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Spring 2002 Table of Contents
Versión Español de este artículo (Spanish Version)

What's in a Name?

By Terry Murphy, Executive Director, Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (formerly known as Texas Commision for the Blind)

In the last issue of See/Hear I let the readership know that the Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (formerly known as Texas Commision for the Blind) was considering a new name for its children's program. The agency's Board voted in its March meeting to rename the program the Blind Children's Vocational Discovery and Development Program. This is the second name change in the program's history. Initially known as the Visually Handicapped Children's Program in concert with our enabling statutes, the name changed to Blind and Visually Impaired Children's Program in the early 1980s. The change was made to bring the name "blind" into the language of our service programs. In addition, the word "handicapped" was losing favor in the disability field, so we changed along with the times.

Why another change now? Much has happened in 20 years in state government. We've been struggling for a couple of years with an external identity crisis in the children's program. A new program name that clearly defines our specific role in state government will place us in a better position to educate the public and legislators. We need to insure that our services are understood as unique and separate from educational, health, and welfare services.

In a memo we sent to our staff about the name change, we asked them to look at the new name chosen by the Board and set their vision on what it says. I'm taking this opportunity of sharing this vision with our See/Hear partners.

Blind Children's... Straight up and up front. Although we still serve children with visual impairments and they are very important to us, we are best known for our specialized knowledge about blindness - no other agency in Texas does what we do for blind children. To reinforce that message, our caseworkers are being retitled "Blind Children's Specialists."

Vocational... The word vocational is important because it clearly sets us apart from education, health and welfare services. The word vocational may mean full-fledged competitive employment to a lot of people; to us it is a broader, less restrictive term when you're talking about children. Too many children are labeled too soon in their lives as having no vocational potential. Vocational to us means working toward a purposeful existence. We believe all blind children, regardless of a child's medical prognosis or severity of disabilities, have the potential for developing in a vocational direction. Depending on the individual blind child, success could be any one or more of a wide range of accomplishments - from learning to have meaningful interactions with loved ones to eventual paid work experience.

Discovery... A child's life is all about discovery. Discovery is an action word. It's a positive force. It's an all-inclusive term. The moment all children are born they begin to discover the world around them, their interests, their differences, and their passions. The Commission is right there to help the child and family discover the many possibilities they never thought existed for someone who is blind. When the time is right, we'll be there to help children and families discover successful role models who are themselves blind and once walked the same path their child is now on.

Development... Development is also an action and all-inclusive word. This is where our staff really shines. No other agency professionals in Texas have the blindness-specific expertise to recommend the appropriate developmental training that will make each tomorrow a little bit better for blind children and their families.

Program. We have a comprehensive, fully developed, statewide system of services ready to help parents and children who are blind.

Well, that's it. We've received a few comments since the change - most of them positive. One concerned parent questioned the need for "vocational" in the name, stating that not all children we serve have vocational potential. The parent was concerned that the word would throw some parents off and they would not know the program was available to them if their child was visually impaired or had multiple disabilities and future vocational possibilities looked bleak to them. I reassured that parent, as I want to assure you, that we'll do our best to promote our services to parents of all children with visual impairments, regardless of the severity of their other disabilities.

The concern expressed about children with no "vocational" potential made me think about an e-mail recently sent around by our Lubbock regional director that I want to share with you. It speaks volumes about our vision for all of the agency's programs, including our children's program and the name change. She reminded us of words used by President George W. Bush in 1999 in a campaign speech and later again in his nomination acceptance speech. In talking about his domestic policy for educational reform, he used the phrase, "Some say it is unfair to hold disadvantaged children to rigorous standards. I say it is discrimination to require anything less - the soft bigotry of low expectations."

What compelling words! "The soft bigotry of low expectations." Her e-mail went on to say that the soft bigotry of low expectations applies not only to public education but also to the habilitation and rehabilitation of blind consumers. She gave the examples of the blind student who is allowed to get out of gym class whenever she wants, or the college disabled students office that intervenes on behalf of the blind student with a professor, or the employer who allows the blind employee to skip a special employee meeting because he'd have to report to work an hour early. Low expectations; learned dependence. To foster independence, she said that the Commission should expect of our consumers what we expect of everyone else and offer consumers the same courtesies we offer to everyone else - nothing more, nothing less. I agree.

Our Blind Children's Vocational Discovery and Development Program promises to have high expectations of every child. We promise parents we will have those same high expectations of them as we help them to learn about the special qualities and needs of their child with visual loss and how to help their child develop to their full potential. As President Bush said, to expect less would be a form of soft bigotry on our part.

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Last Revision: July 30, 2002