met other independent blind adults in the community. My time with Perkins programs helped build me into the capable person I am today. Growing up, I have fond memories of attending Space Camp, learning to cook in a mock kitchen at Perkins and the Carroll Center, and learning braille on my heavy gray Perkins Brailler.

Finding my passion

When I went to high school, I wanted to understand the world around me, being one of the only blind students I knew of in town. My Cultural Anthropology teacher, Mrs. June Murray, opened my worldview to the fascinating cultures of Afghanistan and Iraq.

I’ve been obsessed with learning about the Islamic world ever since. My passion for languages and cultures brought me to the class of Dr. Brian Glyn Williams, Ph.D at UMass Dartmouth, where I studied Islamic history, from the Golden Mongol Horde to the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan and the black-clad forces of ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

Under his tutelage, I wrote an independent study paper in my Junior year on the recruitment of child soldiers in 2018. And in April 2023, Professor Williams and I co-authored an article on the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

I graduated from UMass Dartmouth Magna Cum Laude, thanks to the early help of blindness professionals and my passion for reading and research.

Turning a passion into a profession

In my professional career, I took my talents for accessibility and love of museums to a series of internships and a four-year stint as the Volunteer Coordinator for Gore Place, a small historic house museum in Waltham, Massachusetts, where I led sensory tours of the museum and secured a designation for the organization through the Mass Cultural Council’s Universal Participation initiative to help bring accessibility to cultural and artistic venues.

Using my experiences to support the next generation

Since June 2022, I’ve worked as an Outreach Specialist at Partners for Youth with Disabilities (PYD), a staple in the disability community since 1985. PYD has programs focusing on youth leadership, mentoring, career readiness, and theater arts – as well as providing an online learning platform and training for teachers and organizations.

My primary role is to interview and enroll youth for our direct service programs and help them get the most out of their experience with PYD. I enjoy giving back to the community and getting to help other young people with disabilities find their path in life one step at a time since I wish I’d known about PYD when I was younger.

One program I’m particularly proud of is called LENS, an online mentoring community for blind and visually impaired youth to work on personal and career goals.

I trust you’ll join me in building the future generation of strong, independent blind leaders.

About Partners for Youth with Disabilities and LENS

Partners for Youth with Disabilities (PYD)’s goal is to create a world where young people with disabilities will be able to live with dignity and pride in who they are, and to lead self-determined lives filled with purpose. To make this happen, we build the skills and abilities of young people with disabilities, and increase the inclusivity of workplaces, organizations, and communities.

LENS is a one-to-one, virtual mentoring program for Massachusetts Commission for the Blind (MCB) consumers. PYD matches transition-aged youth who are blind or low vision with a caring adult mentor, who is also blind or low vision. Matches work on personal and/or career goals together for 4-6 hours a month over the course of a year. To qualify, youth must be 14-24 years old (with background checks for participants 18+). Volunteer Mentors must be fully employed, consumers of the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind, and go through a training process. All participants must commit to a one-year minimum and monthly check-ins with PYD staff.

If you’re interested in joining LENS or would like to learn more, contact Aaron via email at or by phone at 617-556-4075, extension 143. We are always looking for adult mentors to volunteer with us!

To learn more about PYD, visit their website or follow them on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

About the author

Aaron Rawley has a passion for universal design and programmatic design that works for people of all ages and abilities. In his role as Outreach Specialist at PYD, he is excited to take on the challenges of working to connect young people with their chosen path in life and be the guiding hand he wished to have as a young person who lives with blindness.

In his free time, Aaron enjoys listening to audiobooks, authoring articles about history, learning about diverse cultures, and playing with his two cats, Thor and Loki.

You can connect with Aaron on LinkedIn.

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