Meet the Team
Mike Hess | Founder & Executive Director
After 20 years as a tech veteran managing 7-figure projects for Fortune 500 companies, one thing troubled Mike: he was always the token blind guy. Knowing that the invaluable skills he developed because of his blindness were the keys to his success, he couldn’t understand why unemployment amongst the BVI community was so high. He embarked on a journey to change corporate America’s stigmas and misperceptions of BVI professionals, developing Blind Institute of Technology. Using the same skills that made him a success in IT, Mike has built partnerships and placed BVI professionals in Fortune 500 companies nationwide.
Mike has been featured in the Denver Post and the Denver Business Journal and has been honored with the 2017 Martin Luther King, Jr. Business Award and the 2019 GlobalMindED Inclusive Leader Award. BIT’s focus on accessible technology garnered invitations to present at Google Cloud Next 2019 and Salesforce’s Dreamforce 2019 conference. Mike is a co-host for Choose Inclusion, a podcast addressing the benefits of diversity and inclusion. In 2019, Mike’s vision of full access for BVI led him to develop EdgGuide, a navigation system that allows independent navigation in previously inaccessible public spaces.
Natalie Hess | Chief Connections Officer
Natalie has spent her life giving back. She went to school to become a Licensed Practical Nurse and moved into becoming the Chief Connections Officer for Blind Institute of Technology (BIT) which she says has been great. She has spent many years giving back to the elderly and volunteering outside the home, and at all three of her children’s schools. She does a little bit of everything at BIT; from back office tasks, payroll, and being the event planning. Support for BIT comes naturally to her, as she is passionate about helping people in general and those with disabilities. Natalie is the wife of the Executive Director, Mike Hess, and when he decided to start this venture, she was all in — she saw this as an amazing way to make a difference. She loves the people BIT assists as an organization, and she loves knowing that BIT has helped someone in some small or big way to have a more fulfilled life. She has met so many great people and she works with incredible people. Outside of work, Natalie is blessed to have two girls aged 30+, a great son-in-law, and one 14-year-old boy in addition to four incredible grandchildren that keep her busy. Natalie loves to ski, camp, hike, and have adventures in travel; she also likes to try new things. Most of all, Natalie loves spending time with her family and friends, creating great memories.
Kristy Schenderlein | Director of Operations
Kristy began working with BIT in 2019 in PR and Marketing and now runs the organization’s day-to-day business operations as the Director of Operations. She brings years of experience navigating the waters of the business world as a blind and visually impaired professional. After earning her bachelor’s degree in Communication from the University of Wyoming, Kristy began a 15-year career as a paralegal, specializing in defense litigation. In 2007, she embarked on an adventure with her husband as a small-business owner of a local hardware store where she built the Human Resources department from the ground up. Deciding to pursue her passion for advocating for the blind and visually impaired, especially in the area of employment, Kristy was introduced to BIT and fell in love with its mission. She considers it a privilege to help talented BVI advance their professional careers and educate corporate America on the value BVI bring to the workplace. Outside the office, Kristy can usually be found watching her daughter play softball, camping with her family or generally enjoying the beautiful Colorado outdoors!
Michael Patellis | VP of Corporate Engagement | (770) 491-9857
Michael comes to BIT with over 20 years experience in building new revenue streams and strategic partnerships for advanced technologies in the datacenter, mobile, and streaming media industries. He is excited to combine his personal experience of being legally blind with his professional technology sales growth experience into his role at BIT. Michael will be focused on helping the organization exceed its goal of preparing and placing at least 10,000 blind individuals in meaningful careers.
Michael lives in Alpharetta, Georgia and loves having fun with his wife, Alison and two kids. He enjoys cooking, running, sports memorabilia, and most importantly, making people laugh. He received his bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Georgia in 1996. The most interesting fact about Michael (and his family) is that Michael and Alison’s daughter, Piper, was born on Alison’s birthday and their son Nicholas was born on Michael’s birthday.
Akasia Perran | BIT Academy Salesforce Director
As Salesforce’s only blind/visually impaired Certified Instructor, Akasia Perran believes in the transformative power of education to provide a powerful path forward for students to re-skill and re-vision their lives. In fact, when she decided to re-skill herself, knowing she was going blind, she chose Salesforce and BIT as the most powerful path forward for a vibrant, lasting career.
Akasia brings more than 20 years in education, tech, sales, and consulting to BIT. In 2019, when she decided to return to her roots in tech, she joined BIT’s then-fledgling Salesforce program and got her first Salesforce certification. Over the next 2 years, she went on to earn 4 Salesforce Certifications. In 2022, she achieved the elite designation of Salesforce Certified Instructor.
As a consulting instructor for BIT, Akasia fell in love, not only with her students, but also with the grander mission and vision of BIT to help 1,000 students get certified in Salesforce and begin their own powerful, lasting careers.
Now, as Academy Director, Akasia’s mission is to make learning complex material easy; create education that inspires; and partner with the most motivated, exceptional students on the planet to change the world. These trailblazing students are on a journey to become extraordinary Salesforce Professionals. Their drive and determination are exactly what employers are looking for. And BIT makes it all possible.
