Dorrie Rush, 64, believes most things happen for a reason. Growing up in Vermont and New York, Dorrie's mother was her role model for overcoming the challenges that Dorrie herself would face as an adult. When Dorrie was 11 years old, her mom's life was permanently affected by a cerebral aneurism. Despite being disabled and requiring full-time care, Dorrie remembers her mother's enthusiasm for life. "She had great faith and was so vibrant, nothing deterred her, she was my inspiration," said Rush.
Dorrie had no indication of any problems with her eyesight during her childhood, it was not until later in life while on vacation that she realized her eyes were not adjusting to changes in light. Thinking she needed glasses, Dorrie went to an ophthalmologist, where she was eventually diagnosed with Stargardt disease, an inherited form of macular degeneration causing central vision loss. A DNA test later proved that both her parents carried the recessive gene for the disease.
At the height of her career in the apparel industry, Dorrie experienced a progressing loss of her central vision but was able to manage. "Denial kept me moving forward, I relied on the assistance of others to get by, very few people knew about my vision loss," recalled Rush, who set upon a personal mission to learn as much as she could about her condition, seeking out top physicians specializing in inherited retinal diseases to empower her with a better understanding of Stargardt.
When an opportunity came for a job change, Dorrie took a role with an internet start-up in the fashion business, coping with her vision loss by relying on her ability to memorize her presentations and reports during meetings when she had difficulty reading computer screens. Dorrie excelled in her new role and the company quickly saw success, catching the attention of several high-profile business leaders, including one life-changing encounter Dorrie had with a board member for Lighthouse International, a leading New York-based non-profit organization that helps people of all ages overcome the challenges of vision loss.
Inspired by the organization's mission, combined with her aspirations, Dorrie took a fundraising job with Lighthouse, working her way up to director of major gifts. "It was all making sense now, I knew this is where I exactly needed to be," said Rush.
As screen readers, speech recognition software, and other assistive technologies for the visually impaired did not quite meet with her expectations, Dorrie saw the personal and professional potential while in her job at Lighthouse. "Technology was leaving me behind," said Rush. "All my friends were on their Blackberry's and cell phones. I needed to be too."
Knowing she could make a greater impact on those the Lighthouse served, Dorrie confided in her boss about her vision loss, expressing interest in learning more about technology. With the organization's support, Dorrie transitioned to a new position in Lighthouse's technology division, spending the next 13 years helping those with visual impairments to embrace technology, eventually becoming the Accessibility Director of the Technology Center at the Lighthouse.
Throughout her work with the Lighthouse, Dorrie frequently collaborated with Hadley to augment the Lighthouse's programs, including Hadley's iPhone VoiceOver training series. "VoiceOver and other screen reading technology is life-changing for those who know how to use it," said Rush. "It is the most valuable tool I have encountered in my professional career working with others who are visually impaired, nobody provides iPhone and iPad training better than Hadley."
Today Dorrie works as a consultant and serves as Chief Content Officer & Visual Accessibility Specialist at Ophthalmic Edge an online information resource for ophthalmic professionals, medical students, technicians, and patients, where she recommends Hadley to others while continuing to provide valuable feedback to Hadley for future improvements.
"The absolute greatest thing about Hadley is the ability for those with vision loss to access learning from their home and on their own time, from wherever they may be," said Rush. "Speaking as someone who is very familiar with resources for the visually impaired and blind, the scope of learning opportunities that Hadley provides is unparalleled."
For her commitment to engaging others with visual impairments and keeping them connected to much-needed resources, Dorrie has been named a recipient of Hadley's HEROES Award, given to those who help further Hadley's mission to create personalized learning opportunities that empower those with vision loss or blindness to thrive at home, at work, and in their communities.
"Dorrie keeps it real and gives honest, candid insights for what works for her and what doesn't. She may not think it's much, but her generosity in sharing time and feedback is truly invaluable to this 100-year-old startup," says Joan Jaeger, Hadley's Chief Marketing Officer who nominated Dorrie for this award.