A Conversation with Bryan Bashin

Portrait of Bryan Bashin
Portrait of Bryan Bashin

We’re so thrilled to introduce you to the newest member of DRA’s Board of Directors: Bryan Bashin. Bryan has been active in the state and national blind community for decades. He recently stepped down from his position as CEO of the San Francisco Lighthouse for the Blind after 12 years in the role. Bryan was appointed by President Biden as a U.S. AbilityOne Commissioner in summer of 2021. Through the Commission he worked to end sub-minimum wages nationally and established a new 5 year strategic plan that will prioritize the maximum possible integration of people with the most significant disabilities into the competitive workforce. Here’s what Bryan has to say about being a part of DRA’s Board.

How did you first learn about DRA?

As a longtime disability civil rights advocate myself, I’ve admired the impactful litigation DRA has spearheaded all the way back to the 1990s. Shortly after I was hired as Lighthouse CEO in 2010 I sought out Stuart Seaborn at DRA as the perfect attorney to mitigate inaccessible aspects of daily life, from BART fare gates to unusable Red Box points of sale. Over the ensuing months I came to personally know many of DRA’s staff. The Red Box matter turned into a large victory for blind Californians and cemented my idea that DRA would be an excellent partner with Lighthouse for future civil rights work.

Why did you decide to join DRA’s board of directors?

After I planned to leave the CEO role at Lighthouse I wanted to continue to apply some of my experience to further advance the civil rights of people with all disabilities. There are few organizations with a strong national standing and track record of accomplishment in this area like DRA. I’ve come to know and respect the talents of its staff and Board. It doesn’t hurt that DRA is headquartered in Berkeley, which is my hometown as well. I can’t even begin to imagine the accomplishments that lie ahead over the next 30 years and want to work to help bring them to fruition.

Why do you think DRA’s work is urgent and important?

The tens of millions of Americans with disabilities deserve nothing less than the right to live in the world, to enjoy the complete range of our nation’s life and opportunity. Our predecessors have taken giant leaps in this direction. But the pace of social and technological change is accelerating. This means that people with disabilities will be at the tip of the spear when high tech intersects social life. From the way we live, work and play, if we are not vigilant we may be taking steps backward or actually lose some independent agency we now have. The trillions of dollars of economic activity guided by high tech needs to be balanced by humanitarian, legal and disability-positive advocates who constitute the DRA extended community.

What aspect of DRA’s work are you most proud of?

It’s hard to choose among hundreds of signal victories, but I’ll mention two recent ones from 2022. The New York Subway victory is staggering in scope, impact and in dollars.  Transforming a century-old system and hundreds of stations is historic work which will change the lives of all who use the system. Second, the work that DRA and Lighthouse did to get the ADP company to agree to a sweeping accessibility upgrade will affect any blind employee among ADP’s 500,000 clients. Soon so many of the barriers will be removed and allow blind people to work effectively alongside their sighted counterparts, thanks to effective work by DRA and Lighthouse staff.

Anything else you want to share?

A funny early anecdote. When I think of my own early interest in the law, I remember being a 19-year-old sophomore at Cal and being given an assignment in my constitutional law class. My professor in the class, Sandy Muir, was a polio survivor, an early disability role model who helped show me the power of the law. An early assignment was to put our theoretical learnings into practical action. We had been studying issues in civil oversight of the police, and later that afternoon I noticed a Berkeley police officer smoking on Telegraph Avenue and then discarding his cigarette pack in the street. Immediately next to a sign stating there was a $300 fine for littering. I told the officer that I had just observed him littering and that I was wanting to make a citizen’s arrest. Pretty cheeky for a 19-year old. He laughed and actually drove me in his patrol car to the station house. His mood changed, though, when he realized I was serious and when I went through with the complaint. Ultimately the DA decided not to press charges. But Professor Muir did give me an A in his Con Law class…

My degrees from Cal are in journalism and history and those subjects remain my passion. I spent my first 15 years after university as a working journalist, in television, newspapers and magazines, specializing in science journalism. I’d begun volunteering in the 90’s helping local Sacramento disability nonprofits until I was snagged to lead the Society for the Blind as my first CEO role. Later I worked for the US Department of Education supervising $400 million in federal spending on disability programs. Finally in 2010 I was hired as CEO of the San Francisco Lighthouse for the Blind, where I led a staff of 140 and oversaw an annual budget of roughly $25 million.