Rebecca Ledder | Salesforce Project Lead
After growing up in Nebraska, Rebecca packed up her long white cane and moved halfway across the country to get a bachelor’s degree in Japanese from Georgetown University—and then halfway around the world to study abroad in Japan. After gaining some experience in the wholly unrelated fields of cane travel education and editing, she decided to apply the drive and creative problem-solving skills she developed from that diverse background to attending BIT’s Salesforce Academy. She is now one of the Salesforce consulting team’s certified admins, working to improve the efficiency of BIT’s org and to help other nonprofits develop their own instances of Salesforce to meet their unique needs. Since joining the team, she has helped pioneer BIT’s in-house paid apprenticeship program, applying her passion for education to helping candidates gain Salesforce work experience.
Outside of work, Rebecca enjoys reading, linguistics, knitting, and various nerdy hobbies like tabletop board games. When the weather’s nice, she likes to canoe, hike, or go for tandem bike rides with her family. When it’s less nice, she can often be found curled up with a cozy blanket and a mug of her favorite tea or coffee.
Ertay Shashko | Salesforce Project Lead
Ertay resides in North Macedonia and is the first international employee of BIT. He has a background in software engineering and received his degree from the University of Information Science and Technology “Saint Paul the Apostle” in Ohrid. Despite losing his sight in 2018, Ertay has successfully adjusted to using technology with a screen reader. He joined BIT’s Salesforce Admin course and became a certified Salesforce Administrator in May 2021, followed by acquiring the Salesforce Platform Developer I certification in December of 2021. Ertay now serves as a Project Lead on the Delivery Team, where he is responsible for building and maintaining our clients’ Salesforce Orgs.
In his free time, Ertay enjoys playing board games with his friends and listening to audio books while indoor rowing. He also likes to work on improving his home theater setup whenever he gets the chance.
Christy Smith | Salesforce Project Lead
Christy works as part of the delivery team, assisting with projects for clients and keeping the internal systems up to date and working smoothly. She has been blind since a very young age, and ever since graduating high school she wanted to work in IT, but struggled to break into the industry. Christy began with BIT as a student in a Salesforce Administration class. After completing the course and getting her certification, she worked as an apprentice and assisted the delivery team with a very large, complex project. In December of 2022, she accepted a full-time position with BIT. Christy lives in St. Louis with her spouse and enjoys playing with her two very friendly kitties. In her spare time, she enjoys music and singing, any friendly animals, children, swimming when possible, and of course technology.
Elise Barlow | Academy Instructor
Elise Barlow is an Academy Instructor and Certified Salesforce Administrator who splits her time between teaching our academy students and working with the project team on clients’ needs. Elise joined BIT in June 2022 after falling in love with the culture and mission of the company in substantial employment for individuals with vision loss.
Elise came from the world of academics working at her alma mater The University of Iowa where she earned a bachelor’s degree in economics. While working at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics’ Family Medicine Department Elise completed her masters degree in health care administration through Des Moines University.
Elise resides in Iowa City, Iowa with her husband Patrick Barlow, PhD who works in the Internal Medicine department at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. Their daughter Eleanor is starting middle school and helps care for the family’s two cats, Luna and Louise, and dog, Coconut. Outside of family time, Elise enjoys knitting and traveling.
Dallas Sagan | Academy Instructor
Dallas currently resides in Las Vegas, NV. Before working with BIT, she worked as a licensed vocational nurse in California for over four years. She completed BIT’s Salesforce Administrator certification prep course in April of 2022 and earned her admin certification in June of 2022; she then worked as a BIT apprentice on multiple projects until January of 2023, when she became an Academy Instructor. She is so happy that she can be a part of helping people with disabilities find gainful employment.
Outside of work, she loves spending time with her dog, Heidi, and two cats, Gracie and Millie. She likes to crochet, loom knit, and listen to true crime podcasts. She also enjoys hiking with her family whenever she can.
Amy Billman | Administrative Assistant
Amy started in her position as BIT’s administrative assistant in December of 2022. She provides support to our Chief Connections Officer and Director of Operations. She got here by a very happy accident, which was signing up for one of BIT’s Salesforce classes. In her spare time, you can find Amy feeding people. Cooking and baking are some of her love languages. She also loves singing and making music. Amy runs a small business called SpeedDots, which produces tactile screen protectors for iOS devices, and she co-hosts a conversational and advocacy podcast with her fiancé, called The Brandon and Amy Show.
Dianna Leonard | Marketing & Outreach Contact
Born and raised in Massachusetts, Dianna has been legally blind since birth. She attended a small university where she received a Bachelor’s of Arts in English and Communications. She relocated to Virginia at the end of 2020, and in 2021 she became a BIT candidate after hearing about the organization from a friend. In 2022, Dianna started working for BIT as their social media content writer, marketing & outreach contact, and she also teaches BIT’s Let’s Get in Touch workshop. In the past, Dianna held social media consultant positions for local nonprofits and smaller marketing campaigns in Massachusetts.
Dianna loves animals, and in her spare time she likes to read sci-fi and fantasy novels, as well as write creative pieces and play video games, with her favorite franchises being The Sims and Animal Crossing. She also volunteers a lot of her time with a Massachusetts-based blindness consumer advocacy organization.