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Fall 2006 Table of Contents
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Looking to the Future

by Barbara J. Madrigal, Assistant Commissioner, DARS-Division for Blind Services

Abstract: This article reflects on Division for Blind Services performance during fiscal year 2006 and discusses activities that will occur during the upcoming fiscal year.

Key Words: blindness, vision impairment, DARS, Division for Blind Services, Vocational Rehabilitation Program, Business Enterprises of Texas, Independent Living Program, Criss Cole Rehabilitation Center, Blind Children's Program, employment, News and Views

The Division for Blind Services is closing yet another year of services to blind Texans and moving quickly into the new federal fiscal year that begins on October 1, 2006. This is an important moment in time for us because it gives us an opportunity to look simultaneously at both the old year and the new year.

The past year has been excellent. As this article goes to press, we still have several days in the current reporting period so we don't yet have the final figures for the year ending September 30, 2006. Still, the preliminary statistics point to the continued successful efforts by all our program and support staff to focus on quality services for each of the individual consumers we have worked with during the past twelve months.

In our Vocational Rehabilitation Program, competitive employment closures at or above minimum wage are strong. This measure means that our staff have helped people who are blind or visually impaired prepare to enter (or reenter) the world of work successfully. More importantly, it means that more blind Texans are moving towards a solid future based on economic and personal self-sufficiency; more employers are recognizing that the decisions they make about hiring qualified employees should be based on ability, not disability; and that negative social attitudes about blindness are continuing to fall.

Business Enterprises of Texas (BET), a federally sponsored, state-administered program that provides food management opportunities for Texans who are blind, is also reporting a solid year. We have negotiated several new locations around the state, and we look forward to opening even more locations in the coming year—which means more growth opportunities for the individuals who are already in the program and new opportunities for successfully closed consumers who are interested in pursuing a career in the food service industry.

Our Independent Living Program for older Texans continues to provide excellent services and achieve first-rate results, despite the inevitable "growing pains" attributable to an increasing number of people who experience vision loss as they age. Program services, which focus on the consumer's desire to maintain personal independence in their own home and community, include all of the elements encompassed in our Texas Confidence Builders philosophy: adjustment to blindness; independent living skills (such as reading, cooking healthy meals, keeping personal financial records, and doing routine home maintenance); communication skills; independent travel skills; and building confidence in one's own abilities.

The Criss Cole Rehabilitation Center (CCRC) in Austin continues to offer an extensive array of services designed to meet the specific needs of individual consumers. During the past year, CCRC has also increased the availability of "outreach" programs that take the skills and knowledge of the Center directly to small groups of consumers in their local communities. These innovative training activities help consumers gain self-confidence and a positive attitude about blindness. Indeed, successful completion of an outreach training program will often provide the motivation a consumer needs to travel to Austin and participate in the more intensive and comprehensive CCRC program.

The specialists and staff with our Blind Children's Program continue to work with our youngest Texans to help them build self-esteem, discover their unique strengths and abilities, and create a firm foundation for learning the skills they will need as adults to meet the challenges of life. And, of course, Transition Program staff have been busier than ever preparing students to move from school to work.

Yes, 2006 has been a very good year. But now it's time for the Division for Blind Services to look forward to the new year. We recently initiated a voluntary mentoring program for staff that we call FUTURES. This program is a succession plan designed to ensure we will have highly qualified people in all positions within our organization well into the future. FUTURES will match staff who have extensive experience in rehabilitation with staff who want to expand their knowledge in their current position or, in some cases, positions in other specialized areas of consumer services and/or management. We're very excited about this new program, and we anticipate our first "graduating class" in 2007.

When we look to the future, we also recognize that we must continue to strengthen and grow the essential cornerstone of effective and innovative services for Texans who are blind or visually impaired: employment assistance services. For adults of working age as well as young adults preparing to enter the world of work for the first time, employment-related services represent the foundation of personal and financial independence.

To ensure the quality of future services in this critically important area, we have initiated a major task known as the Employment Assistance Quality Improvement Project. Improving our employment assistance efforts will put us in a better position to adapt to all the changes confronting today's workforce and the ever-increasing growth of technology in the workplace. This project will help us improve what we are already doing and identify new ways to provide better employment-related services in the future.

Both of these initiatives are major projects. We have chosen to undertake them now because they represent the future of our organization as well as our ongoing goal to continuously improve the rehabilitation services we provide for our consumers. In terms of the more immediate future, we have already begun the Legislative Appropriations Request (LAR) process for the 2008-2009 biennium, and we are working closely with Legislative Budget Board staff prior to the next legislative session that begins in January to review our program funding requests for the next biennium.

The upcoming new year will also mark an especially important milestone for all of us — our organization will celebrate 75 years of quality services to blind Texans! We plan to announce the newest addition to our Wall of Honor in October (and, no, I can't divulge the honoree's name until the plaque is officially unveiled!). We will also have a brief ceremony with several great guest speakers at our Criss Cole Rehabilitation Center in Austin. We anticipate the celebration will give us a unique opportunity to look at services for blind Texans with the past, the present, and the future all rolled into one!

Happy New Year!

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Last Revision: September 1, 2010