Richard L. Welsh, first president of the Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind (AER), has died

Date Posted: 09/16/2014

When Richard "Rick" L. Welsh and Bruce B. Blasch set out to compile the first edition of Foundations of Orientation and Mobility, published by the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) in 1980, orientation and mobility (O&M) was a "young, dynamic profession." The book edited by Drs. Welsh and Blasch, the first comprehensive textbook for O&M, served to "influence the future of a field, be a powerful stimulant for change and the development of new knowledge," according to its Foreword, written by Stanley Suterko, one of the first O&M professionals trained in the United States.

Dr. Welsh helped shape the field of visual impairment and blindness in other fundamental ways. By providing leadership in the 1984 consolidation of the American Association of Workers for the Blind (AAWB) and the Association for Education of the Visually Handicapped (AEVH), he helped oversee the formation of the Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired (AER). He went on to serve as the first elected president of AER from 1984 to 1986 and, "through his tireless efforts through multiple committees, gave the new organization a strong foundation," according to Dean and Naomi Tuttle's 2008 profile of Dr. Welsh.

Dr. Welsh was born March 31, 1944, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Before he pursued studies in the field of visual impairment, he was called to the seminary as he was about to enter high school: he spent eight-and-a-half years attending Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, where he completed undergraduate seminary studies and earned a degree in philosophy in 1966. While at Saint Vincent's, he corresponded with a cousin who was a student at the Western Pennsylvania School for Blind Children in Pittsburgh. While attending an event at his cousin's school, Dr. Welsh met a graduate of Western Michigan University's new Blind Rehabilitation and Mobility Institute, the first O&M program in the United States, who put him in touch with the chair of the program. The chair, Donald Blasch, convinced him to enroll, and he went on to earn a master's degree in O&M from Western Michigan University in 1968. He later earned a doctorate in rehabilitation counseling from the University of Pittsburgh in 1973.

Dr. Welsh's experience as an instructor in O&M began in 1968, when he began working at the Western Pennsylvania School for Blind Children. In addition, he was a faculty member for the O&M program at the University of Pittsburgh until 1970, and then became chair of the program at Cleveland State University from 1970 to 1978. Dr. Welsh served as superintendent of the Maryland School for the Blind for 12 years, from 1978 to 1990. From 1990 to 2003, he worked as administrator of Pittsburgh Vision Services, which was formed by the consolidation of the Greater Pittsburgh Guild for the Blind and the Pittsburgh Blind Association. In addition to these various roles, he served as an executive editor of RE:view, AER's former journal. Dr. Welsh also served as the president of the National Accreditation Council (NAC) for Agencies Serving the Blind and Visually Handicapped from 1994 to 1996. He retired in 2003 due to renal cell carcinoma, and he fought cancer until his death on September 13, 2014.

Dr. Welsh was honored for his work during his lifetime. Among his awards are the 1981 AABW (now AER) C. Warren Bledsoe Award; the 1988 Lawrence J. Blaha Award from AER Division 9 (O&M); the 1996 AER Ambrose M. Shotwell Award; the 2004 AFB Migel Medal; and induction, in 2008, into the Hall of Fame for Leaders and Legends of the Blindness Field, which is housed at the American Printing House for the Blind (APH) in Louisville, Kentucky. In a letter of support for Dr. Welsh's induction into the Hall of Fame, Frances Mary D'Andrea, chair, Braille Authority of North America, observed,

Rick has that rare ability to take the long view, and with remarkable foresight to forge a vision of what could be—and then work hard to make it a reality. Through all of his roles he has not only used his formidable talents to lead and to serve, but also to motivate others.

Dr. Welsh played a key role in the development of the body of knowledge of the profession of O&M, and he was also a driving force behind the synthesis of the largest professional organization in North America for individuals who work with people who are visually impaired. When asked to counsel new professionals in the field of visual impairment in a "Hall of Fame Interview" with Michael Bina in 2014, Dr. Welsh responded with the following advice:

. . . All professionals [should] keep their primary focus on what is best for their students or clients. This is not always easy to do and may result in some conflicts and difficult decisions, but it is the bedrock of all successful professionals. . . . Keep up with the literature, write up your insights, publish and make presentations, participate in research when possible to help develop the data on which our professional decisions are based, and participate in your professional association through which you can contribute to and encourage the development of your fellow professionals.

Dr. Welsh's survivors include his wife, Mary Nelle McLennan, first wife, Dolores Welsh, three children, and five grandchildren. The family asks that donations be directed to the American Association for Cancer Research or the Hall of Fame for Leaders and Legends of the Blindness Field. For more information, contact: For more information, contact: Hall of Fame for Leaders and Legends of the Blindness Field, American Printing House for the Blind, 1839 Frankfort Avenue, P.O. Box 6085, Louisville, KY 40206; phone: 800-223-1839 or 502-895-2405; web site: [Information for this piece was taken from the October 2008 "Richard Welsh" article, by Dean Tuttle and Naomi Tuttle; the October 2008 transcript of the introduction Susan Jay Spungin gave during Dr. Welsh's Hall of Fame induction ceremony; and the February 2014 "Richard Welsh: Hall of Fame Interview," by Michael Bina; all of which are located on the Hall of Fame: Leaders and Legends of the Blindness Field website.]

Contact: Hall of Fame for Leaders and Legends of the Blindness Field

Phone: (800) 223-1839


Join Our Mission

Help us expand our resources for people with vision loss.